I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really crave tempeh.
I am a sane enough person to realize that that can seem like an absurd statement, but hear me out.
Have you ever tried a plant-based diet? (Cool, thanks for trying! If not, why not? Would it kill you to try? 😉 ) Have you ever had baked tofu cubes with edges so crisp and caramelized and perfectly seasoned, you’d even prefer them to meat? If that doesn’t sound absurd to you (and maybe especially if it does), read on, bold omnivore!
I got home from my shift at the bakery the other morning fretting about my garden. The last of my tired chard plants have been dutifully toiling to produce several, perfect, tender leaves in their final push of the season. This is not to say they have not had a long and prolific career. My chard, gifted to me in the form of seeds by a lovely friend, has provided me with many, many leaves. We’ve had a good run this year, chard and I.
The first time I ate chard, I distinctly remembered thinking that it tasted even dirt-ier than dirt itself. I chewed without pleasure, thinking “Who would voluntarily eat this?”
Obviously many lifetimes have eclipsed since then, and I have to attribute any advancements in my palette to my foresighted mother. (Thanks, Mom.)
The point is, I’ve really come a long way with this vegetable. From obligation to enjoyment, there are many miles to span and many bridges to cross. I’ve given this leafy green a chance many times when I didn’t feel up to the challenge, and over time I found merit and reward in the trying. By now, I even crave the vegetable from time to time and its robust, earthy flavor.
So I knew this final harvest deserved a little special something. A final bow, if you will, before winter digs in and this fruitful little plant dies away. She deserved to be the star of the show, and I figured her cast ought to be entirely made up with vegetables.
First, I harvested and washed the tender baby chard.
Then, I gathered the necessary ingredients, chopped my tempeh and chard and sorted the chard pieces into piles of “mostly stems” and “mostly leaf,” assembled my marinade, and zipped the cut tempeh in a bag to rest for 30 minutes.
I roasted the tempeh with half of the marinade until the edges turned crispy in the pan, then sautéed the chard, stems first, in sesame oil and chili flakes. Simple and flavorful, this recipe could easily be adapted to serve two, with another handful of chard. If you are looking to flesh out the meal, consider serving your favorite grain or rice noodles alongside.
Spicy Sesame Chard with Salty Tempeh Bites
- 3 Tbs light sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tbs sweet chili sauce or sriracha
- 1 Tbs sesame oil
- ½ tsp honey
- ¼ lime, juiced
- 1 medium garlic clove, pressed, minced, or grated with a microplane zester
- 0.5 oz ginger (about 1” long), peeled with a spoon and minced or grated with a microplane zester
- 1 8oz package tempeh, cut into ½”-1” chunks
- 10 oz rainbow chard, washed
- 2 Tbs sesame oil
- 1-2 Thai chilis, chopped, or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 Tbs water
- 1 3-fingered pinch of salt
- ¼ c fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 Tbs coconut cream (garnish, 1 Tbs per dish)
- Sesame seeds (garnish)
- Squeeze of fresh lime (about 1/8th of a lime)
Cut tempeh into ½”-1” chunks. Using a small saucepan, steam for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, assemble the sauce. Mix all ingredients in a jar or liquid measuring cup, tasting for seasoning. Set aside.
Drain tempeh and let cool a few minutes. Place tempeh in a quart-sized zip top bag with sauce, and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, flipping the bag over after 15 minutes have passed. When you flip the bag for the second 15 minutes, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Wash chard and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1” long) and separate the stems from the leafy cuts. Set aside.
Assemble tempeh in an oven-safe baking dish, making sure none of the pieces are touching. Pour half of the marinade over the tempeh. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add second measurement of sesame oil to a large skillet, set over high heat. Sprinkle in chopped Thai chili or red pepper flakes and “bloom” in the hot oil, about one minute. Add chard, stems first, lowering to the temperature to medium-low. Stir until the stems are coated in oil (about 30 seconds) then add 3 Tbs water and immediately cover. Steam undisturbed for 3 minutes, or until the stems begin to change color and turn tender. Add chopped leaves and toss with tongs until they are coated with the spiced oil, seasoning with salt as you do so. Cover again and steam for one minute. Remove lid and stir. Steam until the water has cooked out, and the leaves have reached desired “doneness.” Remove from heat and cover with a lid to keep warm.
After 10 minutes of baking, pull tempeh and flip the pieces over using tongs or a spatula. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes. You are looking for caramelization on the edges and acquisition of color on each tempeh cube.
When tempeh has finished baking, pull from the oven and add the remaining marinade to the hot dish. You may have darkened bits of cooked sauce around the tempeh. Stir the tempeh around to coat with fresh marinade and let rest while you plate the chard.
Using tongs, pull chard from skillet, allowing any excess water or oil to wick off. Place onto two plates, adding tempeh chunks and any desired residual marinade. Plate with 1 Tbs coconut cream on each dish, fresh cilantro, sesame seeds, and a squeeze of lime.