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July 10, 2020

Thai basil, tempeh and rice | The Mixing Bowl

How does crunchy cashews sprinkled over fragrant basil leaves sautéed with tempeh, onions and garlic served over jasmine rice sound for a simple dinner?

Soy sauce, tofu, soy nuts, edamame beans, soy milk, soybean oil, soybean sprouts are only some of the products made from the soybean, a widely farmed plant that dates its domestication back to 7,000 BCE, in China. Soybeans have not only been used for food. The Ford Motor Company, according to a story in a 1936 “Popular Mechanics,” invented a soybean soup that when mixed with fiber, was formed into distributor caps, dashboard knobs and more. The lead in the article states, “There are more than 15 pounds of soybean ‘soup’ in your Ford automobile.” That’s something to brag about.

Tempeh is an Indonesian invention from over 800 years ago. It is made from whole soybeans that are fermented and formed into cakes. The fermentation process gives them a flavor that is somewhat nutty and mushroomy, which causes them to often be labeled as a meat substitute. The texture is chewy, but becomes crispy with frying. My first experience eating tempeh was at the Malabar Restaurant, now on 514 Front Street in Santa Cruz. In a very calming atmosphere, they serve a wonderful dish called Tempeh Goreng that is made with fried tempeh mixed with vegetables in a sweet Balinese onion and garlic sauce.

Tempeh is available at most health food stores and you can get bunches of Thai basil at Saturday’s Aptos Farmers’ Market at Cabrillo College from 8am to noon. I found the plant at Staff of Life. You could use the more easily available fresh Italian basil, but Thai basil has a remarkable scent that is like the freshest of fresh air in a garden of jasmine.

The recipe also calls for sambal oelek, a chili sauce that is common in Asian recipes and can be substituted with Sriracha or any thick chili sauce like Bufalo, Valentina, Tapatío or Salsa Huichol. This recipe, from Jessica Hoffman, was found online at

Thai basil tempeh stir fry

1 block of tempeh – about 200g

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 green onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup Thai basil, finely chopped

½ cup chopped cashews

1 cup of jasmine rice

1 ¾ cups water

½ teaspoon salt


2 tablespoons oyster sauce – vegetarian if desired

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce 

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon sambal oelek, a chili paste     

Cook the rice. Bring 1 ¾ cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. When the water boils, add the rice and salt. Cover with a lid, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Chop the green onions, garlic and basil together. Chop the cashews separately and set aside for the topping. Make the sauce.

Place the block of tempeh in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the tempeh from the pan. This helps to remove any bitter flavor the tempeh might have. Dry tempeh.

Add the tempeh to a food processor and pulse until chopped into small bits or break into small pieces with your hands.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the tempeh and fry for 2-3 minutes stirring it to keep it from sticking.

Next, reduce heat to medium and add the green onions, garlic and Thai basil. Stir together. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the pan and mix well. Serve on top of Jasmine rice and top with chopped cashews.


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