Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bonus Recipe! Stir Fried Sweet Potatoes

Alongside the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh, I served some boiled kale and stir-fried sweet potatoes. I thought I'd share the sweet potato recipe with you. It's of my own creation, but is inspired by a recipe in the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (which is simultaneously hopelessly out of date and quite strong on technique).

Here's what you need:

1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger

1. Parcook the potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes or so, until soft but not too much so.

2. Meanwhile, mix the stock, soy sauce, and sugar together.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add salt, then ginger, and stir-fry until the ginger just starts to release its fragrance, 30-45 seconds.

4. Add the sweet potatoes and stir until coated with oil.

5. Add the stock/soy sauce mixture and stir. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and sweet potatoes are tender.

6. Serve, accept compliments with grace.

Hot Sauce Glazed Tempeh

I have never understood the appeal of tempeh.

Tofu, I get and I like. It can be creamy or chewy, and absorbs damn near any flavor you put near it. Tempeh, on the other hand, reminds me a bit of a Duraflame log. Only made of fermented soybeans and a lot less flammable. For the record, I have cooked with tempeh before, and haven't managed to find the recipe to convert me.

But vegans seem to like tempeh, and the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh (p. 129-130), which meets my pro-spicy sensibilities and was endorsed by the omnivorous Nadine at Culinate, seemed like a decent recipe to get going with.

So here's the method. You cut your package of tempeh into eight wedges, then simmer it in hot water for 10 minutes. This turns out to be an interesting step, because the tempeh expands pretty dramatically. Terry & Isa say that boiling it helps make the tempeh more receptive to receive the marinade.

Sounds kind of sexy.

Anyway, the marinade is made up of hot sauce, wine, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, and cayenne. On that last one, Terry and Isa say, "we know, with hot sauce? Yes." They're right, and let's pause for a minute and consider why. It's easy to think that the only flavor peppers impart is heat, but if you think about it, you'll know that's not right. You can think of bell peppers as super-mild hot peppers, and you know that green bell peppers and red bell peppers taste different. Granted, those are the same species of pepper at different stages of ripeness, but that should get the point across. Once you get beyond the heat, different types of peppers taste, well, different. So -- the dominant flavors of Cholula are hot, vinegar, and salt. For 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, it's not really adding heat in competition with 1/4 cup of hot sauce, and it's not adding acid or salt, either. It's just giving you a piquancy that the Cholula leeches out of its peppers. If you're using sriracha, your results may vary, but I'm pretty sure Terry & Isa are referring to your standard vinegar-based sauces.

Whatever. Just use the cayenne. Anyway, so you let all this crap marinate for an hour.

It was far too cold to grill, so I chose the pan-frying method You just add a bit of oil to a hot pan, then put the tempeh wedges in, turning it frequently and spooning the marinade over it to keep it from drying out. This method seems to work pretty well.

So finally, I pulled this off and served it alongside some boiled kale and stir-fried sweet potatoes (bonus recipe!).

Pretty, but a little spare. The verdict around the table was, frankly, mixed. Iv thought it was unbearably salty. E. thought it was crazy spicy, but he's a wimp. I liked it. But I also agreed with Iv that the salt was insane, but at the same time, the marinade actually brought out what's good about tempeh for me for the first time. Bittman refers to it as having a "haunting" flavor, and I've never gotten what he's talking about, but having the marinade acting as an extreme contrast brings it out. The marinade doesn't totally penetrate the tempeh, so the exterior is spicy, while the interior has an almost creamy, mild nutty flavor. It's nice.

But we've got to deal with the salt. It's the heat that brings out the contrast, not the salt. So the better way might be to take a look at some of the recipes for homemade Tabasco that you can find online and use one of them as the base for your marinade. A project for another time. For now, I recommend this recipe, with the reservation that you make your own hot sauce, or at least seek out a low-salt alternative.