No More Street Meat

Right now, right at this very moment, a ponderous line is snaking its way down the sidewalks of downtown Berkeley, roiling with ravenous foodies clamoring for a taste of what some have called the best Halal food in the entire country. It doesn’t matter what time you’re reading these words; I guarantee that line still persists, waxing and waning well into the darkest hours of the night, thinning but remaining ever-present even once the doors shut for a brief reset in the morning. The hype behind New York’s famous Halal Guys is no joke. Even though their first outpost in the bay area is fully accessible in downtown San Francisco, the demand for these middle eastern platters of street meat has reached fever pitch.

Rarely have I read reviews so overstuffed with outrageous hyperbole; you’d think these writers were describing lucid dreams after one too many drinks, or perhaps something a bit stronger. From the glowing golden rice, infused with a mysterious savory flavor that no one can quite agree on, to the legendary “white sauce” described as a particular excretion from an angelic source, it’s hard to believe that any real life experience could ever live up to such bold advertising.

Though halal truly refers to the method of slaughter, deemed acceptable by Muslims to eat in good faith, the concept has come to simply indicate a sort of middle eastern cart cuisine, strong on spices, quick and easy to eat on a brief lunch break, and always there for you after a late-night binge. Such culture really only exists in NYC, but cravings know no boundaries, and so that same style of food has begun to take root on the opposite coast.

Allow me to tempt you to step out of line for a meatless rendition that needs no breathless amplification to sell itself. Leave the social media madness behind and focus on the flavor here. Tempeh soaks in all the rich, nuanced spices of a deceptively simple marinade to pack all the protein punch you could ever ask for. Load it up in a generous mound over fluffy, fragrant yellow rice, lavish it with white sauce of more reputable origin, and finish the plate with a few fresh garnishes for the complete experience.

Sure, it’s no 10-minute meal, but every single second is worth the wait for this unrivaled flavor explosion. Each piece is quite winsome in its own right, but the harmony that happens when the whole platter is united is difficult to describe in words. It’s something that must be experienced to be fully understood, just like the original inspiration.

Besides, you’ll still easily work your way through the whole process in half the time it would take to arrive at the front of that interminable line.

Halal Cart Tempeh Platter

Tempeh Shawarma:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 (8-Ounce) Packages Tempeh, Cubed
1/2 Cup Finely Diced Yellow Onion

Yellow Rice:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Cup Jasmine or Basmati Rice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

White Sauce:

1 (5.3-Ounce) Container Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint, Minced
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

To Serve
:

Shredded Romaine Lettuce or Cabbage
Tomatoes, Sliced or Cut into Wedges
Pita Bread, Lightly Toasted and Cut into Wedges
Harissa

The longer you can let the tempeh marinate, the better, so begin preparing this meal at least 2 hours in advance, if not a full day. Start by whisking together the lemon juice, soy sauce, spices and herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and add in the cubed tempeh and onions, tossing thoroughly to coat. This is also fantastic to prepare in a zip-top plastic bag to ensure complete coverage and an airtight seal. Place the mixture in your fridge and let rest for an hour at minimum, and 24 hours at best, before proceeding.

When you’re ready to cook the meal, get the rice started so that it’s hot and ready when you are. Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat, swirling it to coat the bottom. Sprinkle in the turmeric and coriander, sauteing very briefly just to toast the spices and allow their full flavors to develop. Deglaze the pan with the vegetable stock, stirring well to ensure that there are no spices sticking at the bottom, and add in the rice, salt, and the pepper. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let rest for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, return your attention to the marinated tempeh. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and bring it up to temperature before dumping in the entire contents of the zip-top bag. Don’t be alarmed if it immediately begins to sizzle and smoke; that’s what you want to see! Spread out the cubed tempeh so that it’s arranged an an even layer, with full contact on the skillet. Let cook, undisturbed, for at least 5 minutes until browned on the first side. Flip and continue to cook, repeating until all sides are golden and crispy.

For the white sauce, simply whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth.

Finally, you’re ready to serve! Layer a sturdy base of fluffy golden rice on each plate, followed by a mound of hot tempeh. Drizzle generously with white sauce and garnish with any or all of the suggested accompaniments. Offer a dish of harissa paste or any other hot sauce on the side. Devour immediately!

Makes 4 – 5 Servings

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