My first introduction to tempeh (fermented soya bean cake) was at my university hostel cafeteria. That was 28 years ago. I was queuing up at the food counter with the standard issue plastic food tray. I saw this dark brown mass of something that looked like beef. Without a second thought, I scooped it into my tray and moved on to get my vegetables.
When I sat down to eat, I had my first taste of tempeh. I chewed on it and it had a peculiar taste. This can't be beef, the texture is different. I did not exactly like it immediately, it was just OK at that point. It was only later that I found out that it was tempeh and from then onwards, I was always fighting with the rest of the girls for the tempeh. Somehow it was THE most popular dish at the cafeteria. If you are late, very sorry, there will be none left for you. And I wonder why the caterer did not feature tempeh more often seeing that we girls loved it so much (I stayed in an all girls hostel).
|Raw tempeh. The white stuff is fungal mycellium. Not harmful at all.|
Fast forward to a few years later, whenever I bought food from the Malay stalls, I would be on the look out for tempeh. I was a tempeh addict :) Sometimes the stall would sell pieces of deep fried tempeh coated with turmeric and salt. And they also put tempeh in sayur lemak. My favorite is of course tempeh fried in sambal with tofu and ikan bilis (anchovies). This is one dish that I can eat by the bowls! And I can never get tired of it. The only low point is the deep frying of the ingredients. But I am not eating this everyday, only once in a blue moon, so it should be alright.
|Deep fried tempeh cubes. Delicious on its own with sweet chilli sauce.|
There are many variations to this spicy tempeh dish. One of the most basic is just tempeh and ikan bilis like the one my big sister Kak Queenie cooked. And then there's the grand one with tempeh, tofu, ikan bilis, peanuts, sweet potato slices and glass noodles. Whichever way it is cooked, I love them all. The one I cooked is sort of halfway between the simple and luxurious. I skipped the peanuts and glass noodles.
And I must tell you about my maiden experience with ikan bilis. I have never fried ikan bilis my entire life and in another 4 more years, I will be hitting the big Hawaii Five-Oh. So before I reach that milestone, as a self respecting Malaysian, I must fry ikan bilis at least once, alright? I remember Kak Q said that you must wash the ikan bilis under running water until it is clean, drain it and then fry until it is crispy. The purpose of washing is obviously to get rid of dirt and impurities and also to wash away excess salt. I did that, gave it a big squeeze with kitchen towels so that the ikan bilis won't explode in my face when I drop it into the hot oil.
All seemed to go well except that my ikan bilis was browning very fast but it was still not crispy. I think I did not drain it well enough. Or my fire was too big. If Kak Q could peep into my kitchen and see me murder the ikan bilis, she would be shaking her head and going "Kesian adik aku nih..." (my poor little sister). I removed the ikan bilis and transferred them to an enamel plate. Then I popped them into the oven without preheating at 200C. When the oven beeped, I roasted the ikan bilis for 5 minutes. I think Kak Q just fainted. Anyway, it worked because the ikan bilis turned crispy.
|Deep fried and then roasted. Poor ikan bilis.|
I think frying ikan bilis requires patience and I will do better next time. Practice, practice, practice! I was happy that the tempeh dish turned out well. It was a delicious walk down memory lane. Hopefully, I will master the art of frying ikan bilis. I will be cooking spicy tempeh again in the near future, with peanuts and glass noodles (yum!). And I sure hope I won't mess up frying peanuts :)
Mixed Fried Tempeh Sambal
Recipe source : The New Malaysian Cookbook (Page 93)
(my note and adaptations in red)
- 200ml oil
- 2 cakes beancurd (halved)(I cut into cubes)
- 150g fermented soybean cake/tempeh (thinly sliced)(I cut into cubes)
- 50g dried anchovies (cleaned & halved)(I used a handful)
- 40g transparent vermicelli/glass noodles/suun (soaked till softened)(I omitted)
- 80g groundnuts (I omitted)
- 2 tablespoons chilli paste (I omitted, see below)
- 50ml water (I used 2 tablespoons)
- 1-2 tablespoons thick asam jawa juice(tamarind juice) (I used 1 tablespoon)
- 1/2 teaspoon dark soya sauce (I used 2 tablespoons sweet soya sauce/kicap manis)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (I omitted)
- salt to taste (I omitted because the belacan was salty enough)
Blended ingredients :
- 5 shallots (I used 1 big onion)
- 2 cloves garlic (I used 4 cloves)
- 1 cm dried shrimp paste/belacan
- 1 fresh chilli and 2 dried chillies (soaked to soften)
1. Heat 150ml oil and fry the beancurd till light brown. Remove and drain well. Then slice thinly.
2. Heat the oil again and fry the fermented soya bean cakes till golden brown. Remove and drain well on paper towel.
3. Dry-fry groundnuts till crispy (skin should be dark brown). Set aside.
4. Deep-fry the anchovies till crispy. Remove and drain well.
5. Heat the remaining 50ml oil and stir fry blended paste, chilli paste and water till aromatic.
6. Mix in asam jawa, dark soya sauce, sugar and salt. Combine well.
7. Add in suun, bean curd, fermented soya bean cake and groundnuts. Mix thoroughly and cook till almost dry.
8. Season to taste, dish out onto a plate and serve.