Cookin’ in da Hood

After being made aware of my interest in Nashville-style Hot Chicken, I’ve had countless friends tell me that they want nothing more than to try a piece of the fiery fowl, but that doing so would effectively put the kibosh on their vegetarian/ vegan lifestyle.
     I’m sympathetic to their plight. Mind you, I’m nothing approaching a vegetarian, but I also don’t consider a meatless meal to be “missing” something. Sometimes I make the meatless version of a given dish, and sometimes I don’t. I like meat, but like renowned food writer Mark Bittman, I prefer it more for its flavor and umami than its heft or size, and believe the less meat we eat, the better for our health, our pocketbook, and the environment.
     Which brings us, in an admittedly roundabout way, back to Hot Chicken. Know what the best/most notable thing about Hot Chicken is? The “Hot.” The Hot in Hot Chicken invariably comes from a spice paste. If the paste is the thing, the thinking goes, why hasn’t someone come out with a vegetarian Hot “Chicken” experience?
     Local vegetarians’ prayers have been answered. In an exceedingly rare crossrestaurant collaboration, The Wild Cow’s Nick Davis and Pepperfire Hot Chicken’s Isaac Beard have teamed up to create two different “Hot Tempeh” dishes: a take on the Cow’s signature beans-and-greens, and a toasted sandwich so well-balanced and, well, tasty that you’ll want to add it to your Nashville-style “Hot” repertoire regardless of your meat leanings.
     The following is our take on the Hot Tempeh sandwich. As Pepperfire’s hot seasonings are proprietary, we’ve substituted a standard spice “base.” Get to be Isaac Beard’s friend and you might get the real thing. As with any recipe, the better ingredients you start with, the better the end result.

FOR SANDWICH 2 slices wheat bread, lightly toasted

avocado, cut into strips
lettuce (iceberg will do in a pinch)
sliced tomato
shredded carrots
bean sprouts
Vegenaise, or other vegan mayo
tempeh steaks (The Wild
Cow marinates theirs)

FOR THE RUB
1/3 to 1/2 cup hot frying oil or other fat source (to replace Hot Chicken’s lard)
3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Sea salt and freshly
ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika,
smoked or hot
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

PREPARATION
Bake tempeh according to instructions on package (you’re looking for it to have a slight, friedchicken- like crisp on the outside, yet still tender and chewy throughout). Assemble rub mix, brush liberally on tempeh. Toast bread. Spread both sides with Vegenaise. From the bottom up, layer lettuce, tempeh, lettuce, carrot, avocado, tomato, and sprouts. Assemble sandwich, slice diagonally, toothpick each triangle.