Tempeh manis is a somewhat sweet preparation of tempeh (fermented soybeans), and is one of my favorite dishes from a trip to Indonesia a year ago. I’d been looking for a good tempeh manis recipe, until an Indonesian coworker pointed my girlfriend and I at the recipe on The Little Teochew.
The recipe is essentially the following:
- Fry 16oz of tempeh, and set it aside.
I pan fry, rather than submerging the tempeh in oil.
- Then pan fry a few shallots sliced thinly, garlic, and a sliced red chili in oil.
I didn’t have shallots this time, so I used half an onion. I also seeded the chili. It wasn’t spicy at all, so maybe unseeded would be fine.
- Add 1/2 cup water and 1.5 tbsp sugar to the pan, and cook until it starts to caramelize.
The amount of water doesn’t really matter, since it’ll cook off until the right amount of water is left. I tried to dissolve the sugar in the water before adding it.
- Add the tempeh back in, and drizzle 1 tbsp kecap manis (see below) evenly throughout.
You’ll want to add the tempeh before the sauce gets too thick, otherwise it won’t spread onto the tempeh very evenly. If it’s too thick, just add some water, and try again.
There was one hard to find ingredient in there: kecap manis (alternatively, “kicap manis”, or “Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce”). The nearest Asian grocery store to me, Duc Loi in SF’s Mission district, didn’t have it, despite an aisle of sauces from various Asian cuisines. I tried a few places in the Richmond, until striking gold at New May Wah, which has a large Indonesian section, including an entire row of kecap manis sauces.
I’m not entirely clear on what this stuff is. The ingredients are listed as: “Soybean, sugar, salt, NA benzoate preservatives and selected spices”. I’d describe the taste as being similar to molasses with a hint of soy sauce. It’s pretty tasty though, and gives the tempeh a nice color.
I’m also told that some people see the use of kecap manis as cheating, so assumedly there is a longhand version of this recipe that produces something similar without using kecap manis. For now I’m pretty content to stick with this version.
This dish is on the sweet side for a main, and is often served as an appetizer in Indonesia. We use it as a protein from time to time, but if you’re sensitive to sweet foods you may want to go easy on the sugar, or have smaller portions as a snack.
Update: The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment has a recipe for making Kicap Manis! Fascinating. If we continue to make this, we’ll have to try that sometime. Although for the time being I have a ton of the store-bought stuff.