Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh

It’s been a rough day. I went to bed late last night suffering from a lot of back pain, inflicted upon myself either from rigorously brushing the pool (which doesn’t make sense because I’ve been brushing it non-stop all “summer” thanks to the rotten weather-induced algae) or from kayaking (which also doesn’t make sense because after 3 minutes of rowing on my part my back was already starting to hurt and Mark took over all rowing). I woke up several hours before my usual hour, startled by a very loud bang followed by the sound of broken glass. For a split second, I thought it was Tigger, because every other time I’ve ever woken up to the sound of broken glass, Tigger was to blame. Alas, no Tigger, though if he were still here, he could break a glass a day for all I care. With much sleepiness and trepidation I slunk into the kitchen. One of the bottles of root beer I’d bottled on Friday night had exploded. All over my kitchen. Root beer and broken glass EVERYWHERE. I sighed and grabbed the sponge, thinking that, well, at least I’d be early for work for once in my life since I certainly wasn’t going back to bed. I started scrubbing, trying to do so without moving my shoulders, which by the way, is not very easy.

Half an hour later, with root beer still all over the place, I wandered out into the dining room, where I discovered that a bottle of Mark’s ink had also exploded, all over the hardwood floors. Now, I understand why the root beer exploded (though I left plenty of room in the bottle for the carbonation), but I have NO idea why the ink exploded. It’s really very strange. So then I cleaned that up as well, which was not fun and involved, of all things, a dough scraper.

Two hours later, I had cleaned the entire kitchen and everything in it and got all the ink off the dining room floor. I was sticky and blackened and gratefully hopped in the shower, no longer early for work. After showering I was starving and went into the kitchen to grab breakfast. I removed the orange juice and shook it….and as the cap wasn’t on tightly, orange juice went everywhere! All over my newly cleaned kitchen, all over my newly cleaned self. Arrgh! What a morning!

I managed to make it through the day without anything else exploding, but my back was still sore when I got home and I was dismayed the find the kitchen floor still very sticky. Fortunately for me, Mark offered to scrub it again and he did a good job. While he was doing so, I went to my laptop in search of dinner ideas. You’ll forgive me if tonight I wanted something very quick and easy. I googled “cabbage jalapeno tempeh”: three ingredients I have and want to use up. I was a bit surprised to find something that contained all three ingredients, but I did: Mark Bittmans’ Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, which I actually own (but couldn’t immediately get to as Mark was still scrubbing). My friends, I was too exhausted to try to improve upon this dish, although I take most of the recipes in that book as nothing more than starting points.

Hot and Sour Braised Tempeh

8 oz tempeh, crumbled
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp ginger, minced or grated
1-2 jalapenos, minced
3 1/2 cups vegan broth or stock (any flavor)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar or 6 drops stevia
3 cups chopped cabbage
4 oz bean threads or thin pasta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (I used 2 cubes frozen cilantro from Trader Joes)
2 scallions, chopped

Prep all the ingredients. While I was mincing the jalapeno, it exploded and I got jalapeno juice in my eye. No lie. Today’s been an amazing day of explosions.

Bring some oil up to temperature in a Dutch oven or other pot, then add the crumbled tempeh and fry until golden.

Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno; saute for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the broth, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar or stevia. Bring to a rapid boil.

Cook at a fairly decent boil for about ten minutes or until broth is somewhat reduced. Add cabbage and boil for another minute.

Add the bean threads, cilantro, and scallions …

… and stir until bean threads are soft.

Serve immediately.

This was okay; a filling meal in about 15 minutes, but I probably won’t be rushing to make it again, at least not without playing with the recipe a bit to make it my own. I usually only make my own tempeh on weekends I will be home on both Saturday and Sunday because I usually cook the soybeans around noon and I like to be sure I’ll be home 24 hours later to remove the tempeh from the incubator. It’s been several weeks since we’ve been home on both weekend days, including last weekend. So I picked up some store-bought tempeh. Since I started making my own, though, store-bought has seemed really bland and doesn’t even look right to me any more. So I suspect I’ve have liked this meal a lot better if I’d used my own tempeh.

In the meantime, I’ve had a long day, I’m sore, I’ve been reading 2666 for a week, which is a long time for me to be reading a book, even if it is 900 pages long, Smucky’s arriving on Wednesday and I’m having a party for him on Saturday, so what I want more than anything else this evening is to sit here, Brachtune purring on my lap, and read until I fall asleep. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. I will not be making myself a pot of tea because I’m pretty sure the kettle would explode and scald me with 3rd degree burns. I don’t think, however, I will need any help falling asleep tonight.

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Homemade Sauerkraut

I’ve been wanting to make my own sauerkraut for quite some time now. It’s the perfect project for me: I love fermenting things, I love sauerkraut, Mark loves sauerkraut…really the question is why I haven’t been making sauerkraut for years. The following procedure makes about a gallon of sauerkraut and costs next to nothing.

How to Make Sauerkraut

2 heads of green cabbage, about 5 pounds total
kosher or other non-iodized salt

Can’t get simpler than that, no? You’ll also need a large (at least a gallon) jar or jug, which you’ll probably want to sanitize by running through the dishwasher just prior to using, or filling with boiling water for a few minutes.

Take each head of cabbage, wash it, and remove any yukky outer leaves.

Cut each cabbage into quarters.

Cut the core out of each quarter.

Grate each quarter. I found that a mandoline vastly expedited the grating process. Some of you may have grandparents with “kraut cutters”. It seems like a very grandparent thing to have. These are large mandoline-like apparatuses for grating cabbage for sauerkraut. Or you could try the far more modern approach of a food processor; I don’t have one so I can’t tell you how well they may grate cabbage.

Here is my grated cabbage:

You want to add non-iodized salt at the rate of 2% of the total cabbage weight. I was feeling rather metric the night I was making my sauerkraut – maybe I was feeling German – so you can see that I’ve measured 22 grams for half of my my 2,200 grams of cabbage (I only had a mixing bowl large enough to measure one head of the cabbage at a time). 2,200 grams of cabbage is just about 5 pounds for you Americans, and 22 grams of salt is about 3/4 of an ounce (so you’ll need 1.5 ounces of salt total). A lot of recipes I’ve seen online have called for between 2 and 4 Tbsp of salt for 5 pounds of cabbage, if you don’t have a scale. I’m so used to bread baking that I felt more comfortable weighing it. Salt is one of those things that varies drastically in weight from type to type and brand to brand.

Now in your clean jug or jar, add a layer of cabbage, then sprinkle some of the salt on it:

Continue adding layers in this manner:

Periodically tamp the cabbage down with a potato masher or similar implement.

You really want to press hard on the cabbage to it becomes quite compact …

… and begins to exude water:

Continue adding layers and periodically tamping until the cabbage and salt are all gone. Ideally you want the cabbage to be covered in its exuded water at the top. Place a plastic bag or other piece of plastic into the jar, entirely covering the cabbage (if you are using a wide-mouthed jug, you can use a plate or something instead). Then place a weight on top of the plastic. It’s not obvious from the photo, but on top of the plastic bag, there is a smaller, water-filled jar acting as my weight.

Place in a cool place for 3 weeks, checking periodically for any white scum that may form on the top and removing it if you see it. Apparently the white scum is harmless (just gross) and extremely common, however, I never saw any on my cabbage. I had made sure the cabbage was submerged in water and then completely covered by the plastic.

After three weeks, taste it. If it taste good and sour, it’s done. If not, let it sit a few more days and taste it again.

Here’s what it looked like when I opened it up:

Now a bonus recipe. This is how my mom prepares sauerkraut for holidays: To one pound of sauerkraut, add celery seed, butter, salt & pepper, and 2 slices of bacon cut into small pieces; cook for at least 30 minutes. I threw a very small dish of this together for tasting tonight, using Earth Balance and some vegan “bacon” bits (and microwaving for one minute).

Honestly, though, I didn’t like the bacon bits at all. Maybe it’s simply been too long since I’ve had it that way: at least 20 years now. And I don’t see any need for the Earth Balance. So I think I’ll just stick to the celery seed and salt & pepper. I also want to play around with other additions to the sauerkraut, both during the fermentation and afterwards. Stay tuned!

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Mark’s parents lived in Korea for a couple of years just before he was born so it is no surprise that it is through him and his family that I first fell in love with Korean food. When Mark and I were living in Baltimore and his parents were an hour north of us, near the Delaware border, we’d often meet at a Korean restaurant halfway between us. Now that Mark’s family has moved to Charleston, SC (where there are apparently no Asian grocery stores, a fact I find perplexing and upsetting), we live in a part of Northern Virginia that has a huge number of Korean restaurants and grocery stores, which I find reassuring and great. I honestly don’t think I can live further than 10 minutes from a Korean grocery store.

I will soon have to put up a tutorial on my favorite Korean dish, dolsot bibimbap, but today I bring you instructions on making a food even more important: the ubiquitous kimchi. Kimchi is often, but not always, made with fish sauce. Although cabbage kimchi is the best-known in America, there are many different kinds, including radish and cucumber kimchi. I usually stick to making cabbage kimchi, although I think I may start branching out. The mysterious ingredient I posted earlier in the week was Korean chili pepper flakes.

Kimchi originated when Koreans of long ago – as many as 3,000 years ago – learned how to ferment vegetables to in order to prolong storage time. Special pots of the prepared vegetables would be buried underground to regulate the temperature (thus controling the rate of fermentation), a marker placed in the ground to facilitate location of them after snowfalls. Many modern Koreans have special kimchi refrigerators instead: they sell them at Super H, one of my favorite haunts, for hundreds of dollars. You absolutely do not need a special refrigerator or even pot to make kimchi. I bought a kimchi pot when Mark was going through one of his kimchi phases: he’d eat bowls-full at a time morning, noon, and night and even a gallon-sized jar didn’t hold a week’s worth of kimchi. Before I bought the kimchi pot, I used a huge gallon-sized pickle jar that I recycled during Mark’s earlier dill pickle phase. If you have something like that, great. If not, you can use four quart-sized jars instead, and then you can share a jar or two with a friend if you don’t happen to eat as much kimchi as we do.


1 head Napa cabbage
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 bundle mustard greens (optional)
1 daikon, shredded (optional)
1 large or two medium carrots, shredded (optional)
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1″ pieces
1 head garlic, pressed or minced (I recommend pressing in order to exude the juices)
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated on a microplane grater or minced
1/2 cup Korean chili pepper: go out of your way to find Korean chili pepper as it tastes different than others, but you can use either flakes, coarse, or fine
1/4 cup soy sauce

Remove any unappetizing-looking outer layers from the cabbage, then cut it in half.

Remove the core from each half.

It happens that the prepared kimchi I find that is fish-free is often “whole cabbage” kimchi, which means I have to cut it into bite-sized pieces before serving, which irritates me. So I find one of the benefits of making my own is I can cut it to size before it’s marinated. Although you have to do some preparatory chopping, you also save yourself time later when you can just stir the marinade into the chopped cabbage instead of painstakingly coating each cabbage leaf with it. So I therefore cut each half into half again so I have quarters.

Then I cut each quarter into bite-sized pieces. Place a sieve into the kitchen sink (or a large bowl if you need to keep your sink free) and put the chopped cabbage in it as you go along. Periodically sprinkle some of the kosher salt over the cabbage pieces and toss thoroughly.

Most techniques I’ve seen instruct you to soak the cabbage in salted water for one to four hours, however, I like the technique I saw in this article (although I don’t particularly care for the rest of the recipe): place a weight on the rinsed, salted cabbage and wait 24-48 hours. It takes longer, but you end up with nice crisp, dry cabbage. As the article suggested, I use a large Ziploc bag filled with water:

Meanwhile, make the paste. Take the mustard greens, if using, …

… and chop.

Grate the carrot, if using …

… as well as the daikon.

Then take your scallions …

… and chop into 1″ pieces. I start off shorter at the white part and make larger lengths as I get to the tips.

Press or mince the garlic:

And grate the ginger. Place all of these ingredients into a large bowl.

Measure the chili flakes …

… and add to the bowl along with the soy sauce. Mix everything together.

Place into a jar until the cabbage is ready.

When the cabbage is ready, place it into your kimchi pot, a gallon-sized jar, or if you are using four quart jars, a large bowl (it’ll be easier to mix everything together at one time and then divide amongst the jars). Then add your paste ingredients.

Mix everything up very well.

Divide amongst the four jars if using quart jars. If using any type of jar with a lid that screws tightly, be careful not to pack the kimchi in too tightly, and leave some room at the top of the jar. It may bubble up as it ferments. I once filled a jar too full and woke up in one morning to find kimchi juice spilling all over my kitchen counter. Which is another reason I talked myself into buying a kimchi pot.

Set the jar or pot aside for a few days. I generally give it three days. It will look like this when it’s ready:

If you used a pot, transfer to clean jars. Otherwise, simply move your jars to the refrigerator.

I keep reading that kimchi is good for about 3 weeks, and after that it becomes too strong and you’ll only want to use it in soups and other cooked dishes, but I haven’t really found that to be the case. Of course, we both really like kimchi, so maybe the stronger taste doesn’t bother us. Frankly, I have a hard time keeping kimchi around for three weeks because Mark turns into a kimchi monster. I do make a lot of kimchi ramen though. You can also eat the kimchi before it ferments, although it will really be more a salad in its pre-fermented state.

Serve with anything. Particularly Korean food.

My mother-in-law said my kimchi is very good, and as her time living there qualifies her as an expert on the matter in my opinion, I was very flattered. Of course, my mother-in-law is the greatest mother-in-law ever and tells me everything I cook is very good, which can’t possibly be true, so you’ll have to make it for yourself and form your own opinion. Mark really does eat it by the bowl-full, though, so it can’t be too bad. (He’s also never gotten bird flu. Coincidence? I think not.)

On the subject of fermenting things, in bread baking, there is a technique in which you use a pâte fermentée, which is a starter dough that ferments for a few days before the rest of the dough is prepared. Because it seems I am always fermenting something, be it kimchi or bread or whatever else, I suggested to my friends that Renae Fermentée might be a good nickname for me. However, like Rimmer from Red Dwarf, I found that people don’t usually glom onto nicknames you choose for yourself, and the friends seem to be sticking with a resurrected nickname that was bestowed upon me in high school: Rogna Pasta. Which is fine. At least I’m not Ace-hole. But I still think that if I ever record an album, I’ll use the stage name Renae Fermentée.

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