Brunch challenge: how to cook tempeh

I like food challenges. They push you out of that safe repertoire of ten or so dishes that you circle back to. They open new culinary avenues. They make you try. A sort of culinary date-night. That said, this was a tricky one. I needed to make a brunch which would satisfy herbivores and omnivores, without compromising my integrity and resorting to veggie sausages.  Hmm.

Several other conditions complicated this: these were old friends and it was going to be a late night before the brunch. They mostly love food, but one of them is somewhat picky for an adult. I would need to make enough to fill up six people, and add some nutrition back in to their system. As always in these situations, forward planning is your friend. I decided on something that I could mostly prepare the afternoon before, stick in the fridge and whip out in the morning, completing with little effort.

It’s at this point those unfamiliar with tempeh might think things get a little weird. Tempeh is a soybean based product, originally a staple in Indonesian cookery, but now available in health food stores and some supermarkets over here. It contains protein, vitamins and fibre. Anyway, I’m not going to lecture you here – look it up. It has an unusual texture, firm and nutty, and is surprisingly versatile. So I decided to make tempeh sandwiches for brunch, along with fruit, juice and coffee, obviously.

This wholesome spread was going to push my friend who insists on eating meat at every meal  out of his comfort zone. Just to up the ante I decided to make a new bread to go with this, the spelt bread from the third Leon cook book. I must disclose that I’m currently rather in love with this book. Normally I wouldn’t cook something totally new for company. I’m a firm adherent to the ‘try it first’ rule which does reduce stress and tears enormously. But here I was breaking my own rule. And it worked beautifully. Lovely bread.

The tempeh is simplicity itself to prepare – an easy marinade (see below) and pop it in the fridge overnight, ready to fry up in the morning. It is not the most aesthetically appealing food stuff. In fact, it looks a bit odd (see pic above). As a host you can add to this by telling your guests that it is basically soybeans held together by the fungus rhizopus oligosporus, but it’s probably better to withhold such information until after your guests have begun murmuring in fulfilment. Which they will. There is something satisfying about the sort of production line feeling making a platter of sandwiches gives you. I did mine with ketchup – remember there was a fussy eater already eating Indonesian protein in ancient wheat bread – but you could easily do a lettuce and tomato version, or serve the strips alongside beans and mixed mushrooms.

The brunch came together so well that I had that slightly smug feeling good cooking produces. I’m sure you know what I mean. And it was lovely to cater to the non-meat eaters in the group, rather than sideline their tastes. It actually got all of us eating something new, which can only be a good thing.


2 cloves crushed garlic

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1tbsp tomato puree

5tbsp water.

Cut the tempeh into strips. Combine all the marinade ingredients, put in the tempeh strips and leave in the fridge overnight.

To cook simply heat a frying pan or griddle pan with a small amount of oil. Let the pan get good and hot then fry the strips on either side.

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