Tempeh and Japanese Eggplant with Crispy Rice – Recipe

Tempeh Japanese Eggplant
Tempeh with Japanese Eggplant and Crispy Rice

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
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cucumber, peeled if needed, thinly sliced
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

10 Responses to “Tempeh and Japanese Eggplant with Crispy Rice – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    April 23, 2009 at 1:06 pm #


    The photo looks very tasty but I thought we’d already discussed the fact that you can deep fry ANYTHING, even a dismembered gorilla’s anus, and it would taste good. And don’t disparage deep fried gorilla anus; it’s a delicacy in many cultures you ethnocentric dick.

    There’s just no way around the natural law that tempeh sucks ass. In fact, tempeh’s shitiness is even stronger than gravity because unlike the law of gravity, the law of tempeh sucking ass holds true even at the subatomic level.


    Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

  2. Reply
    April 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm #

    What a lovely plate! The only way I like tempeh is to marinate it and then bake it in the marinade until it evaporates. But I’ve never pan-fried it and think I’ll have to try it.

  3. Reply
    April 23, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    Empty refrigerator challenges are always fun. We are on an empty the whole pantry and fridge challenge and I’m amazed at the things we come up with!

  4. Reply
    April 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm #

    great recipe and it will taste even better with spicy peanut sauce for an Indonesian twist.

  5. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    April 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Yes, that is right on, as you say, Tempeh is an Indonesian ingredient and a
    peanut sauce would work very well in this dish. (Unfortunately I can’t serve
    my house … )

  6. Reply
    April 26, 2009 at 8:10 am #

    Tempeh and eggplant — both recently-acquired tastes for me, but now I can dig them. Turns out, I don’t like them poorly prepared…. go figure. Anyway, I’m adding this to the list of dinners to try.

  7. Reply
    July 6, 2009 at 3:17 am #

    For people who think that tempeh will never taste as good as fried gorilla anus, I normally deep-fry some and serve it with a stripe of ketchup and a couple of dots of mayo, this changes their tune pretty quickly (though they never quite lose the pucker, must be their diet).

  8. Reply
    July 29, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    On first look, I thought there was deep fried fish in it. great picture, mouth watering recipe, hmmm, hungry again.

  9. Reply
    christine grace
    March 14, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    mmmm… i happen to have tempeh and a whole bunch of eggplants in my fridge! will have to make this soon. thx for the recipe!

  10. Reply
    May 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    i love tempeh! It’s something I love to make any time as a meal accompaniment since it’s great with tofu, vegetables, ANYTHING.

    Have to agree that cooking-style wise, tempeh’s only got a good fry going for it, but after that the possibilities are endless. I love it fried

    …with a little salt and it goes well with mee goreng (had it just yesterday!)
    …with a little cumin and spice and goes well as a veggie/tofu burger alternative
    …and stir fried with a little tofu in a spicy sambal sauce or chilli paste. 😉

    your recipe with lemongrass sounds great and I can’t wait to add it as a staple to my weeknight dinners!

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