Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri! Last year, I spent the holiday visiting my training host family in Kediri. We broke fast with nasi pecel and fried fish. This year I made these sweet potato cinnamon rolls. Not remotely similar, but always delicious.
One dish I often enjoyed in Madiun was tumis tempe. It’s a simple stir-fry with tempeh (soybean cake), green beans, and the usual chili and garlic combination. Like bakwan and soto ayam, tumis tempe was another everyday dish at my host family’s home. What makes this vegetarian side dish particularly satisfying is its balance of sweet and savory—all thanks to kecap manis. The dark, sticky sauce translates to “sweet ketchup,” but there’s no tomato involved. Kecap manis is a sticky, concentrated sweet soy sauce.
Because I didn’t grow up with kecap manis in the fridge, I found it sickeningly sweet at first. But it does balance out savory and spicy flavors in a variety of dishes when used in moderation. It’s a pantry staple in many Javanese homes, and it’s a core component in Indonesian chicken satay marinade.
If you don’t have the right condiment, there’s no need to buy a giant $15 imported bottle of Bango-brand kecap manis on Amazon. You can make sweet soy sauce by simply combining 1/4 cup soy sauce with 1/4 cup brown sugar, simmering it over the stove, and letting it thicken like molasses as it cools. Adjust the flavor until it’s more sweet than salty by adding more sugar to taste. I followed this kecap manis guide, and it worked.
My host family would use fresh chilies and pearl onions when preparing tumis tempe. But since we’re only shopping at one grocery store during quarantine, where options are more limited, I used chili powder and white onion instead. Use what you have. This recipe is easy to adjust.
Tumis Tempe Buncis
Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main
For the kecap manis:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (plus 2 – 4 tablespoons extra)
For the stir-fry:
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil (or grapeseed or canola oil)
- 1/4 cup chopped onion (white or red)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 ounces green beans, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 (8-ounce) package of tempeh, cut into 1-inch cubes
Prepare the kecap manis. Combine the soy sauce and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Let simmer for about 5 minutes. If it starts to boil, remove from heat. Set aside and let it thicken as it cools for about 10 minutes.
In a large pan over medium-low heat, heat the sesame oil and add the onion, stirring for about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the green beans and chili powder, along with 1/4 cup water, and cover the pan to steam the green beans for 3 – 4 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated and the green beans are softened. Then, add the tempeh and kecap manis. Stir frequently and fry until the contents are evenly coated and crispy.
Serve over rice, or enjoy on its own.