I left work with food on my brain. Driving along Truxtun Extension, I should have been admiring the gorgeous sunset with storm clouds coming and going, last rays of sunlight penetrating the blues, grays and purples like hungry orange tongues of flame, silhouettes of pines, oaks, and oil wells, all mirrored in the graceful lakes on the north side of the road, but all I could think about was “What am I going to make for dinner when I get home? I’m hungry!”
It was Friday night and I knew I had an assortment of veggie stragglers at home. Driving along, not quite speeding, I did a quick rewind and playback of the last time I looked in the fridge… a couple of zucchini, green bell pepper, a bunch of green onions, some pretty multi-colored carrots, and I was fairly sure I’d seen a package of tempeh in the “protein” drawer, where I keep things like tofu, cheese, ripe avocados, and (of course) tempeh.
I wanted something vegetabley, to balance out the pasta pomodoro… the barely satisfactory “vegetarian entree” I had grabbed for lunch from the cafeteria at work. Usually I pack homemade lunches for my husband and myself every morning; but with an early morning meeting I’d had no time this day. After that memorable cafeterian feast, “vegetabley” meant I really didn’t want any more rice, pasta, bread, or potatoes. Nothing too oily. Zucchini was sounding good.
Once home, I called out, “Binks! I’m home!” and was welcomed by a thirsty “Meow!” By the way, I have finally understood that when cats say “Meow” they are really saying “Now!” Whatever it is, they want it now. I went and turned on the bathtub spigot to a slow drip so Mr. Binks could have his evening fresh water cocktail. He’s gotten rather spoiled about water, and won’t drink from the bowl unless there is no other option, and only after first suffering from thirst for a few hours. The day’s most important task accomplished (at least, in his eyes, for the moment… See, this photo of him was taken just a little while later and he still doesn’t look happy!) I headed to the kitchen and pulled everything out of the fridge that would go into whatever I was going to make.
As I started prep, I thought about what my process was going to be. I imagined stir fries, but I didn’t want to fry the tempeh; tempeh is very tasty fried, nice and crispy, with a little Braggs or tamari, cayenne, and maybe a dash of something else, but it soaks up too much oil. Thus, I turned the oven to 400, sliced up the tempeh and arranged it all on a paper lined baking sheet and sprinkled it with just a little Braggs. Then, into the oven, probably for about 10 minutes.
Next I scrubbed my carrots. I have had a sort of inner debate about peeling carrots. Yogi Bhajan once said that the skins were there to protect the root from the soil and weren’t really for eating. However for some veggies he said it’s important to eat the skins. I think it’s a myth that all the vitamins are in the skins. That’s like when my mom used to say that all the vitamins of bread were in the crust. I actually believed that! Anyway, because of my little ongoing debate, I have settled on a happy medium: I neither peel nor leave the skins on my carrots. I give them a good scrubbing with my veggie brush, and maybe lightly scrape with the edge of my paring knife. That done, I sliced the carrots into diagonal rounds. They’re so pretty this way, don’t you think?
Next I set to work (or, really, play) on my two zucchinis. After trimming the ends off (they will later meet their destiny in the compost pile) I sliced them in half lengthwise. I like them in the same diagonal slice as my carrots, but by slicing in half first, they come out as oblong diagonal halfmoon sort of shapes. Also lovely. You can do any cylindrical veggie this way for a nice effect, ideal for stir fries. For steaming, it is really better to cut veggies in larger pieces or fatter slices to better retain nutrients; the less cut surface the better.
However, after slicing them up so perfectly for stir fry, I decided I didn’t want to saute the veggies after all. It would be easier just to steam them for a few minutes. I put the carrots and zucchini in a small saucepan with a little water so they could steam, maybe for 4-5 minutes, so they would be a little tender but still have beautiful color. By the time I had them on the stove about 6-7 minutes had passed.
Now I was ready to pull out the iron skillet and put it on the stove with a little oil over high heat. Time for the fun part! First thing in was a little sprinkle of crushed red chilies, so they could sizzle a minute. Then, some fresh ginger that I’d sliced up into thin short matchsticks. I wanted the ginger to be a little crispy, so I let those lovely matchsticks sizzle for another minute or two, along with about a half teaspoon of cumin seeds and a few grinds of black pepper.
When the perfect crispiness was attained, I tossed in the green peppers to get them al dente (like pasta, tender, but still a little firm). About 10 minutes had passed by this point and the tempeh was smelling good. I pulled it out of the oven. Perfect! Just a little browned and dried/crusted on the outside, but not dried out on the inside. This is ideal for when they are added to the stir fries, they won’t soak up oil or get soggy with moisture. I set them aside. I tasted one, just to be sure it was perfect. It was! Therefore I nibbled on 3 more small pieces.
Satisfied with my snack, I heard the green peppers calling out, “Hey!!! stop eating and add the onions!” So I did. One bunch of onions, chopped in 1/2-inch or so pieces… I like to taste the onion. I even fantasized about leaving them whole and either grilling or roasting them under the broiler. That would have been deelish! But the green peppers were insistent and all the onions went into the pan. Looking good, yes? Do those crispy bits of ginger look like you just want to eat them up or what?
I gently mixed the veggies with the tempeh mixture. The tempeh pieces were firm enough to not fall apart all over the place but, my dearest, not if you beat them with your spoon. I added a dash or two of Bragg Liquid Aminos for good measure.
Now, guess what time it was? About 15 minutes when all was said and done, it was time to eat! I served myself a not-too-generous bowl (to save some for Hubby who was coming home later) and drizzled it with that very hip hot topper, Sriracha. Wow, that was a fabulous idea.
If you would like to try making this, and need a recipe, see below. I enjoyed it so much, I had a little seconds.
Quick Veggie-Tempeh Stir-Bake-Steam-Fries
Yield: 2-4 servings
You can use any veggies you want with this dish. I used what I had on hand, and you can do the same. This would be delicious served over couscous or rice, especially if you add a couple of chopped tomatoes or a 14-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes, and maybe a dash of vinegar. Have fun doing whatever you like. It will be superb!
If it seems really too much to bake the tempeh and steam the veggies, you can do it all in one pan, like a wok, saute pan, or big iron skillet. First saute the chiles, ginger, peppers, and onions per the recipe, but add the carrots to the pan with the bell peppers. After a a minute or two add the zucchini, and stir and fry until desired tenderness. I suggest you add a small amount of water, cover, and let steam 2-3 minutes so you don’t have to use more oil.
1 pkg tempeh
Bragg Liquid Aminos
2 medium zucchini, sliced in bite size pieces
3-4 carrots, sliced in rounds a little less than 1/4″ thick
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (coconut, peanut, and grapeseed oils have high smoke points and are ideal for high temp cooking)
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) crushed red chilies, or a little chopped fresh serrano or jalapeno
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped in short matchsticks
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1 bell pepper (any color) chopped in 1/2″ dice
1 bunch green onions (OK to use less), chopped in 1/2″ pieces
Preheat oven to 400. Slice tempeh crosswise in pieces not more than 1/4″ thick. Line baking sheet with baking parchment (or you can put tempeh directly on the baking sheet; parchment saves on clean up). Drizzle with a little Bragg Aminos. Put tray of tempeh in hot oven and bake 9-10 minutes.
Note on Tempeh and Bitterness
I like tempeh as it is out of the package. Some people feel it has a slightly bitter taste. To remove this bitterness, slice your tempeh up as directed by your recipe, and then boil in water or veggie broth for about 5-10 minutes. Drain, and then follow recipe the usual way. You can do this for any recipe calling for tempeh.
Meanwhile, start prepping your carrots and zucchini. Put chopped veggies into small sauce pan with about 1/2″ or so of boiling water. Cover, and let steam for 4-5 minutes.
Continuing with the meanwhile… Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in iron skillet over high heat. When hot, add red chilies and let sizzle for 15-20 seconds until toasty. Add chopped fresh ginger and cumin seeds. Sizzle and stir until ginger is a little crispy.
About now, probably both the tempeh and veggies should be done enough.
Add chopped bell pepper to the saute mixture and continue to stir over high heat, 2-3 more minutes, until just-right tender firm. Add chopped green onions and stir fry for 1 more minute until they are softened and lightly done.
Add tempeh and mix to coat all with the saute mixture. Add veggies and up to 1/4 cup of veggie steaming water from the pan. Stir lightly and it is ready to serve. Add a little more Bragg Liquid Aminos, salt or tamari soy sauce to taste.
Have Sriracha sauce on the table that folks can add if desired, or drizzle a little over each serving if you know they’ll like it spicy hot.
That’s it. Enjoy!