Java spiced tempeh


Because of tempeh’s nutritional credentials, you can find it in most health food shops. This Indonesian staple is a firm vegetarian protein made of fermented soya beans, but don’t dismiss it as beige and bland. Unlike tofu, it is textured with the whole beans and has a savoury, nutty edge. Here it is twice-cooked, first braised to infuse with sweet spice and then fried to crunch and caramelise the edges. The combination is irresistible.


  • 250 g (9 oz) tempeh
  • 1 lemongrass stick, bruised and tied in a knot
  • 2 salam or lime leaves
  • 75 g ( oz) dark palm sugar (gula jawa)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 250 ml (1 cup) fresh coconut water (optional)
  • oil, for frying

Bumbu spice paste

  • 3 small red Asian shallots, peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 can dlenuts or 4 blanched almonds


Start by making the bumbu spice paste. Roughly chop the fresh ingredients then whizz everything together in a food processor or high-speed blender, adding as much water as needed to help everything come together to a rough paste.

Slice the tempeh into triangles, about the size of a samosa. Put into a pan and scrape in the bumbu. Add all the remaining ingredients apart from the oil and top up with enough water to half cover the tempeh. Bring to the boil and cook at a good bubble for 1-2 hours, carefully stirring occasionally. The braising liquid will darken and reduce, in the end leaving only a thick sauce coating the tempeh, which will be tender and spice-infused. Add a little more water if it is reducing too quickly.

The tempeh can be eaten now, but the sweetness is mellowed and flavour enhanced by frying. When you are ready to eat, heat 1 cm (½ inch) oil in a frying pan and brown the slices for a few minutes on each side.