I want to tempt you with tempeh. Whether you are a vegan, a full or part-time vegetarian, or someone who wants to try a delicious and easy to prepare alternative to meat, fish, or fowl, tempeh could be the answer for you.
Recently in this blog I wrote about why you should not say tofu and soy are healthful. Experts and laypeople alike continue to debate the pros and cons of eating tofu and soy products, and the controversy appears to be far from over for some folks. However, certain types of soy products are more likely to get a nod of approval than others.
Tempeh gets that nod for several reasons, and one of the most important ones is that it is a fermented soy food. Fermentation transforms the negative factors associated with tofu and soy into positive ones. Another reason is that many young people today are more turned on by foods that are easy and that make them feel and look good rather than those that are “healthy.” (See the tofu and soy article.)
What is tempeh?
This nutritious food is believed to have its origins on the island of Java hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago, although some will argue that fermented foods, including soybeans, were used in China, Japan, and Korea before that time and could have included tempeh. Regardless of its birth place or time, today it is a staple in the realm of fermented foods.
For the uninitiated, tempeh is made from cooked soybeans that undergo a fermentation process with the addition of Rhizopus mold. The end result is a firm, cake-like substance that easily absorbs flavors from other foods with which it is cooked.
Compared with tofu, tempeh is minimally processed.
The fermentation process makes tempeh’s nutrients more readily available to the body as well as eliminates the questionable substances (e.g., phytates, trypsin inhibitors, others) present in unfermented soy products such as tofu and soymilk. In addition to being an excellent source of protein (it contains all the essential amino acids), tempeh provides good to very good amounts of fiber, vitamin B2, copper, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. The phytonutrient genistein—a cancer-fighting factor—also is present.
How about taste and texture? Many people describe this fermented treat as having a nutty, mushroomy taste when eaten plain, but it takes on the flavors used in the recipes. It is firmer than tofu and is slightly chewy. However, its texture depends on how you prepare it and whether any other ingredients have been added.
Tempeh at the market
That brings up another feature: there are several tempeh products on the market that contain more than soybeans, such as millet, flaxseed, barley, brown rice, wild rice, and/or vegetables.
The quick and easy versions of tempeh are the vacuum-sealed varieties available in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. Be sure to buy organic products only! The majority of soybeans are genetically modified, and you want to avoid those Frankenbeans. Tempeh also can be purchased fresh or fresh frozen in some markets and natural food stores.
This versatile soybean food can be steamed, poached, baked, broiled, simmered, boiled, sautéed, grilled, and fried, all in a matter of a few minute. Here are a few ideas on how to use it.
- Pan fry slices of tempeh with peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms and make a sandwich. Also makes a great Reuben!
- Cut it into bite-sized chunks and use on kabobs with veggies
- Shred the tempeh, saute, and add to pasta sauce or other sauces
- Make tempeh burgers (see sample recipe)
- Use chunks in a stir fry with veggies and serve over quinoa or rice
- Top your veggie salads with steamed marinated tempeh chunks
- Use shredded tempeh instead of beef in tacos, chili, and stuffed peppers
- Fry or grill strips and serve with pancakes or make a tempeh, lettuce, and tomato (a TLT!)
- Grill marinated tempeh slices and top with grilled onion rings
You can freeze packaged tempeh for up to six months. After you defrost it, keep it refrigerated and use it within 8 to 10 days.
Feeling adventurous? You can make your own tempeh! All you need are three ingredients and a little time.
Tempeh is easy to prepare, delicious, nutritious, and versatile. Are you tempted to try tempeh?