Sambal goreng tempeh is a beloved Indonesian classic that is exploding with flavor. This dish can be made with other proteins (like fried tofu or my insanely good vegan chicken) instead of the tempeh, because this thing is really 100% about the sauce. Sambal Goreng literally means fried chili paste (sambal), and this one is an absolute banger with lemongrass, galangal, bird’s eye chilies, and shallots. It’s stupidly good on tempeh or veggies.
Indonesia, a diverse archipelago known for its breathtaking landscapes, has a culinary heritage as captivating as its natural beauty. Sambal goreng is deeply rooted in the country's cultural fabric, serving as a staple in traditional Indonesian cuisine. It is often enjoyed as a main course alongside fragrant rice (such as nasi uduk betawi) or as a side dish to Indonesian classics like sayur lodeh, or banana leaf steamed compressed rice cakes.
Powerful fragrances waft through your kitchen as the tempeh sizzles in the perfect medley of spices and aromatics. The vibrant colors of fresh chilies, garlic, shallots, and fragrant lemongrass come together to create a tantalizing symphony of flavors that make you quit your job just so you can cook more tempeh. The simplicity of this recipe allows you to experience the authentic taste of Indonesia at light speed right in your own home.
Are you ready to immerse yourself in the world of sambal goreng? Grab your apron, gather your ingredients, and let's dive into the enchanting realm of Indonesian flavors!
🥰Why you are going to adore the ever-loving heck outta this recipe
✊Vegan AF: This dish is Vegan AF (let’s just say that stands for Animal-Friendly). No critters have to be harmed for a delicious meal ever, and especially not in this meal!
🌿Simple and Healthy Ingredients: Tempeh, with its natural richness in protein and fiber, serves as a hearty and satisfying base. There are no processed, unhealthy, or artificial ingredients in these timeless recipes.
🙅♀️🌾 Gluten-free: I know you hate gluten so much you would like to send all the wheat plants in the galaxy to a special planet which you would then blow up from a safe distance or whatever. No worries here. We have blown the wheat up for you.
⏩Feast in No Time: Sambal goreng tempeh takes less than half an hour to whip up, and it’s the bomb.
✅Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all the recipes on my blog, this sambal goreng tempeh recipe has undergone rigorous testing and tweaking to ensure perfection. In addition to my own testing, it has been tried and approved by a large group of recipe testers across the globe, in various kitchens and using different ingredient brands and gear. Rest assured, this recipe has been fine-tuned to work exceptionally well anywhere on the planet.
🌶️Notable ingredients and substitutions
Also known as "sereh" in Indonesia, lemongrass is a fragrant herb widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine. Its citrusy aroma and unique flavor add brightness to dishes like sambal goreng tempeh. It works beautifully in this recipe by infusing the tempeh with a refreshing and aromatic essence. If fresh lemongrass is not readily available, you can substitute each stalk with four teaspoons of dried powdered lemongrass, like I use in bakwan sayur.
A star ingredient in Indonesian cooking (see my tempe mendoan and mie goreng), especially in Balinese cooking, tempeh is a fermented soybean cake that offers a multitude of nutritional benefits. Tempeh is a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential amino acids, and is healthier than tofu because of being a fermented whole food. The BBC wrote an article about the health benefits of tempeh you can check out. For those looking for alternatives, you can use tofu, and veggies like fried eggplant or cauliflower also make great substitutions.
Known as "bawang merah" in Indonesia, shallots are a versatile member of the onion family, adding a milder and sweeter flavor compared to regular onions. In dishes like sambal matah, sambal dabu dabu and sambal goreng tempeh, shallots lend a subtle sweetness and depth to the dish, balancing the heat from the chilies. You can use yellow or red onions as a substitute.
Bird's Eye Chilies
These small but mighty chilies, referred to as "cabe rawit" in Indonesia, pack a fiery punch that adds a kick of heat to dishes. like sambal goreng tempeh and ketoprak. They are a staple in Indonesian cuisine, known for their vibrant spiciness. If you prefer a milder version, substitute with jalapeño, Fresno, or serrano peppers.
Tamarind, or "asam jawa" in Indonesia, is a tangy fruit that adds a distinctive sour note to many Indonesian dishes and Vietnamese dishes like banh tran trong. I use tamarind concentrate paste in this recipe as it is easy to measure and get consistent flavor-rich results. If you don't have tamarind concentrate paste, you can make your own by boiling tamarind pulp with water, pureeing it, removing the seeds, and reducing it down to create a thick paste.
Hold onto my strange hand, adorned with lemongrass fingers, and I will lead you through galangal forest, past fragrant rivers of chili sauce, to the crest of the golden tempeh mountain ranges. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
In a food processor or blender, combine the quartered tomato, bird's eye chilies, shallots or onion, garlic, grated ginger, grated galangal, sliced lemongrass, and water. Feel free to change the amount of chilies in the paste according to your preference for spice. Blend the ingredients until they form a smooth and fragrant paste.
Cut the tempeh into 1 cm. thick strips or bite-sized chunks.
Cut the lemongrass stalk into 3-inch (7.5 cm) sections. To release its aromatic oils, bruise the lemongrass by gently pounding it with the side of a heavy knife or cleaver.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. After about 60 seconds, when the oil is hot and shimmering, add the tempeh to the skillet. Cook for approximately 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tempeh turns lightly golden brown and crispy.
Transfer the cooked tempeh to a separate plate or bowl and set it aside.
In the same skillet, add the prepared spice paste and sauté it for a few minutes until the aroma becomes INTENSE and the color darkens a little.
Stir in the bruised lemongrass, long beans (cut into 2-inch, or 5 cm. sections) or string beans, and kaffir lime leaves (if using) into the skillet. Cook this vibrant medley for a few minutes until the beans are tender, ensuring they retain a slight crunch.
Add the cooked tempeh back to the skillet, along with the coconut sugar, tamarind concentrate, and tamari or soy sauce. The mixture will develop a flavorful crust around the tempeh as it cooks. Continue cooking for a few minutes to mellow out the spice paste.
Transfer the sambal goreng tempeh from the skillet to an attractive serving dish. If desired, garnish the dish with thinly sliced bird's eye chilies and cilantro leaves. If you want to brighten up the flavors, add a spoonful of a raw sambal such as sambal dabu dabu, or sambal matah. If you have leftover long beans, you can put 'em to work in the Filipino dish adobong sitaw.
This sambal goreng recipe pairs beautifully with a ton of complementary dishes:
The creamy and aromatic Indonesian vegetable curry, sayur lodeh, which you can serve over a bed of Indonesian pandan-scented coconut rice, or nasi minyak, makes an excellent accompaniment to sambal goreng tempeh. You may want to top the sambal with Lontong, a traditional Indonesian compressed rice cake. The mild and slightly sweet flavor of lontong provides a neutral base that allows the bold flavors of the tempeh dish to shine.
Intensify the flavor of the dish with pickles, condiments, and whatnot. Pickled green chilies, asinan buah, homemade vegan nuoc mam, pickled burdock, green or red chili paste, spicy pickled carrots, or a drizzle of homemade vegan gochujang bbq sauce will all do the trick for those of you who need to turn the flavor up to 11.
🍮What about sweets that go with this, you ask?
- Bruise the Lemongrass: Before adding the lemongrass to the dish, gently crush it with the side of a heavy knife or cleaver. This helps release its aromatic oils and enhances the lemongrass flavor in the dish.
- Adjust Spice Level: We all like different levels of spice. Use more or less chilies to ensure your favey level of heat is obtained. Hate spice completely? I *guess* you could leave the chilies out entirely, or you could enjoy a completely not-spicy bowl of caramel corn instead for dinner… I won’t tell. 🤫
Is sambal goreng vegan?
Yes, sambal goreng tempeh is vegan. It is a plant-based dish that does not contain any animal products. The main ingredient, tempeh, is a protein-rich fermented soybean cake that is widely used in vegan and vegetarian cooking. The flavorful sauce that accompanies the tempeh is typically made with a combination of plant-based ingredients such as chilies, shallots, garlic, and spices.
Some restaurants serving sambal goreng include fish or shellfish, often shrimp paste in their sambal mixture, so be sure to find out for certain, if you aren’t making your own following my recipe.
Is sambal goreng traditionally gluten-free?
Sambal goreng tempeh can be easily made gluten-free, but it's important to note that variations can exist in different recipes and preparations. The main ingredients of sambal goreng tempeh, such as fried tempeh, chilies, shallots, garlic, and spices, are inherently gluten-free.
Some recipes may include soy sauce or other condiments that contain gluten. To ensure a gluten-free version, it is crucial to use gluten-free tamari or soy sauce alternatives like liquid aminos.
❄️ See ya later, ‘frigerator ✌️
Allow the dish to cool down to room temperature before storing it.
Transfer the sambal goreng tempeh to an airtight container, and store the dish in the refrigerator, where it can stay fresh for up to four days.
🔥 Stovetop reheating
Place a non-stick skillet or pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of oil or water to prevent sticking. Add the refrigerated sambal goreng tempeh to the pan and heat it gently, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired temperature. Once heated, add fresh garnishes to the dish when you plate it.
☢️ Microwave reheating
For a quick reheating option, place the desired portion of sambal goreng tempeh in a microwave-safe dish. Cover the dish with a microwave-safe lid or plate to retain moisture. Heat on medium power for short intervals, stirring in between, until the tempeh is heated through.
Yes! Sambal goreng freezes just fine. After cooking, let the dish cool for 30 minutes, and portion it into containers. Label and mark the containers with the date, and freeze for up to 90 days.
✌️My favey dishes to serve with sambal goreng:
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Indonesian Sambal goreng tempeh
Spice paste (sambal)
- 1 medium size tomato quartered
- 2 bird’s eye chilies stems removed
- 3 medium size shallots or 1 small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons grated galangal
- 1 stalk lemongrass dry external leaves discarded, thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons water
Tempeh and Beans
- 2 bird’s eye chilies thinly sliced
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves
- In a food processor or blender, combine the quartered tomato, bird's eye chilies, shallots or onion, garlic, grated ginger, grated galangal, sliced lemongrass, and water. Blend until a smooth paste forms. Set aside.
- Cut the tempeh into 1 cm. thick strips or bite-sized cubes.
- Cut the lemongrass into 3-inch (7.5 cm) sections, and bruise it with the side of a heavy knife or cleaver.
- In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. After 60 seconds, when the oil is hot, add the tempeh and stir fry for 6 minutes until lightly browned and crispy, stirring occasionally. Remove the tempeh from the skillet and set aside.
- In the same skillet, add the prepared spice paste and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Stir in the bruised lemongrass, long beans (cut into 2-inch/5 cm sections) or green beans, and kaffir lime leaves (if using). Cook for a few minutes until the beans are tender, but not overcooked.
- Add the cooked tempeh back to the skillet. Stir in the coconut sugar, tamarind concentrate, and tamari or soy sauce. Mix well to coat the tempeh and vegetables with the flavorful sauce. Continue cooking for another few minutes to allow the sauce to crust the outside of the tempeh.
- Place the contents of the pan into an attractive serving dish, and garnish, if desired, with thinly sliced bird's eye chilies and cilantro leaves