I'm not going to lie, this is a refrigerator cleanout party. I'm proud of it. I think a lot of folks are trying to reduce their waste these days, both because it is the right thing to do for the environment, and to stretch their food dollars a little farther.
Coincidentally, the same night I cooked this, my old pal the Surly Gourmand tweeted "Tempeh sucks. It has the same spongiform texture as an alien's brain." I knew exactly where he was coming from. If you just open a package of tempeh and take a bite, you have cold soy-mush in your mouth. Not good. (Surly's blog is hilarious but definitely not for children or the easily offended. Here's the link if you have your fire-proof suit on.)
Tempeh's magic happens when you thoroughly fry it. It doesn't have to be deep fried, but it needs to be pan fried in a single layer with enough oil that the outside really browns. Now your mush has been transformed into a semi-crispy treat with a complex, nutty flavor. You want to maximize surface area, so slice it thinly for best results. It makes a really nice change of pace from tofu.
Anyhow, when I opened the fridge I found a few cups of cooked brown rice, the tempeh, Japanese eggplants and lemongrass. I opted for a straightforward stir-fry, but crisped up the rice to provide another textural element. Even if you never make this exact dish, you could adapt any part of it to suit your own needs.
Tempeh and Japanese Eggplant with Crispy Rice
Vegetarian and vegan; potentially gluten-free as long as you make sure the tempeh is safe
Serves 4 as a one-dish supper
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- vegetable oil
- 1 package tempeh (usually about 8 oz.), sliced into 1/4" thick slabs
- 1 stalk lemongrass, tender part only, peeled, crushed and minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Japanese eggplants (the long, thin kind) sliced into half-moons about 1/2" thick
- 2 green onions, white parts, thinly sliced
- fresh ground black pepper
- toasted sesame oil
- 1 cucumber, peeled if needed, thinly sliced
- Coat a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of oil, fill with the rice, cover and set on a low flame. Check occasionally, adjusting the heat so that the rice is toasting but not burning. Try not to disturb the toasting layer on the bottom more than necessary. The longer you let it cook, the more toasted rice you'll have.
- In a large skillet, heat 1/8" of oil over a medium high flame. Add the tempeh in a single layer and cook until browned on one side. Flip and brown the other side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and season with salt.
- In the same skillet, raise the heat to high and add the minced lemongrass and garlic. Stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until fully tender, about 8-10 minutes.
- Turn out the rice onto a serving platter. If things went great, you will have a nice big crispy dome. If not, that's ok, mound it up. You'll get the hang of the crisping technique. Season it with a bit of salt.
- Top the rice with the eggplant and tempeh, and garnish with the green onions. Arrange the cucumbers around the base of the rice. Give the whole thing several big grinds of fresh black pepper and a few drops of toasted sesame oil.