Indonesian tempeh kecap is crispy, sweet and spicy. It’s easy to make, needs just one pan and will be ready in under 30 minutes! Often served as part of nasi campur and other classic Indonesian recipes, like Mi Goreng. Also known as ‘tempe kecap’ – this is how it’s spelt in Indonesia.
🌟 Why this recipe works
- Authentic – this crispy fried tempeh (tempeh kecap) is based on an authentic recipe that we learnt to make in Bali, when we lived there. The main differences are that we pan fry the tempeh, rather than deep frying. The original version of this recipe is accidentally vegan.
- Tempeh – I’ll level with you, tempeh hasn’t always been my favourite thing. It’s a fermented soybean product that originates in Indonesia. It’s often bought in solid blocks, known as tempeh ‘cakes’. Whole soybeans are visible in it and it has a firm yet crumbly texture. For this dish, the tempeh must be sliced into long and thin pieces (rather than chunked). We’ll get to brand recommendations below.
- Pan fried – this recipe is pan fried rather than deep-fried, which is how tempeh kecap would usually be cooked. We do this because we wanted to reduce the amount of oil used in the recipe. But don’t worry, the tempeh will still come out deliciously crispy!
- Sweet & spicy – tempeh kecap is sweet and spicy, it’s just the way it is. To get the correct balance, we used fiery fresh red chillies and kecap manis (which is sweet soy sauce), another classic Indonesian ingredient.
- Oil – tempeh kecap has to be fried in oil to get the right crispy and crunchy texture.
📋 Ingredient Notes
- Tempeh – this ingredient can be really hit and miss. While it is made from soybeans, it is nothing like tofu. It’s often funky tasting and quite dense. It can be an acquired taste. However, we have found a brand that we find to be a great balance, with a perfect texture. We recommend getting the original block by the brand Plant Power. Tempeh is usually also gluten free, but check the ingredients on your packet to be sure. In addition, it’s important that the tempeh is sliced into narrow oblongs, like in the picture above.
- Red Chilli – to bring the heat! However, if you don’t want it to be spicy, you can omit the red chilli, but then it will be a slightly different version of tempeh kecap. Alternatively, use a teaspoon of red chilli flakes.
- What is kecap manis? Kecap manis is sweet soy sauce. It’s thick, gloopy and sugary. It’s not particularly healthy, but it is an OG Indonesian ingredient and it wouldn’t be the same without it. You could even make your own kecap manis!
- Soy sauce – to bring the umami flavour needed to balance out the sweetness of the kecap manis. You can swap like for like with tamari if you’d prefer.
- Peanuts – ideally, skin on peanuts. This is how it is cooked in Bali, but if you can’t find the skin on peanuts, just use pre-peeled peanuts.
- Lemongrass – to add a slight fragrance. It’s only for flavour and aroma, so it will be removed before serving.
- Curry leaves – Indonesian tempeh kecap recipes would usually include salam leaves (an Indonesian bay leaf) as we can’t find them easily in England, we have used the next best thing, curry leaves. This is a switch that learnt from a Balinese chef when we lived there.
Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this article for exact measurements.
🔪 Step-by-step Instructions
These steps are an overview to go with the photos of each stage. Head to the recipe card below for full ingredient measurements, instructions and recipe notes to make the most perfect tempeh kecap.
1. Slice the tempeh into long narrow strips.
2. Take a wok or sauté pan and cover the bottom of it with around half a centimetre of oil. It shouldn’t completely cover the tempeh pieces. Heat on high, to bring the oil up to temperature.
3. Pan fry the tempeh strips until they’re golden and crispy. Be careful that the oil doesn’t spit. If it gets out of control, turn the heat down a little. Once golden and crispy, remove the tempeh from the pan and allow them to sit on a plate lined with paper towels, in order for any excess oil drip off.
4. Add the peanuts to the pan to toast them off, then remove them after a couple of minute. Altogether the frying process should take about 10-15 minutes for both the peanuts and tempeh. Wipe the pan clean and pop back onto a medium heat on the stove. You may find there isn’t very much oil leftover, as they’re not being deep fried. Set aside.
5. Optionally add a splash of oil or use oil spray (we prefer oil spray for this step), then add in the garlic, shallots, chillies, ginger, lemongrass, curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves. This should take 3-5 minutes to become fragrant.
6. Finally, add in the peanuts, tempeh, kecap manis, light soy sauce and sugar. Make sure it is all heated through and everything is well coated with the sauce. And there you have it – a wonderfully sweet and spicy tempe kecap that’s rich with umami flavour!
👩🍳 Expert Tips
- How to cook tempeh – tempe can be cooked in a number of ways, and some people even say it doesn’t have to be cooked at all (as long as it is pasteurised)! However, we’ve never eaten it before cooking. Tempeh can be deep fried, pan fried, shallow fried, stir-fried or even baked in the oven. We’ve also added it to curries and rice dishes too!
- Crispy tempeh – to get the best Indonesian fried tempeh, it needs to be fried in oil. It won’t have the same taste or texture if it isn’t fried. Usually tempe kecap is deep fried, but we’ve chosen to pan fry.
- Storage – tempeh kecap keeps well in the refrigerator for upto 5 days in an airtight container, however, it may lose crispiness the longer it’s stored. We don’t recommend freezing as the tempeh is likely to go soggy upon defrosting. It’s best served hot, while it’s still crispy.
- Amount of oil – around 0.5cm of oil in the bottom of the pan will work well. It doesn’t need to cover the tempeh.
- Make your own tempeh! It’s not too hard to make your own tempeh – you’ll generally need soybeans, a tempe starter and white vinegar. When we were in Bali, we used to just pick up fresh ‘tempe’ (as it’s spelt there), from the local markets. It was hands down the best tempeh I’ve ever tried. There’s nothing like making your own though!
- Nasi Campur – in Bali, tempeh kecap is almost always served as part of a nasi campur. We definitely recommend you try this! We’ve suggested recipes for a vegan nasi campur below, in the ‘serve this with’ section.
Most supermarkets sell tempeh. It may take a little bit of trial and error to find the brand that you like the best. We like Plant Power (which is from Sainsbury’s) because it’s got a neutral taste and isn’t too funky or fermented tasting. It’s also super firm which is great when you’re chopping such small slices – some brands of tempeh can be quite crumbly and that makes it more difficult to work with for this dish. If you’re in the US, I hear that Trader Joe’s sells tempeh. Failing those options, tempeh can always be found in vegan shops and Asian supermarkets.
Yes, tempeh can easily be frozen. In fact, it's a great way to prevent it from fermenting even further! However, we don’t recommend freezing tempeh kecap as we think it is better served fresh and crispy.
Tempeh varies in taste, depending on where it has been bought or made. We have found that homemade tempeh is more funky, and fermented tasting, and commercially bought tempeh is more neutral – but this depends on the brand. Generally, tempeh is rich with a nutty flavour but can also be earthy and strong tasting.
Yes, tempeh can be eaten raw but as long as it is pasteurised. Most store-bought tempeh is pasteurised. However, there’s no real benefit from eating it raw, and to be honest, it is nicer when it has flavour added to it, in the form of spices and glazes! Don’t eat raw, fresh tempeh that has not been pasteurised, as it can be harmful.
While both products are sold in blocks and are made from soybeans, they have very different taste and texture profiles. Tempeh is always firm, as it is made with fermented whole soybeans, they’re first soaked and boiled, then mixed with mold and bound together and left for a few days to ferment. On the other hand, tofu can be silken, firm or extra firm and is always smooth.
🍛 What to serve with it
More Indonesian recipes
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Crispy Tempeh Kecap
- 400 g tempeh – chopped into matchsticks
- 0.5 cup peanuts (skin on if possible)
- 4 cloves garlic – crushed
- 1 tbsp ginger – chopped finely
- 4 kaffir lime leaves – chopped into thin slices (use scissors)
- 3 tbsp kecap manis
- 3 shallots – chopped finely
- 3 red chillies – chopped into slices
- 1 stick lemongrass – whole
- 8 curry leaves
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- Oil - cover the pan with a 0.5cm layer
- Slice the tempeh into long narrow strips.400 g tempeh
- Take a wok or sauté pan and cover the bottom of it with around half a centimetre of oil. It shouldn’t completely cover the tempeh pieces. Heat on high and then pan fry the tempeh strips until they’re golden and crispy.400 g tempeh, Oil
- While the tempeh pan fries, add in the peanuts to toast them off too. Altogether this frying process should take 10-15 minutes. If there's not enough space in the pan, you can remove the tempe first, and then fry off the peanuts for a couple of minutes.0.5 cup peanuts
- Once golden and crispy, remove the tempeh from the pan and allow them to sit on a plate lined with paper towels, to let any excess oil drip off. Set aside.
- Wipe the pan clean, or use as-is, and pop back onto a medium heat on the stove. Optionally add a splash of oil or use oil spray (we prefer oil spray for this step), then add in the garlic, shallots, chillies, ginger, lemongrass, curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves. Cook for 3-5 minutes until fragrant.4 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp ginger, 4 kaffir lime leaves, 3 red chillies, 1 stick lemongrass, 8 curry leaves, 3 shallots
- Finally, add in the tempeh, peanuts, kecap manis, light soy sauce and sugar. Stir well. Make sure it is all heated through and that the tempeh is well coated with the sauce. Remove the lemongrass and serve.3 tbsp kecap manis, 2 tbsp light soy sauce, 2 tbsp brown sugar
- Red chilli – it should have the seeds and membranes intact. Remove if you would prefer a mild tempe kecap.
- Storage – keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge. We don’t recommend freezing, as the tempeh will lose its crunchiness upon reheating. It is best served freshly cooked.
- Tempeh can be bought or homemade. We recommend the brand Plant Power.
- We recommend that this recipe serves 8 as a side, or as part of a nasi campur. It is usually served in small quantities, as part of a well-rounded meal.