Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pepes Tempe (Tempeh paste steamed and grilled in banana leaves)

With all the recent posts on tempeh, you'd think I was vegan or something. Not that there's anything wrong with that. However, I like meat. Fish, flesh, and fowl. And I like butter, eggs, and a gamut of dairy products. It's just that I also really like tempeh (and tofu) and have had some in that had to be used up, so I've posted about that.

I generally prefer my tempeh fried. Thick or thin, marinated in garlic, salt, and water or plain, dipped in batter or naked, I like fried tempeh. Frying transforms the tempeh into a nut-like substance. The texture and taste of fried tempeh makes it the perfect side to an Indonesian meal.

In Indonesia there is a large variety of pepes, packets of steamed, then grilled pastes or meats that have been rolled in banana leaves. Banana leaves are an essentially free resource for packaging the pastes, and steaming the packages before grilling them makes them relatively easy to prepare in advance and grill at the last minute for the vendors who sell them. Chicken, fish, shrimp, tofu, and mushrooms are some of the common fillings for pepes.

The recipe I followed was adapted from The Book of Tempeh. Don't worry about the banana leaves getting burnt; they are wrapped in two pieces of banana leaf ensuring the paste gets grilled without burning.

Pepes Tempe

11 shallots
1 tsp sambal oelek
1 small red bell pepper
13 kemiri (candlenuts), available in Asian markets
15 ounces of tempeh, cut in 3/4 inch cubes
1/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup to 1 cup kemangi leaves (lemon basil, may use Thai basil I suppose)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp dark brown or palm sugar

1 package of banana leaves (available in freezer of most Asian markets)

Process shallots, sambal oelek, pepper and kemiri to a paste in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse briefly to combine.

Pour boiling water over the banana leaves to clean and soften them. Cut leaves in 10 nine-inch squares and 10 four-inch squares.

Center a small square of banana leaf on a larger square of leaf. Place about a half cup of the paste in an oval on the small square. Roll up the leaves together and secure with toothpicks on both ends. The sausage shaped package should be about an inch thick. Steam the packets for 10 minutes, and then grill for another ten minutes until the banana leaves are charred. Serve in the leaves. Have something handy to discard the leaves as the packages are opened.

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