Befitting an eatery dedicated to expanding the possibilities of vegan cuisine, Woolloomooloo’s Alibi has greeted spring with a new addition to its menu: a textured reimagining of tempeh that sees the soybean-based vegetarian staple marinated in tamari, agave, mirin and sesame oil before being caramelised for maximum flavour. In other words? You’ve never tasted tempeh like this before.

“It’s something a lot of vegans use,” says Brent Morley, executive chef at the wharfside Ovolo Hotel that houses Alibi. “We wanted it to be super tasty, and then incorporate some native herbs that people don’t see often.”

Lesser-known coastal herbs such as saltbush, samphire, sea banana and micro lemon balm give the spring-inspired dish a pleasantly salty crunch. The marinated tempeh is perched on a pea-coriander pesto and topped with a refreshing cucumber-mint dressing, and surrounded by a halo of herbs to complete the dish’s complex balance of plant-driven flavours.

Morley also wanted to create a dish that would pair nicely with a new non-alcoholic beverage, Seedlip Garden 108 & Cucumber Tonic. The premixed RTD drink’s herbal, floral profile complements the elements in the tempeh dish, and both have notes of cucumber and mint.

“With the cucumber tonic it’s very refreshing,” says Morley of the pairing. “We see a lot of customers who don’t drink alcohol for health reasons. So the dish and drink go well together in terms of healthiness, as well as on the flavour side of things.”

As for the tempeh, it all comes down to the marinating and caramelisation. “It’s a sweet and salty marinade,” he says. “You cryovac it, which makes the marinade penetrate the soybean and changes the flavour of it. And when you grill it, that caramelises all the sugar in the agave.”

Morley is sharing the recipe here, but don’t worry if you don’t have a cryovac: you can simply marinate the tempeh covered in the fridge for 24 hours. Find the native herbs online or at your local specialty market. As an entrée serving six, this dish is a great way to start a wider plant-driven banquet, as well as an opportunity to showcase the versatility of tempeh.

“Just to see what can be done with plant-based products – with nuts, with vegetables – there are just so many methods,” says Morley, who worked at a steakhouse for four years before stepping into Alibi’s vegan kitchen two years ago. “The textures and flavours you can get are just amazing.”

That’s exactly why Alibi has been changing people’s minds about plant-based food.

“[Not everyone] wants to try vegan food, but once they’re here and they eat it, they love it,” he says. “It’s just about changing people’s perceptions. You can’t just do a salad these days: you’ve got to do something with more thought to it so that people are satisfied when they walk away.”

Zesty Fried Tempeh and Salad
Makes 6 entrée portions
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes

Tempeh marinade (mix and set aside)
50ml tamari
50g agave
10ml sesame oil
10ml mirin

1 packet tempeh

Pea coriander pesto (blend in food processor until smooth)
250g peas
1 bunch coriander
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
5g salt

Cucumber mint dressing (mix the last three ingredients together, set aside the cucumber and mint for service)
100g cucumber – peeled, deseeded and diced
½ bunch mint leaves (chiffonnade)
50ml rice-wine vinegar
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
10g salt

Salt bush
Sea banana
Micro lemon balm

Cut the tempeh into 6 equal portions (first in thirds, then each third in half). Place in a cryovac bag with the marinade and cryovac tightly so the marinade penetrates the tempeh. If you don’t have a cryovac, simply cover and set aside in the fridge (preferably for 24 hours).

To assemble the dish, place 2 dessertspoons of pesto in the middle of the plate, making a circle with a small well in the middle (large enough to fit a piece of tempeh). Garnish the outer rim of the pesto with the sea herbs and lemon balm. Place in a non-stick pan with extra-virgin olive oil on a medium heat. Colour both sides (be careful the pan is not too hot as it will tend to burn because of the tamari and agave in the marinate). Then place a single piece of tempeh on the pesto (repeat on separate plates for each piece of tempeh). Finish with cucumber dressing, garnish with cucumber and mint. Serve warm.

Serve the premixed Seedlip Garden 108 & Cucumber Tonic RTD can in a highball glass or tumbler, over ice and garnish with either a sugar snap pea or a mint sprig.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Seedlip.