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

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

Printable Recipe


Simply Stuffed

Quick, batten down the hatches, the relatives are coming! Swarming in from all corners of the country, they’ll begin their descent any day now, preying upon well-meaning hosts and hostesses, depositing themselves on couches and easy chairs, leaving all manner of clothing and garbage strewn about; it may seem like a tornado hit the house, not just sweet auntie and uncle, plus their rambunctious kids of course. We don’t have much time to chat, because the attack could come at any time, so just lay low for as long as possible and follow my advice: Have food. Lots and lots of food.

As long as you keep feeding them, they shouldn’t become too destructive or agitated, and they may even stay out of the kitchen long enough for you to prepare The Festive Meal. Finger food is best, as silverware may get lost in the struggle, and of course, quick and easy is the name of the game here. That’s why I’m recommending these stuffed zucchini.

Although an unlikely choice, these simple veggie rounds are surprisingly satisfying, filled with a hearty mixture of nuts and beans, plus aromatic herbs and spices. They could just as happily make themselves at home on a dinner plate, as a side or even an entree, thanks to their protein-rich stuffing. Best of all, they’re delicious both warm and cold, and can be prepared in advance, so you can focus on more important things when the family is around. Like preventing little cousin Billy from destroying your antique glass vase.

Good luck, solider. Arm yourself well!

Yield: Serves 8 – 10 as Appetizers; 4 – 5 as a Side; 1 – 2 as a Main

Stuffed Zucchini Bites

Stuffed Zucchini Bites
Humble Zucchini rounds are filled with a hearty mixture of nuts and beans, plus aromatic herbs and spices. They could just as happily make themselves at home on a dinner plate, as a side or even an entree, thanks to their protein-rich stuffing. Best of all, they’re delicious both warm and cold, and can be prepared in advance.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes


  • 4 Medium Zucchinis
  • 5 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1/2 Large Red Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • Pinch Dried Thyme
  • 1 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Toasted
  • 2/3 Cup Cooked Canellini Beans
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Meal
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil, parchment paper, or silicone baking mats.
  2. Slice off the tops and bottoms of your zucchinis, and then cut them into 1 1/2-inch long segments. Stand each segment up on one of the cut sides, and use a melon baller to remove the center flesh, being careful not to dig all the way through the bottom. Reserve the flesh of two zucchinis for this recipe; the other two can go into a stir fry or something else. Arrange the hollowed-out zucchini pieces on your prepared sheets so that they’re ready to go. Set aside.
  3. Set a medium sauté pan over moderate heat, and add in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Once hot, introduce the chopped onion to the pan, and reduce the heat slightly so that it softens and becomes translucent, but doesn’t brown. After about 4 minutes, add in the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. After another 5 – 6 minutes, incorporate the parsley, cumin, and thyme, plus the reserved flesh of two zucchinis, and cook for just 3 – 4 more minutes until the zucchini pieces are lightly browned. Remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Transfer the contents of the sauté pan into your food processor or blender, along with the remaining oil, walnuts, beans, almond meal, and soy sauce. Pulse until the mixture is mostly blended, but still slightly chunky, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Give the stuffing a taste, and add salt and pepper as you see fit.
  5. Spoon the stuffing into your prepared zucchini segments, and really mound it up on top; You should have plenty of stuffing, so don’t hold back. If it turns out that you still have extra when it’s all said and done, you can also just serve it along side chips as a dip, or use it later as a sandwich spread.
  6. Give the zucchinis a light spritz all over with olive oil cooking spray, and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the stuffing is browned and the zucchinis are fork-tender.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 205 Total Fat: 18g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 15g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 179mg Carbohydrates: 10g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 4g Protein: 5g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.