When people hear the word “soy,” they often think of tofu, edamame or even meat analogs, but there’s another tasty food made with soy that’s not quite as popular yet – tempeh. Pronounced “TEM pay,” this soybean patty is a traditional Indonesian food.
Temeph comes from Indonesia, and it probably originated on the island of Java, where it is still very popular today. The earliest known reference to it was in 1815, making it a much newer food than tofu and seitan. It is a staple source of protein for the Indonesian people, and interestingly, it’s the only traditional soy food that did not originate in China.
Tempeh is made by culturing soybeans. The soybeans are partially cooked, soaked and hulled. A fermentation starter is mixed in with beans, which are then spread into a thin layer and left in a warm area (usually around 88 degrees) for 24 to 48 hours. In Indonesia, it is traditionally wrapped in a banana or hibiscus leaf to ferment, but most home tempeh makers here in the U.S. use zip-lock bags. The fermentation process binds the beans together to form a patty or a cake. Sometimes cooked whole grains such as rice or barley are added to the beans before the fermenting process. I’ve heard that it can be made with beans other than soy, but I’ve never tried it myself.
Since tempeh is made with whole soybeans it has hearty, meaty texture. People often refer to the flavor as smoky, nutty and even “mushroom-like”. Some friends have told me that they don’t like it because they pick up on the fermented flavor when eating it. It’s easy to remedy that though – simply steam the it for a few minutes before cooking it. Simmering it in a bath of warm water or broth will help remove the fermented taste as well.
Unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole soy product, which means it has more minerals, vitamins, and, yes, protein than those white blocks of soy. A cup of cooked tempeh contains 30 grams of protein, which is about half of what the average person needs in a day. It’s also loaded with calcium, B-vitamins, iron and fiber. Another advantage over tofu is that tempeh is easy to digest. The fermentation process produces enzymes and beneficial bacteria that make tempeh easier on the tummy than other soy products.
If you’re looking for tempeh, it can usually be found in the same area of the grocery store as the tofu. It’s usually sold in a “cake”, you can also find marinated strips that can be quickly cooked and added to sandwiches or soups and tempeh bacon.
My Top 10 Favorite Tempeh Recipes
Thai Coconut Tempeh with Pineapple Salsa – This dish is bursting with flavor, and it’s a fun twist on the usual stir-fry.
Tempeh Marsala – The classic marsala dish gets a vegan update with this delicious recipe.
Tempeh Tamale Pie – In this dish, tempeh is drenched in salsa verde and baked to perfection in a cornmeal crust.
Broccoli and Tempeh with Spicy Peanut Sauce – Looking for a fun way to serve tempeh? Look no further than this recipe!
Thai Tempeh Lettuce Wraps – These wraps are perfect for lunch, and they make a great appetizer or light dinner.
Buffalo Tempeh Salad with Cashew Ranch Dressing – This craveable salad is so good that you’ll find yourself wanting more! You may want to make a double batch.
Tempeh Fajita Salad – Fajitas have always been a favorite of mine, and this dish has everything I like about them in the form of a salad.
Lemon-Dijon Tempeh and Mushrooms – This dish is easy to make, but it looks like it took longer than it actually did, so it’s great for both busy weeknights and weekend dinner parties.
Apple Pecan Tempeh Salad – This salad can be enjoyed on it’s own as a snack, or on bread in a sandwich. It’s also great mixed into a green salad. It’s perfect for taking with you for a picnic in the park, too.
What’s your favorite way to cook tempeh?