Spicy Balsamic Monster Meal (the Evolution Tempeh Remix)

VeganMoFo 2011

Note: This is an image-heavy post! And my alt-tags don’t seem to be working, for no reason I can discern. I apologize in advance for my incompetence at both photography and HTML.

The Spicy Balsamic Monster Meal, as we discussed yesterday, was born of dubious motives. It has evolved significantly since I served it in its original incarnation over 5 years ago. I’ve experimented with different proteins, including tofu in crumbles and in chunks, several forms of seitan or “wheat meat”, and I think one time I may have tried it with beans (or maybe that was just a nightmare). I’ve tried every imaginable shape and texture of noodles, from spaghetti to macaroni to quinoa shells (another nightmare).

Here I will present to you the winning combination, which I can pretty nearly cook with my eyes closed at this point. I will even present it to you with some photos, although I must say, I may have been a bit hyperbolic in my claim that I could cook this with my eyes closed, as I discovered that trying to cook it while taking photos totally screwed up my flow.

First, I heat some oil in a pan. Canola or vegetable oil works fine, but sesame oil makes it extra-awesome, so if I can afford the indulgence, I will usually use at least half sesame oil and the rest canola/veg oil.

While the oil is heating, I start a pot of water boiling. The noodles will go in that pot. The best noodles to use for this are spinach noodles. It is great with spinach fettuccine and it is also great with spinach rotini. I have also done it with the multi-colored rotini, and that’s good too. I have even done it with brown basmati rice (the only rice), which is actually also pretty good, but not quite the same.

Then I crumble a package of tempeh into the pan. It has to be plain tempeh. None of that weird stuff with rice or veggies mixed in.
Crumbling tempeh into the pan with hot oil

I cook it until it’s nice and golden brown on all sides, stirring every so often, but not too often. It’s definitely better to cook it too much rather than not enough. Undercooked tempeh = blech. This is the minimum of goldeniness that I will consider acceptable! I was really hungry when I made this, but if I can wait and let it cook even goldenier than this, it’s better.
Minimally golden tempeh in the pan, some less-than-golden areas can be seen

Then I drown it in balsamic vinegar. I mean drown it. Even when I think I’ve put enough in, I usually have to add more later anyway. Sometimes I’ll add a little Bragg’s Liquid Aminos too (and then not add salt later). This time I just used the vinegar.
Close-up of tempeh drowning in balsamic vinegar

Next, I thicken the sauce with nutritional yeast. In a pinch I have tried subbing some flour for some of the yeast, but it really just isn’t the same. If I don’t have enough nutritional yeast on hand to do the job, I make something else.

Now, here is the sneaky part! You would think that the thing that would have made most sense would have been to add the spices before the nutritional yeast, so that the flavor would distribute evenly throughout the sauce before it’s too thick. Nope! I have tried every imaginable permutation of the order of operations for this dish and this is the way to do it. The trick is to add the nutritional yeast, give it a slight bit of a stir so the vinegar doesn’t all boil away, then add the spices on top of the yeast before stirring it all in.

Here are the spices!
Heaping spoonful of curry powder Same spoon, with about half as much cinnamon in it as there was in the previous curry powder image; curry powder can be seen on top of the pile of nutritional yeast in the background Same spoon, about half as much ginger powder as cinnamon from previous image, pile now has cinnamon on top
I use a heaping spoonful of curry powder, about half that amount of cinnamon, and half that amount of ginger powder. I just plop them in the pan directly on top of the nutritional yeast.

Then I add a tiny pinch of ground cloves. I’ve actually been using garam masala lately, since I’ve had it on hand and haven’t had cloves, but it’s really better with just straight-up cloves, and it’s really important not to add more than a tiny pinch or the sauce will taste like soap and that’s gross. It needs some heat, and I’ll use anything I can find to give it the extra kick, but the best choice is chipotle powder. I do not skimp on the chipotle powder. Finally, I shake it full of garlic powder, enough to pretty much cover the whole enchilada. (Except, it’s totally not going to be an enchilada. Though, I suppose you could skip the noodles and make an enchilada out of the tempeh! Somebody want to try that and let me know how it turns out?) Real garlic works too, but I found that I need to use so much of it that it’s just as well to use the powder, and it tastes fine that way. Plus, it messes up my timing! If I’m using actual garlic, though, I add that before the nutritional yeast.

Once I’ve got all the powdered ingredients added, it will look like this:
Pan full of tempeh and balsamic vinegar with a great big pile of all the powdered ingredients on top of it

Now it’s time to stir it. And then it will look like this:
Pan with big gloppy mess of tempeh in brown balsamic vinegar sauce!

Yum, right?! Yeah, okay, it looks totally gross! (That was the idea, remember?) But it’s so delicious. It’s so delicious that I seriously make this about once a week, at least. When I’m too lazy to think of new recipes, I make it even more often than that, and I usually find I’ve made enough that it will be breakfast the morning after I make it too.

If the sauce is too thick, I add more vinegar. If it’s too thin, I add more yeast.

Now, if I’ve done everything just right, the noodles will be done at the exact same time as the tempeh. Like magic.
Green curly spinach rotini noodles in a metal colander

I scoop up some noodles with my bowl.
I'm scooping up some noodles using my blue bowl

The noodles-to-tempeh ratio is very important! This is the correct amount of noodles for one serving:
Blue bowl is a little less than half full of noodles

And this is the correct amount of tempeh:
A relatively small pile of tempeh and sauce sits on top of the noodles in the bowl

The correct amount of tempeh is slightly less than I would instinctively assume, based on the amount of noodles, but once it’s all mixed together…
TA DA! Tempeh and noodles are all mixed together in the bowl
…it all makes sense.

The final touch is to add black pepper, and salt if I didn’t use any Bragg’s in the sauce. I have tried it without; it’s (surprise) just not the same. If I realize at this point that I wimped out and didn’t use enough chipotle, I may add some hot sauce, but I’ve done this enough times now that I rarely need to do that.

It is very odd for me to be sharing this recipe! I make it for myself so often that it almost feels like a private ritual! But I am glad to share it with you because everyone should know how great this is. And, hey, in case anything should ever happen to me, I would want to make sure you have the Secret Recipe!

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12 Responses to Spicy Balsamic Monster Meal (the Evolution Tempeh Remix)

  1. Monica says:

    I’m not a fan of balsamic vinegar, but this has me interested, especially since it’s like your little baby. I may try it if I buy some tempeh. Hmmmm.

    • choirqueer says:

      I will be interested to hear if you try it…but if you hate it, that’s totally okay! I would be surprised if someone who doesn’t even like balsamic vinegar tried this and liked it, because…that’s pretty much the main ingredient!

  2. Becky says:

    I loved this post! I think we all have “go-to” recipes like this one, I’ll have to think of what mine is and attempt to put it into words. I have a love/hate relationship with tempeh, but the idea if drowning it in balsamic intrigues me… I’m totally gonna try this ^_^

  3. Adrian says:

    DROOL DROOL DROOL. This is getting MADE, I dunno, like TOMORROW NIGHT. Thank you sooo much for sharing! I’ll try to give you my own go-to recipe in exchange!

  4. zwingtip says:

    That looks amazing. I definitely should try it. And you must do a how-to post on browning tempeh. Mine is sad and never gets brown until I drown it in soy sauce.

    • choirqueer says:

      Are you steaming the tempeh before you cook it? I never do, and whenever I’ve heard of someone having trouble with browning their tempeh, it turns out they were steaming it first. I have no idea why people do this — it makes the tempeh mushy and weird! If that’s what you’re doing, try sauteeing it without steaming next time and then let me know what happens. If not, I’ll move to the next step in my imaginary flow chart of tempeh troubleshooting.

      • zwingtip says:

        This happens regardless of steaming status! I can steam it and it will stay pathetic beige mush. I can not steam it and it will still be pathetic beige mush. I think you’re just the tempeh master or something.

        • choirqueer says:

          What brand of tempeh are you using? What kind of oil? Do you crumble the tempeh into the pan or do you put large chunks in?

  5. jess scone says:

    Yet again, you’re clearly rocking the balsamic.

  6. Pingback: MoFo Roundup: Week One « chreeseontoast

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