Tempeh is one of those "strange" foods that may cause you to scratch your head wondering not only what it is (!) but how in the world you are supposed to prepare it. For me and Jeff, it was love at first bite, but for others this highly nutritious food with a flavor that seems to be a mix of mushrooms and nuts can be an acquired taste.
It's a fun food to play with and it's filled with vegan protein.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. What exactly what IS it? Good question.
As you can see by the photo below, it looks a little strange, but don't be afraid!
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that comes in patty form. And if you're going to eat soy, fermented is the way to go.
Good question, Grasshoppah.
Because the fermentation actually helps you to digest the amazing nutrients and making them far more readily available for your body to use.
It's made with the whole soybean with very little processing, unlike tofu which is very processed. It's also very high in protein, which makes it an excellent plant-based protein source.
So the addition of this nutritious food to your diet is a very smart and healthy thing to do. You can learn about the FANTASTIC nutritional qualities by following the link at the bottom of this page.
Ready? Let's get started...
I always have some in my freezer and recommend you do the same because you just never know when it will help you out of dinner in a pinch allowing you to whip up a flavorful recipe in minutes.
Buying tempeh versus making it yourself...
As a general rule I recommend cooking with whole foods whenever possible, and using pre-packaged foods much less. Clearly, there are times when pre-packaged foods fit the bill and just make life easier.
Have you ever tried to make your own tempeh or even read instructions on how to do so? Personally, I feel this is one of those instances when you'll want to buy it pre-made -- there's just too much room for error with the fermenting process and it could make you sick if you don't know what you're doing.
But if you'd like to learn how to make your own you can follow this link to read all about it. But don't say I didn't warn you. :)
You can find it pre-packaged in the refrigerated section of most natural foods stores.
Unlike tofu, it cannot always be found in most mainstream groceries just yet. But try requesting it and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover they'll stock it, or order it for you. If you have to order in bulk, that's okay because it can be frozen until ready to use.
Because soy bean crops are almost always grown with GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms = scary, scary stuff!), your soy products (and corn products, for that matter) should always be made with organic soy. And this is no exception. I highly recommend you visit The Food Revolution -- one of their main focuses is teaching all of us about this very important topic.
So be sure to check your labels to be sure it's organic. Sometimes it says it on the cover of the package, and sometimes it says it in the actual ingredient list, so be sure to check both.
How To Clean and Prep Tempeh
There are basically two types out there; one is fresh (or fresh frozen), and the other is vacuum-sealed and found in the refrigerated section of your store.
Vacuum-sealed and pre-packaged tempeh is almost always pasteurized. This is not in all actuality "pre-cooking" but a way to ensure it will be shelf-stable when packaged and sold in stores. These are ready-to-eat and usually do not have to be pre-cooked.
Still, I recommend you cook the pre-packaged tempeh before using it in your recipes. First of all, it helps to remove some of its uniquely-delicious-yet-slightly-bitter flavor. Secondly, it helps to soften and moisten it, which makes it even easier to enjoy. And finally, cooking it first relaxes the "patty" so it accepts more of the flavors you mix it with, especially when marinating.
If you would like to steam it first, you can learn how to do that here. I recommend steaming it for 10-15 minutes.
Fresh tempeh is more rare around the U.S., but seems to be healthier because all the fantastic nutritional qualities are still intact. If you purchase it fresh from a market, it must be pre-cooked for at least 20 minutes before eating. It can also be frozen in this fresh state.
(When I called my local Whole Foods store to ask if they have any fresh frozen non-pasteurized tempeh, they said it's illegal for them to sell it non-pasteurized.)
So in the end, the consumer really has to be vigilant. It the package says ready to eat, that means it's likely been pasteurized and is good to go. If the package says to cook first, then it's very important to do so.
No matter which you choose, the soybeans are fermented so it's much easier for our bodies to digest. And of course, it's a great source of protein. I recommend that, as with all pre-packaged foods, you not rely on them on a daily basis but try to focus on eating whole foods instead and sprinkling the pre-packaged stuff for a break in the action.
How To Cook Tempeh
Here are the cooking techniques we use and recommend...
Tempeh Vegan Flavor Matches
Create your very own recipe with some of your favorite ingredients from this list of foods that match perfectly.
Try These Vegan Tempeh Dishes...
Roasted Tempeh w/Tomato Rosemary Chutney
Garlic Date Tempeh
Toasted Sesame Stir Fry
Sausage Gravy-Smothered Polenta
Burrito w/Creamy Almond Sauce
Breakfast Sausage Patties
Brown Rice Casserole
Sweet & Sour Tempeh
Tempeh w/Coconut Milk and Lemongrass
Pesto Lasagna Rollups
Tempeh Potato Patties
Tempeh Taco Bowls
Potato Hash (add tempeh)
Sassy's Baked Beans (add tempeh bacon)
If you'd like, you can also add other ingredients to the broth to add more flavor, such as peppercorns, garlic cloves, vinegar, ginger, or Liquid Smoke. You can also take this flavorful broth, blend it, add a thickener and use it as a sauce for your tempeh. Play around and have fun. You can't screw it up. ;)