Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's for Dinner? Spicy Sambal Petai with Tempeh

Well, what's for dinner tonight was not for the faint-hearted who dislike spicy food, nor was it for the 'faint-nosed' because this is Sambal Petai with Tempeh in all its spicy-ness and stinky-ness!

Petai beans are definitely something of an acquired taste...and smell (just like the King of Southeast Asian fruits called Durian). Highly popular in Southeast Asia, the beans are contained in long, flat green pods with bulging bumps in the shape of small almonds. Petai has a really peculiar smell that is dispelled through the urine (so, make sure the flush works!). As such, it is also nicknamed as 'stinky beans'. Petai is said to contain 3 types of natural sugar - sucrose, fructose and glucose. It is also believed to be carrying many beneficial medicinal values from regulating blood pressure to curing a hangover with a glass of petai milkshake (err, anyone up to this challenge?!).
Tear the pod to get the petai beans. Peel off the white skin and split open the petai to spot for any cute tiny little worms in suspicious-looking beans.

Tempeh is essentially fermented soy bean cake that originates from Indonesia (where it has been a staple food & source of protein for hundreds of years) and is widely cooked and loved by Malaysians and Singaporeans alike, especially in Malay households & food stalls. Tempeh can be easily found in many supermarkets these days. Many also prepare homemade tempeh as it is easy and cheap. Dehulled soy beans need to be soaked overnight, cooked and ferment with tempeh starter, which is a dried mixture of live Rhizopus spores. Just like how one would need the desired lactobacillus and streptococcus bacteria to make yoghurt, the similar concept applies to tempeh which needs its desired 'agent'. Whoever created tempeh was really clever. If you can see from the pic below, the whitish surface has a really unique texture. It is not anything like a wet batter at all. It is slightly damp & with cotton-like texture. As gross as it may sound, it is just like the outer layer of a caterpillar coccoon as I imagined. Too much details? Don't worry, it's completely hygienic, healthy & delicious. Tempeh is highly suitable for vegetarians & vegans.

Traditionally-made tempeh are wrapped in a certain type of leave where fermentation process takes place. Fry the tempeh till golden brown and slice it.

Now, get ready for the spicy, stinky, delicious Sambal Petai with Tempeh.

For the Sambal paste (grind all together):
100 g shallots
20 g dried chillies (soak in boiling hot water for 15 mins)
1 inch belacan (Asian shrimp paste)
2-3 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

To cook my Sambal Petai with Tempeh, you need:
1 small bowl sambal paste (as above)
30 g ikan bilis (baby anchovies), fry with oil till golden brown & drain on paper towel
100 g prawns, deshelled
5-6 tbsp tamarind paste juice or 3-4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
3-4 pods of petai beans, skinned and split
1-2 pieces tempeh, fry till golden brown and slice

Heat 5-7 tbsp oil in a wok/frying pan. When it's hot, put in the grounded sambal paste and saute till the paste emanates a fragrant smell and somewhat drier than before. Pour in the tamarind/lemon juice, sugar and salt. You can add some water if you prefer a slightly wetter sambal. Put in the prawns, petai and tempeh all together. Stir and cook for 3-5 mins. Turn off the fire, leave the sambal to cool for about 10 mins, then mix in the fried anchovies. Stir well and serve with plain rice, coconut milk rice (nasi lemak) or bread.


  1. This is so interesting. so so so interesting. Did you make the tempeh yourself or did you buy it in a leaf?

    I have never seen it sold in a leaf. I WANT.

  2. hi katie, i bought the tempeh at a supermarket, locally-made by a malay fmly business. i've not tried making it myself. need to find out where to buy the yeast for the tempeh, first & foremost. glad you find the post interesting :D

  3. I love to visit spots where I learn something new. I enjoyed my visit here and will come back often. You have a lovely blog.

  4. wow!!! sambal petai iis my top favorite!! you remind me I still have a pack of petai in the freezer, can't stop drooling by just thinking of it.I am going to cook this dish this weekend!!

  5. These look very interesting and good! I wonder if I can get them here.

  6. somehow I didnt inherit the spicy gene from my parents, but this looks good! I love tempeh but have only eaten it when my mom cooks it. I'll have to try myself.

  7. I like this, Petai always my favorite, cool with sambal, super delicious..

  8. love petai but never eat with tempeh!! malu to said I learn to eat petai 2 years ago at thai's restaurant.I bet this dish must give you the kick!!

  9. oh, this bean is so strange to me, i think i havent seen it before! But looks very nice, i would love to try! :)

  10. Wonder this petai is same as I saw in Taiwan?

  11. hi *Mary*, thank you very much. i enjoy visiting yr blog too & have been a silent visitor actually :).

    hi *giggle*, you mean you can get petai in Arizona??? you're in Arizona right?

    hi *the ungourmet*, maybe you can try Asian stores for frozen petai since *giggle* is in arizona and she has a pack in her freezer. but lemme warn you again, it's really an acquired taste. well, why not be adventurous! :D

    hi *sharon*, yes, tempeh is nice & healthy.

    hi "Sonia*, glad you like petai too :D. i'm sure you agree if eat with nasi lemak, even more terrific!

    hi *Beachlover*, no need to 'malu' :D. better late than never.

    hi *cookingpractice*, i'm sure petai can grow well in vietnam too & perhaps yr friends there might know. in italy, don't thk you can get it though.

    hi *Anncoo*, interesting to know Taiwanese eat it too if it's the same thg you saw there.

  12. This is very different and very new to me. Looks spicy, yummy and tasty......

  13. ya, so far, I can get almost every Asian ingredient here except Bunga Kantan and dried tamarind skin, don't know why, they have assam paste, but dont have assam skin..., I may plant bunga kantan one day.. lol !!!

  14. I have some frozen petai and was jsut thinking about sambal petai! Yours look sooo good. Wonder where I can get tempeh here though.

  15. Very interesting! I like to learn about new foods.

  16. OMG! This looks so, so good! I don't really like the smell/taste of petai, but I love tempeh. Your sambal is beautiful.

  17. pigpigscorner, tempeh is just my own optional add-on :D

    giggle, ahh..bunga kantan is another wonder herb in Msian cooking.

    mythreyi, hummingbrid & little teochew, thank you for yr lovely comments :D

  18. hi there..nice blog lahh, guaa link blog luu sama guaa punya blog eyyy...

  19. Dont know why i couldnt comment on the other site, just wanna say: i would love to take a tour in Malaysia either, they said it is very beautiful! :)

  20. Learned something new every day and today's lesson for Jeff was provided by you. Awesome done and I love stinky and I love spicy. On a mission now.....

  21. Hi Mat Gebu, thank you! You bake very well, as I saw on yr blog.

    Hi Cookingpractice, glad you informed me. I've corrected the comment format already. There are some nice parts of M'sia, as well as some not-so-nice parts. But one can find good food everywhere. Do come someday. The grass always look greener on the other side, and I think Italy is SO VERY MUCH nicer. I love Tuscany..the grapevines & sunflower fields...amazing!

    Hi Jeff, well you better hurry to the nearest Asian store and let yr nose do the job when you spot any green colored beans. Lemme know yr verdict on it if you ever manage to try it. Fyi, the beans can also be eaten raw.

  22. Oh yeah, i love Italy alot , and Florence now is the best place i want to live in :) I have visited quite so many cities, but there are still many posts attractive awaiting :) Glad you like Italy!

  23. This is my fav way of cooking sambal. Tempe and petai. Both my fav and a great comfort food.

  24. Had never tried cooking petai with tempe! My husband loves petai but not tempe eventhough he is a 'Kampung boy'...actually, is 'anak peneroka' Felda! My husband has a Malay sis-in-law and a Malay niece-in-law. A huge family!!! I actually learned cooking from there.

  25. You have no idea how much I rindu with this Petai. I wish I can get this here. They have the one in a jar, and taste milder. I want the fresh one, so I can make petai bakar, sambal terasi (belachan), and tempe goreng. Enak sekali! Yum!

  26. Definitely going to make this, but can you confirm quantities of oil? 5-7 tbsp (tablespoons) seems a lot. Should it be teaspoons (tsp)?