There’s always a block or three of tempeh in my kitchen. This Indonesian plant-based protein lasts for months in the freezer and weeks in the fridge. It’s easy to work with (no cross-contamination or temperature checking) and has a savory, meaty flavor, thanks to the fact that it’s fermented.
If you haven’t worked with tempeh before, this cooking method is a foolproof way to start: Just crumble the tempeh into bite-size pieces by hand—uneven, craggy shapes mean crustier crusts. Toss these in a preferably-nonstick skillet with hot oil (neutral flavor with a high smoke point is best) and turn them as they brown. This takes a matter of minutes and gets you halfway to a million dinners: grain bowls with avocado, saucy-cheesy pasta, oversized salads, warm tacos.
These are inspired by Baja-style fried fish tacos with a creamy cabbage slaw. Note: You can use mayonnaise or a vegan mayonnaise. Cashews make for a similarly rich, but heartier mayo than traditional. Likewise, you can swap in flour tortillas if you want (or make your own!). Just don’t skip the hot sauce, which adds much-needed spice and acidity.
This is one of our Big Little Recipes, our weekly column all about dishes with big flavor and little ingredient lists. Do you know (and love) a recipe that’s low in ask, high in reward? Let us know in the comments. —Emma Laperruque
shredded green cabbage (about ½ small head)
kosher salt, plus more to taste
plus 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
(8-ounce) package tempeh, crumbled into bite-size nuggets
Add the cabbage and salt to a bowl, and gently massage with your hands to combine. Add the cashews, 6 tablespoons of hot water, and a pinch of salt to a food processor.
Set a nonstick skillet over medium heat and pour in the 2 tablespoons of canola oil. When the oil is hot, add the tempeh plus a pinch of salt, and toss a couple times so all the nuggets are coated. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning the tempeh as it browns, until deeply browned and crispy all over, then transfer to a plate. While the tempeh is cooking, toast the tortillas in another skillet—cast-iron works nicely here—until they’re warm, then turn off the heat. (Or, to save a dirty dish, you can wait until the tempeh is transferred to a plate, then toast the tortillas in that pan.)
Once the tempeh is cooked and the tortillas are warmed, blend the cashews and water until smooth, scraping down as needed. With the machine running, stream in the remaining 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Keep going until the mixture resembles mayonnaise, adding more water if needed. Taste and adjust the salt as needed.
Add a couple spoonfuls of cashew-mayo to the cabbage, along with a couple dashes of hot sauce. Toss until combined. Add more cashew-mayo and hot sauce as you see fit, and save any extra cashew-mayo for more tacos or sandwiches down the road.
Divide the cabbage slaw between the tortillas. Top with the tempeh nuggets and lots of hot sauce.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.