Sambal Goreng Tempeh

Sambal Goreng Tempeh


Sambal is a sublime hot, sweet, sour, pungent, and sometimes spiced Indonesian sauce that is used in or served with many dishes throughout the Indonesian archipelago. I learned to make some of many renditions while living in Indonesia and its aroma alone epitomizes the essence of Indonesian cooking.

Goreng means fried; both stir fried and deep fried.

Tempeh is a clever Indonesian innovation of naturally culturing soybeans injected with rhizopus mold spores collected from rice that is then wrapped in banana leaves, pressed to about 2cm/3/4 inch thick rectangular cakes, and fermented. Tempeh is a rich source of vegetable protein, vitamin B12, and natural fiber, and now very popular worldwide as an alternative to animal protein.

Tempeh’s rich nutty flavor combined with a piquant sambal is a pairing that stirs the appetite and tantalizes the taste buds. Tempeh also makes a compelling case for supporting the idea of sustainable agriculture and a healthier diet to share with your friends and family.


Sambal Goreng Tempeh     serves 4 as a side dish

  • 2 cakes of tempeh; about 14 oz
  • 6 tablespoons cold pressed peanut oil + more as needed
  • ¾ cup mince red shallots + 1/4 cup sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 long red hot chilies, seeded and minced + 1 thinly sliced lengthwise
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 inch knob galangal, peeled and minced
  • 2 lemongrass stalks (tender white part only) minced
  • 2 teaspoons Indonesian trasi shrimp paste (or Thai shrimp paste)
  • 4 tablespoons palm sugar
  • 1 small tomato, skinned, seeded, and minced
  • 1/3 cup water + more as needed
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind water (tamarind pulp and water, simmered and strained)
  • 6-8 small red or green chilies, finely sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoon kacep manis (sweet soy sauce)
  • additional sea salt to taste

Frying the tempeh:

Thinly slice the tempeh across the cake and slice each slice in half lengthwise into thin strips.

Have a plate lined with paper towels ready for draining the fried tempeh.

Tempeh Goreng; fried tempeh

Tempeh Goreng; fried tempeh

Heat a wok or saute pan over medium high heat and add 4 tablespoons of the peanut oil or to about 1/8th inch deep in the pan. When the oil is very hot add some of the tempeh strips and fry until the undersides are nicely browned; about 1 minute. Turn and brown the other sides. Promptly transfer to paper towels to drain. Continue frying the tempeh in batches and set aside to cool.

Making the sambal:      Needed: a large granite mortar and pestle

Place the minced shallots, garlic, minced red chilies, and sea salt in the mortar and grind into a coarse paste. Add the galangal and lemongrass and grind until the paste is relatively smooth. This will take several minutes. Persistence has its rewards!

Place a wok or saute pan over medium flame and add 2 tablespoon peanut oil. When hot transfer the sambal paste from the mortar to the pan and fry while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes. Create a well in the center of the pan and add the trasi (or Thai shrimp paste). Smash the trasi around using the back of your spoon until the it melts, is slightly caramelized, and releasing a pungent aroma. Then add the palm sugar and stir into the mixture until the sugar is completely melted.

Stir in the tomatoes and smash them into the paste until pulverized and combined. Then add 1/3 cup water and stir into the mixture and cook until the water has reduced by two thirds. Add several tablespoons of water and continue cooking until the water is again reduced by two thirds. Stir in the tamarind water until combined and cook until reduced. Stir in the sliced shallots, sliced red chile strips, and chopped small red or green chilies, nutmeg, and kacep manis and stir until combined. Cook an additional 2 minutes. Taste and add more sea salt if needed.

At this point the sambal should look quite syrupy and sticky. If it is very dry add a little water and stir.

Promptly add the fried tempeh and gently toss it with the sauce until evenly coated, or glazed is perhaps a better description.

Serving: Promptly transfer to a platter and serve.

Suggested: As in Indonesia, Sambal Goreng Tempeh is always served with rice. For a healthy vegetarian meal, stir fried mixed vegetables with ginger would be a complimentary choice.

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