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Tempeh Agrodolce over Grilled Polenta


From "Isa Does It" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Argodolce is the Italian way of saying sour-sweet. The sour-sweet sauce in this recipe makes a great combination with the earthy taste of the tempeh and the soft texture of the polenta. Despite its long list of ingredients, this dish is not complicated, and much of it can be made ahead of time. The original recipe calls for steaming the tempeh, but it is also delicious smoked.


Serves 4-6
Total time: 45 minutes plus marinating time; active time: 45 minutes

450 g1 pound tempeh, sliced 1/2 inch thick
5 ml1 teaspoon olive oil

120 ml1/2 cup red wine vinegar
30 ml2 tablespoons soy sauce
15 ml1 tablespoon maple syrup
15 ml1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking tempeh

15 ml1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, quarter and thickly sliced to about 1/2 inch
3 cloves garlic, minced
44 ml3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 24-ounce can whole tomatoes
30 ml2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
15 ml1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
5 ml1 teaspoon salt
1 ml1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
black pepper
crushed red pepper
fresh basil leaves--about 8 torn leaves for the sauce and a few whole ones for garnish.

1 batch of polenta,* grilled, broiled or soft
basil leaves for garnish


To steam the tempeh, cut it into your preferred serving sizes and steam for 15 minutes. Place it in a shallow bowl with the marinade for at least an hour and optimally over night. The longer you marinate the tempeh, the more flavor it will absorb.

If you decide to smoke the tempeh instead of steaming it, you will need to marinate it before smoking. Follow the marinating instructions above. To smoke the tempeh, you will need a 3.5-inch-deep pot with a lid. You can "build" the smoker with a tray to fit neatly inside the pot and a metal grill rack to fit on the tray. It should have small feet to lift the food off the tray's surface. You will also need wood chips, available in kitchen supply places, some grocery stores, and on line. The chips come in many different "flavors," such as hickory, alder, mesquite, etc. If you think you'll do enough smoking to justify purchasing another piece of equipment, I recommend the Cameron Stovetop Smoker, which is available at kitchen stores and on line for about $40, or you could track one down second-hand. To use the smoker, I first oiled the bottom of the pot or smoker, where the wood chips will sit, and also the tray and the grill. Oiling before use greatly helps in the cleanup process. Put a tablespoon of chips (I used hickory) on the greased bottom of the smoker (or pot), then balance the tray and grill on top of the chips. Spread the tempeh on the grill and close the lid leaving a small vent and center the smoker on a medium flame. When pale smoke begins to escape from the vent (about two minutes) close the lid tightly and continue to smoke on medium heat for 20 minutes.

To make the sauce, prepare your ingredients ahead of time. If you are using canned tomatoes, drain the can and reserve the liquid. With your hands, crush the tomatoes and reserve them separately from the liquid. Stir into the tomato juice both vinegars, the salt, cinnamon, black pepper and crushed red pepper and set aside.

Preheat a pan over medium-low heat and add the oil. Add the onion, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Steaming the onion this way will make it juicy. Uncover and turn up heat to medium-high. Let the onion brown for about 5 minutes, and add the garlic, stir-frying for just 30 seconds.

Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring throughout, for 5 minutes, so that the sugar gets melty, dark and smooth.

Add the crushed tomatoes to the pot and pour in the liquid mixture. Cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. It needs that time to thicken and develop the flavors. In the last few minutes, add the basil. Taste for seasoning. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the torn basil leaves.

While the sauce is thickening, cook the tempeh. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Cook the tempeh for about 15 minutes, flipping often, until browned on both sides. Sprinkle the tempeh with salt as it cooks. If you have smoked the tempeh, it will not need further cooking, but you can sauté it until it browns and is warm (about 5 minutes on each side).

Arrange the tempeh and polenta on the plate with a scoop of the sauce nearby. You could garnish with some of the basil leaves if you have them.


*There are many ways to cook polenta, but I discovered a very easy microwave method that requires no lengthy stirring. See "Microwave Polenta."

Major Ingredients: