I've been vegetarian for the better part of the last fifteen years. One major exception was during my pregnancy, as the only thing I ever really craved was a Whopper, in all its fake-meat, junk-food, disgusting glory. My son was sensitive to both cows milk and soy products until relatively recently, so I remained omnivorous after he was born, partly because becoming sated on vegan fare (minus soy) got so boring, but also because those two particular exclusions all but necessitate home cooking, which can be a challenge with a newborn. In addition, I found it nearly impossible to meet the caloric requirements of a nursing mother on such a diet without being constantly ravenous. Meat helped with all that.
Though, I admit it-- after breaking with my vegetarianism, I re-learned how tasty meat is. I cringe to say it, but I sort of loved my "necessary" foray into being a meat-eater. I tried lamb for the first time, in a Middle Eastern dish, and wanted to kiss my butcher on his ruddy face for stocking it. I cooked buffalo into our green chile stew and enjoyed the stew the way God and man intended it to be. I had Vietnamese pork salad, country ham and biscuits, and maple bacon and was shocked that the taste of pig was actually better than I remembered it-- and I remembered it fondly.
But eating meat was always meant to be a temporary thing for me, and I know that much of my enjoyment was the result of a take-no-prisoners approach to enthusiastically trying anything-- I was curious, adventurous, and so damn hungry. It was awesome.
Now that my baby bear's tummy has toughened (knock on wood), and especially now that he's starting to eat food on his own, I feel the time has come to cut out meat again. I've started reading The China Study, and the book goes a long way in giving me the final push I've needed to get excited about vegetarianism again. I know if I embrace a meat-free diet the way I embraced a diet inclusive of meat-- with curiosity, adventurousness, and hunger-- I'll be rewarded with tasty foods, just the same. This dinner is the perfect example of that.
Tempeh is available in all the grocery stores here, but there seems to be a dearth of recipes for the tempeh newbie out there.
I was game but honestly couldn't find a lot of guidance, even from my stalwart vegetarian sherpa, Madhur Jaffrey. Katie's fantastic blog, The Muffin Myth, has a couple tempeh recipes, which we have tried and loved-- as we have with everything on her blog-- but I felt like I needed to continue branching out. I modified this recipe from one on 101cookbooks from years ago, but instead of serving it with rice, I tried the kale salad that was pinned and re-pinned a million times over a few weeks ago.
And? I was not disappointed. In fact, this is one of those meals you could serve to the veg-skeptic and make a believer out of them. It is utterly delicious, incredibly healthy, and you'll have leftovers to remind yourself to buy more tempeh this week at the grocery.
The amount of kale and cabbage I had must have been exponentially more than the gourmande in the kitchen, because making the dressing as written didn't touch but half my greens. Then again, I had two massive bowls full of salad-- plus half the bunch of kale stowed away for later use-- so I doubled the dressing indicated. I ended up not using the whole of the second round of dressing, so craft your own salad and disperse the dressing as you like. I wish I had measured the ingredients with my super awesome new kitchen scale but, alas, no such luck. At least leftover kale is a good thing!
I'm a newbie when it comes to tempeh, so this is what I did, and it yielded delicious results. Have a tempeh recipe you're wild about? Please share, I can't wait to try more!
For the tempeh:
- 1 8oz block of tempeh, cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
- 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 Tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/2-1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
For the kale salad:
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 small head of cabbage, or 1/2 head of large cabbage
- 1 baby bok choy
- 4 medium carrots, shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
- 3 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
- First, marinate your tempeh. Combine all ingredients in an oven-proof dish and let the tempeh absorb the marinade for roughly 20 - 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350.
- While the tempeh is marinating, prep your salad. I chopped the kale, cabbage, and bok choy into roughly the same longish strips. This always seems to take an eternity. I recommend tackling the kale first, putting it into a large bowl, and rubbing it with a bit of olive oil. Let it rest while you continue prepping the rest of the salad.
- Meanwhile, when the tempeh has marinated, pop it into the oven for about 45 minutes, stirring at least twice as it bakes.
- Make the salad dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients and whisking to emulsify.
- Once you've prepped the salad ingredients, combine all but the sesame seeds in a large bowl (your kale should be a little softer now).Drizzle the dressing in batches over the salad, stirring to combine. Garnish with the sesame seeds and serve with tempeh on top. I found the leftovers delicious and, after running out of tempeh, tossed a few roasted peanuts in to create a satisfying, crunchy bit of saltiness.