Tempeh is a soybean cake, first made in Java, Indonesia, possibly as far back as the 16th century. Tempeh is a good source of protein and is an ideal protein source for vegetarians and vegans. It is also low in fat, high in fiber, and relatively low in calories (about 230 calories for a four ounce serving).
Tempeh is made by cooking cracked soybeans and then exposing the beans to a Rhizopus mold culture, which serves as a starter. The beans are then wrapped, usually in a perforated plastic bag, pressed flat, and left to sit for about two days.
Where To Find Tempeh
Tempeh can be purchased at health food stores, and is usually found by the tofu in the refrigerated section. It can also be purchased frozen. Tempeh can be purchased that is mixed with other ingredients, such as flaxseed or rice. Tempeh mixed with grains tends to have a milder, less “fermented” flavor and is good for introducing someone to the world of tempeh. Tempeh is not very expensive and usually costs between two and four dollars for eight ounces.
Tempeh can also be made cheaply at the home. Some vegetarian cookbooks, such as the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, as well as vegetarian websites, include easy recipes for making tempeh at home.
Home Preparation of Tempeh
Tempeh starter, the Rhizopus culture, must be acquired in order to make tempeh at home from scratch. The starter is inexpensive and can be easily ordered online. While preparing tempeh at home is rather easy, it also takes a long time. The soybeans must be cracked before being cooked, usually with a food mill.
The cracked beans must then soak overnight in order to be dehulled, then cooked for about 30 minutes and then dried and cooled. The beans are inoculated by sprinkling a bit of starter on them and stirring to incorporate it into the beans. Finally, the mixture can be placed into perforated plastic bags, wrapped tightenly and flattened into a cake, and left in a warm place for 48 hours.
The tempeh is done when a white mold completely fills in the spaces between the soybeans and the mixture can be lifted out as one piece. The mold may occasionally form black spores. It is still safe to eat in that case.
What to Do with Tempeh
Tempeh must be cooked before consumption. Otherwise, the Rhizopus mold can upset the stomach. An easy way to prepare tempeh at home is to marinade it with either a store-bought or homemade sauce. Tempeh, like tofu, absorbs flavors very well. Steaming the tempeh for about ten minutes before exposing it to the marinade softens it and allows it to absorb the sauce more readily.
Let the marinade soak for at least half an hour, then pan fry, bake, or grill. Another quick way to prepare tempeh at home is to coat it with any kind of barbecue sauce and grill or fry. Tempeh can also be purchased pre-marinaded. There is is even a bacon style of tempeh available.
Prepared tempeh can be sliced into sandwiches, chopped into salads or used in soups or chillis. Tempeh is an affordable and delicious way for vegetarians to get the protein they need and the taste they want.