Star anise-glazed tempeh with stir-fried peppers and red cabbage

February 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm (B_minus (2.5 stars), Chinese, Cruciferous rich, Deborah Madison, Tempeh)

Deborah Madison says that this stir-fry is one of the tastiest ways she’s found to cook tempeh.   And since Derek loves tempeh, and I’m normally less of a fan, I decided to give it a try.   The technique was new for me.  The tempeh is soaked in a hot marinade for a few minutes, and then briefly and lightly pan-fried, after which it’s glazed with a bit more of the marinade.  Then the peppers and cabbage are cooked with garlic and ginger and scallions and the rest of the marinade.  

Ingredients for the marinade:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. five-spice powder or 1 three-inch cinnamon stuck plus 2 star anise
  • 1 cup of water

The rest of the ingredients:

  • 1 cup black or basmati rice, rinsed well and cooked with 1/4 tsp. salt and 2 cups of water
  • 1 package of tempeh, each piece cut into four squares
  • 4 tsp. roasted peanut oil
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. minced ginger
  • 1 bunch of scallions, including several inches of the greens, slivered diagonally
  • 4 heaping cups finely sliced red cabbage
  • 1 red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, very thinly sliced
  • a few pinches of salt
  • a handful of chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup roasted whole cashews or peanuts


Note:  You’ll need three pots for this recipe, plus one plate or dish to hold the cooked tempeh.  One small, heavy-bottomed pot (around 1.5-2 quarts) for the rice.  One medium skillet for heating the marinade and soaking the tempeh.  And one wide 12-inch skillet or wok for making the stir-fry.

  1. Start the rice
  2. Bring the ingredients for the marinade (minus the tempeh) to a boil in a medium skillet.  Cook at a lively pace for 4 minutes, then turn off the heat.   While the marinade is cooking, cut each of the 4 tempeh squares into triangles, then put them in the hot marinade for 4 minutes, turning once.  Remove and set aside, reserving the marinade.
  3. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a wide nonstick skillet or a wok.  When hot, brown the marinated tempeh, about a minute on each side.  Add a few tablespoons of the reserved marinade and allow it to bubble up and glaze the tempeh.  Set aside on a plate.
  4. Heat the rest of the oil.  When it’s hot, add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, stir-fry for just a few seconds, then add the cabbage and peppers.  Season with a little salt and stir-fry until just wilted, after several minutes.  Add the remaining marinade and the cilantro and simmer for 30 seconds.
  5. Mound the cooked rice on 4 plates.  Rest the tempeh pieces on the rice, tuck the stir-fry between them, and drizzle the remaining sauce over all.  Add the cashews last, then serve.

My notes:

Derek found this recipe frustrating because it’s a bit vague in places.  What is a pack of tempeh, and how many pieces should it be cut into?  What does “cook at a lively pace” mean.  Does four heaping cups of cabbage mean four cups, each heaping, or a heaping four-cup measuring cup full?  And is that just equivalent to five cups?  Is “a few tablespoons of the marinade” two or three?  How hot should the pan be when you add the garlic?

I thought I had five-spice powder but it turned out that what I had was Japanese 7-spice powder, and no star anise.  So we used the 7-spice powder plus a cinnamon stick.    And we totally forgot to add the nuts at the end.

We used a pack of tempeh that was 14-ounces, and cut into four squares, then cut each square into four triangles, yielding 16 pieces of tempeh altogether.  I heated the marinade in a small pot instead of a skillet, but either the pot was too small or we had too much tempeh, because we couldn’t soak it all in one batch.  We had to soak and cook it in two batches, which meant that we used about 2 tablespoons of oil total.  We started the rice as our first step but it was done way before we were done with the stir-fry (even with two of us working together).   Maybe if would have gone a bit faster if we could have done the tempeh in a single batch and skipped the lengthy hunt for star anise, but still if I was making white rice I think I’d turn it on only after the marinade ingredients were assembled.

The marinade/sauce is quite sweet and salty, and the 7-spice powder added a touch of heat.  Even without the star anise I enjoyed the sauce.  The ginger flavor came through extremely well (although I think I added slightly more than 1 tablespoon).  But next time I do want to try it with the five-spice powder or with star anise.

Both Derek and I really liked the tempeh.  It gets infused with the flavors of the marinade, the somewhat-funky-sour tempeh taste entirely disappears, and the texture is soft on the inside and just a tad crisp on the outside.  I thought the combination of the two peppers and the red cabbage was beautiful, and really tasty.  I liked the scallions too.  Next time maybe I’d add more of the greens, as it didn’t seem that scallion-y.  I enjoyed the delicate texture of the basmati rice, but Derek said it was tasteless and next time he’d prefer brown rice.

Overall, this was one of the better stir-fries I’ve made recently.  I’ll definitely be making it again.  Derek’s opinion was more mixed.  After trying it he initially said “eh, it’s okay, but it needs something…”  But then he took seconds and said “I love it!”  He had the leftovers the next morning for breakfast and his opinion was somewhere in between.  He had really liked the tempeh, but had eaten a lot of it the night before, and not left enough of it for breakfast.

Rating: B
Derek: B for the stir-fry and B+ for just the tempeh

Update:  We made this recipe a second time, but this time I followed the recipe and put the marinade in a wide shallow pan so that the tempeh wasn’t totally submerged.  And then I used a different pan (my new 10-inch steel pan) to cook the tempeh in, and the pan wasn’t heating evenly so I had trouble getting it nicely seared.  In the end, the tempeh had that strong tempeh taste I don’t care for, and I couldn’t eat it at all.   Derek still liked it though.  He ate all my tempeh up.  Also, I cooked the whole dish in the smaller 10-inch pan, and it took a long time to get the vegetables hot, and I ended up overcooking them instead of briefly stir-frying them.  The veggies were much softer and I didn’t care for them as much, but Derek liked them more.

Update Dec 2017:

I made this again (with cinnamon and star anise) and nobody liked it. Derek and Alma wouldn’t touch the tempeh, and even the cabbage and bell peppers was not a hit. I think I followed the recipe pretty closely and cooked everything in my 12-inch skillet. Maybe I will stop making it.

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