Char-Siu Style Tempeh

At this pre-Lunar New Year time, many of my Singaporean vegan friends will start worrying, what to do at reunion meals when the host family don’t get the “no animals” idea? Simplest solution is they bring a vegan dish to the reunion. Whether you’re going to host a plant eater or you’re a plant eater hoping your extended family will understand vegan food better, this recipe will satisfy taste buds and dispel the common myth that we only eat vegetables. In fact – no veggies involved here and it won’t taste like tempeh!

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Char siu, which is Cantonese marinated and roasted pork slices, is a local favourite among the Chinese community. Current vegan alternatives found in typical vegetarian stalls are made from gluten (seitan), red colouring and white sugar. Not very interesting and certainly not friendly to your body! I chose tempeh mainly because it absorbs marinade well. I also prefer to keep things processed soy & gluten free for better digestion. (Tempeh is fermented soy, hence easier to digest than tofu.)

You’ll need:

200g tempeh (Recommend to use freshly made ones sold in pasars, they are softer.)

2 blocks fermented red beancurd (available in sauces section from NTUC)

1 tbsp gluten-free light soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)

1 tbsp gluten-free dark soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)

1 tsp five spice powder

¼ tsp white pepper powder

2 tbsp sweet syrup (i melted my own from brown sugar, maple syrup / maltose will work too)

80-100g raw sugar, or as needed to taste (available at NTUC)

1/3 cup mushroom stock (or as needed, simply soak/boil dried shiitake mushrooms in water)

1 tbsp sesame oil

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Method:

Use a fork to poke small holes in tempeh. Cut it into blocks of about 10 x 5cm. Steam for 8-10 mins to rid the beany taste. Let cool. Meanwhile, mix all other ingredients in a bowl. Transfer tempeh into a shallow dish and spread them out in 1 layer. Pour marinade in, making sure all blocks are mostly covered. If not, top up with more stock and stir to mix. Cover dish with cling wrap, refrigerate overnight, it will look similar to the above photo.

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Preheat oven to 200C. Prepare baking tray with aluminum foil and roll up edges. Line tempeh in a row and pour in the remaining liquid (like above pic). Bake for 50min-1 hour, or until all marinade is gone and tempeh roasts to a dark brownish red. Remember to flip sides and rotate tray halfway for even heating.

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Slice and serve. If there’s remaining sauce, keep it together with the slices. Can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for a week or so. To reheat simply steam or toast for 2 mins. Actually they won’t last a week – who can resist moist, saucy, chewy slices of protein roasted to perfection? Perfect with white rice, on noodles, salads, maybe topping for pizza! Or on its own using your hands, perfect excuse to lick sauce off fingers 🙂

Regular soy sauce isn’t fully gluten-free as wheat is used in the fermentation process. There are some that are fermented with rice instead. Gluten free soy sauces can be found at NTUC health section (brand is Bragg’s), iHerb and vegetarian grocery shops.

More tempeh recipes here.

One-pot meal basics part 2 – flavour and texture

After part 1 on pantry basics, here’s the ingredients combining part of our one-pot miso udon. Cooking is a simple exercise in layering flavours with textures. Almost all foods give some texture, but not all can impart flavour.

It’s important to note that besides salty, sour, sweet and bitter, there’s a fifth sense of taste – umami (In Chinese it’s described as 鲜味). It’s the rich, appetite-inducing, lip-smacking savoury taste that characterizes soy sauce. It’s wrongly called the ‘meaty taste’ and while it’s true that glutamates, the amino acid responsible for umami, is higher in animal flesh, people forget that it occurs in plenty of plants too. Plant – based sources of umami include tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, fermented and pickled foods, green jackfruit, mushrooms, seaweeds, and many more! It takes more skill to coax it out from plants than from meat. Personally I believe that understanding umami and knowing how to layer it with other flavours is the key to making Asian vegan dishes delicious.

On to our one-pot example, miso udon’s ingredients and their roles. Of course it isn’t like the traditional dish, but point here is that seemingly random things in the fridge can be made to work as a tasty meal.

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Flavour givers:
5 dried straw and shiitake mushrooms soaked in hot water – as flavour base.
1 tomato, cut into wedges – adds tangy and umami taste.
6 small pieces of sliced ginger – uplifting fragrance complements earthy miso and enhancing umami.
A few spices (black cardamom, star anise and Chinese red pepper) – enriches soup with smoky and warm tones.
4 stalks spring onion, chopped – gives an onion-like hint.
1 tablespoon miso – adds salt, umami and earthy tones.

Texture givers:
1 pack udon noodles – main carbs, chewy and makes the meal filling.
3 pre-steamed yams – thickens soup while adding chunks of starchy textural interest.
Large handful of pre-soaked frozen split lentils – thickens soup and adds protein.

Here’s how everything melds together, plus possible ingredient substitutes for allergies/religious dietary restrictions:

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Have an end flavour & texture in mind before cooking. Want less chewy noodles? Use thin rice noodles. More spice? Add chilli. Want less umami, more sour? Omit mushrooms, use tamarind instead of tomato. Don’t take onion/garlic? Garnish with parsley/coriander.

For daily meals just work with whatever there is – no need to fuss over what you have or don’t. Relax, enjoy the process of discovering new combinations and feeding loved ones!

Next > cooking times – how not to under or overcook.