IT’S TIME THE WORLD TRIED TEMPEH!
Here’s a mid-belter to get the taste buds zinging, full of the things we need with winter just around the bend. When the nights draw in (our clocks have just gone back in the UK which means it gets dark at around 4-5pm already!) we naturally turn to comfort foods rich in carbs to put some padding on for winter. Stir fries are the ideal way of avoiding really heavy, stodgy grub at this time of year and because the ingredients are cooked quickly, at high heat, they retain more of their health giving properties. The winter wok is a star and our bodies need a decent kick start to get us through this physically arduous time of year.
Stir fries are always and intense affair, its at the exciting, adrenaline rich end of the cooking spectrum. You need to be organised, with a very hot pan and trusty spatula at the ready. If you turn around to grab something, things can go horribly wrong! This one it ever-so easy to get together and wok, with the pleasing addition of a few superfood-stylee trimmings. Trust me, the name of this dish sounds far more complex than the cooking.
WHAT’S TEMPEH AND WHY?
Tempeh is so easy to prepare, highly fuss-free and packed with all the protein a vegan needs to sparkle. Soya is best kept wholebean and the thing I love about tempeh is you can actually see the beans (see below). Tempeh originated from the Indonesia area and is eaten extensively as a meat substitute, although it is surely appreciated for just being highly tasty (I prefer this approach). It is whole soya beans, packed together and partly fermented which leads to the health benfits of soya being accentuated. Our body can utilise its goodness more directly.
Tempeh is now relatively easy to track down in the UK and you can of course find it on line. I like to eat it regularly, normally as an alternative to tofu. It always seems like a treat when the tempeh is cracked open. You can buy it frozen in long logs in some Oriental shops/ supermarkets. The tempeh we use here was in ‘log’ form. You can steam this tempeh for 10 minutes to revitalise it before cooking. Frozen tempeh is alot drier than jarred tempeh (which is suspended in brine) so it will absorb much more marinade. Like most of these vegan, pulse based curd-like creations, it does need a nice, slow marinade to impart wonderful flavours. Tempeh and tofu are really just ridiculously nutritious launch pads for high charged flavour rockets!!!! I’ve gone for a straightforward marinade here and 30 minutes should do the trick, marinade wise, on a busy week night, although a couple of hours would be quite awesome.
Soba noodles are well up there in my noodle league. They have a firm texture and loads of nutritional perks. Just check the quantity of buckwheat to wheat if you’re keeping things low gluten. Pure buckwheat noodles are available, but ‘soba’ noodles are normally a mix.
AUTUMNAL ANTI-OXIDANT FIX
Are we all familiar with goji berries? They seem to have been a superfood for at least 3000 years now, originating somewhere in ancient China and always very highly regarded for their potent nutritional properties. Goji’s are the ideal autumn/ winter defence blanket for all kinds of cold/ flu invasions. Highly charged with anti-oxidants and happy chemicals, a handful of goji’s a day, keeps the snotty, coughy zombie man at bay. You can pick them up all over the place now and they are the perfect winter salad/ stew ‘sprinkle’ of choice. If you’re in the UK, try a rosehip as a more local substitute. They have very similar properties, but would have looked a little incongruous on a highly Oriental style stir fry!
We also have peppers in the mix, which are very (very), very high in vitamin C. One of the best sources in the vegetal world in fact. Then we have our friend rainbow chard which is a green and we all know what they do. Anything green and leafy is our bodies best friend, packed with vitamins and minerals (for more chard -based info – See the ‘Foodie Fact’ below).
If you are looking from serious detox properties from this wok wonder, I’d recommend taking it easier on the shoyu and mirin due to sodium and sugar (respectively) contents. Our kidneys and liver are never happy to see high levels of salt and sweetness.
A WORD ON COOKING CHARD
Chard contains some funky acids (oxalic acids), whilst not harmful, it is best to avoid them. Our bodies can absorb the goodness of chard easier when the acids are out of the way. The best way to do this it to steam or boil them for a few minutes. Do not use this cooking liquid for soups or stocks.
Last night, we fancied something like a chow mein style dish, low on sauce and high on noodles. To make this more of a soup, just add some shoyu/ tamari or miso to the water when cooking your noodles (taste the broth to decide how strong you like it) and serve ladled over the final dish.
The Bits – For 2
200g tempeh (cut into chunks, we like big ones, most people go for small 1 cm by 3cm oblong shapes)
1 tbs sunflower oil
1/2 teas toasted sesame oil
3 teas shoyu/ tamari or good soya sauce (ie not heavily processed)
2 teas mirin or sake/ cream sherry with a pinch of sugar
1 1/2 teas sesame oil
4 large stems rainbow chard (finely sliced) – spinach, kale, savoy cabbage etc..any green leaf is cool
1 bell pepper (diced)
1 medium carrot (cut into thin batons, or sliced)
1/2 inch ginger (finely diced)
1 red chilli (if you like it hot)
175-200g buckwheat/ soba noodles
1 handful goji berries (soaked for 30 minutes in water)
1 tbs toasted sesame seeds
1 teas lemon juice
Marinade the tempeh, pour over the ingredients, cover and leave in a fridge for 30 minutes or longer.
I like to start with the noodles, bring 1 ltr of water to a boil and submerge the noodles whole (try not to break them up). Stir with a fork to keep the noodles seperated, adding a splash of oil if they start sticking (some brands of noodles will do this, its the high buckwheat content I think). Cook them for a few minutes (follow what the packet says), drain them (or make a broth – see above) and pop them back into the warm pan. Shake the noodles gently to make sure they’re all happy and seperated, pop a lid on and set aside.
If you are a highly accomplished wok master you can start stir frying whilst the noodles are on their way.
Warm up a wok/ large frying pan and add 1/2 of the sunflower/ sesame oils, on a medium high heat, add the drained tamari and stif fry for 5 minutes, trying to get your chunks coloured on all sides. Gently play with them as not to break them up. Set aside and keep warm. I put a plate on to of the noodle pan and cover it with another plate, using the heat from the noodles to warm the tempeh!
During the entire stir frying process, the pan can get too hot and leading to burnt bits. Sprinkle a little water into the pan to avoid this, slightly lowering the temperature. Just a s sprinkle is enough, overdoing it will lead to limp veg.
Wipe the pan if it needs it and add the rest of the oil, on a high heat, add the carrots and ginger stir fry until softened, roughly a minute, then add the other veggies and keep stir frying until they are wilted, softened and delicious. Remember we want crunch and vitality with a stir fry, so slightly undercook the veggies (they continue to cook when you are preparing to serve). Add a splash of your marinade ingredients to the pan towards the end of cooking to add a little pizzazz, followed by a little lemon juice to cut through all that salty tamari-style behaviour.
Pour the veggies into the noodle pan and combine them nicely together.
Pour into warm shallow bowls and top with the tempeh and sprinkles of gojis and sesame seeds.
As an option – mix a little more of the marinade ingredients together and people can season their noodles as they like.
Chard is a member of the chenopod family, with beetroot, spinach and surprisingly, quinoa! It is native to the Mediterranean where it has been honoured for its medicinal properties since ancient times, Aristotle even wrote about it!
Chard is packed with phyto nutrients, in fact there are 13 different types of these beneficial chemicals in chard leaves. Abnormally high! They can help the heart and regulate blood sugar levels. Chard is also high in the betalians, like beetroot, the yellow stems have many more than the red and these wonder nutrients help us with detox, inflammation and are a powerful anti-oxidant. Chard boasts many health giving properties that aid the nervous system, especially the eyes (bags of vitamin A). High levels of vitamin K and magnesium mean that chard is also aids strong bones.
Green leafy foliage should make regular appearances on our plates if we are looking for optimum health with minimum fuss/ expense.