Tempeh With Tomatillo Coconut Sauce

tempeh with tomatillo coconut sauce photo

All photos: Mat McDermott

This recipe combines elements of three of my favorite cuisines: South Indian, Indonesian, and Mexican--the first in technique and inspiration, and the second two in ingredients. It combines creamy coconut milk with tart tomatillos, cooking them down with curry leaves, chilies, fenugreek seeds, and popped mustard seeds, all poured over pan fried tempeh. It's a dish filled with satisfyingly savory flavors, rich but not heavy. And it pairs very well with the rich texture and concentrated taste of the Medlock Ames 2007 Red.

curry leaves photo

Curry leaves are one of my absolute favorite ingredients, adding a distinctive taste of South India, and one that really can't be replicated by any thing else. Above are the fresh leaves, which you should try to get, but dried leaves will work as well. Both should be available from good Indian grocers in the US. If you find you really like them, a number of retailers sell potted curry leaf plants, so you'll always have a fresh supply on hand. One trick with them: If you buy the fresh leaves, leave the package open in the refrigerator and they should dry out and stay usable indefinitely, rather than rot, which can happen if you keep them in a sealed package.

Tomatillo Coconut Sauce
There's a good deal of chopping involved before you even a heat a pan for this, but it all goes pretty quickly after that. The following sauce portion will serve four people.

2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
3/4 cup shallots, thinly sliced
2 green chilies, finely sliced
(seed or de-seed as to your taste and the heat of the chili)
8-10 fresh or dried curry leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb tomatillos, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp sichuan pepper
3/4 cup coconut milk
radish, sliced as thinly as possible
(for garnish)
cilantro, finely chopped
(for garnish)

  • heat sesame oil in largish pot or deep sauce pan, when hot but not smoking add mustard seeds
  • when mustard seeds have popped (perhaps 30 seconds), add fenugreek seeds and cook for a few more seconds until fenugreek is aromatic and darkens slightly
  • add shallots, chilies, curry leaves and cook until shallots have started to brown
  • add tomatillos, turmeric, salt and pepper and cook until tomatillos break down nearly completely
  • add coconut milk, bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer. cook, stirring occasionally to ensure the sauce doesn't stick, until it all thickens
  • reduce heat to lowest setting while cooking tempeh
tempeh with tomatillo coconut sauce photo
Pan-Fried Tempeh Pan-fried is a bit of misnomer in that the pan is just brushed with oil.

2, 8oz packages tempeh
4 tbsp soy sauce
vegetable oil

  • slice the tempeh into quarter- to- half in pieces, cutting across the narrow width
  • brush a frying pan with vegetable oil and heat. Add half the soy sauce and swirl around the pan
  • when hot, add the tempeh, frying each side, flipping with tongs. When one side is done and the tempeh flipped, add the remaining soy sauce and cook until browned

tomatillo coconut sauce with tempeh photo

The finished dish, garnished with sliced radish and chopped cilantro. Served with coconut dosa (that recipe with have to wait till another time...)

To plate, ladle out a base of the sauce. Arrange 5-6 sticks of tempeh on top. Drizzle some more sauce over that. Garnish with the thinly sliced radish and chopped cilantro.

Since tempeh is a soy product and soy doesn't always react well for some people's digestion or complection, note that this sauce goes equally well with any seitan or field roast product. It also goes well over roast potatoes or just even over plain rice, in which case you should probably accompany it by another dish.

It reheats very well, so even if you're just cooking for one or two people, make the full sauce portion and save it for another meal. Be careful when reheating as it can burn, which if it happens isn't so bad as it'll get crunchy brown bits in it.

You can always adjust the amount of chilies in it to your taste, but using the type of chilies in the photo above and not removing the seeds yields a lightly spiced sauce.

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Indian-Spiced Tomato Soup
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