Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lengthy Tempeh Ramblings

Sometimes, I make tempeh.
Fresh Chickpea Tempeh
 Now, for those who don't know what tempeh is, it's an Indonesian protein source made of moldy beans!
...which I know doesn't sound all that appealing, but it is delicious. The beans are lightly cooked, then inoculated with mold spores and incubated for 24 hours. The mold grows and holds the beans in a tightly-woven mycelium mat that smells lightly of mushrooms.
Store-bought tempeh, in my experience, is expensive and tends to have a bitter aftertaste. Homemade tempeh has a mild mushroomy flavor... and let's face it: you can't get much cheaper than dried beans!
I got my tempeh inoculant from GEM cultures (the soy section). They send instructions on how to make tempeh with the culture, but the internet is also full of different methods. A good tempeh making resource is actually available free online from google books The Book Of Tempeh, chapter 6 is where you should go for tempeh making instructions.
I decided I wanted to make tempeh months ago, so I made myself an incubator out of an old cooler, with an old lamp I disassembled and a water heater thermostat (like these egg incubators, but less fancy because tempeh is less finicky than chicken embryos)
The outside of the incubator
The inside lid of the incubator

I have made about 3 batches of soy tempeh and one of chickpea, and I think I like the chickpea tempeh better. The soy tempeh is kind of chewy and tends to crumble more, while the chickpea tempeh has a soft smooth texture and a lighter flavor... but that could just be this one batch. It might turn out differently next time... ah, the joys of unpredictable cultured foods!
So... I have noticed that most tempeh recipes online are designed for bitter-tasting store bought tempeh, and so call for simmering the tempeh in water first, then draining the water and continuing with the recipe, but since homemade tempeh doesn't taste bitter (that I have made so far), and since boiling the tempeh makes it more crumbly, I would just as soon leave that whole step out.
Here are my two favorite ways of cooking tempeh

Tempeh steamed over vegetables
Dice up some vegetables, what vegetables you use are up to you, but I would recommend always starting with onions and garlic. Add a dash of olive oil to a pan over medium-low heat, add the vegetables, and lay the tempeh over top. Add a few tablespoons of water, and put a tight lid on the pan. Let steam until most of the liquid is gone and the veggies are beginning to caramelize, then, using a spatula, flip the tempeh and vegetables so the caramelized veggies are on top and the tempeh is on the bottom. add a few tablespoons of soy sauce and cover again until the tempeh is browned on the bottom.
Serve over rice, with soy sauce to the side.
Soy tempeh with veggies
Chickpea tempeh with veggies

Chickpea Tempeh with veggies over orzo with a side of seaweed
Tempeh with BBQ sauce
Put your tempeh pieces in a pan and cover with your favorite BBQ sauce (my homemade sauce contains tomato, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and molasses... all pretty much to taste)
Let the pieces marinate for a little while if possible. (while your rice cooks)
When the rice is mostly done, turn the tempeh pan on to medium low and let the tempeh simmer (if your sauce is really thick, you might want to add a little water), occasionally flip the tempeh pieces over so they cook evenly. Once the tempeh has simmered a few minutes on each side and seems to be cooked through, remove the tempeh from the BBQ sauce and put the sauce in a serving dish, rinse out the pan and add a little olive oil to it. sear the tempeh on both sides, then serve over rice (or in a hamburger bun) with bbq sauce over it. 
Searing the tempeh
BBQ tempeh over rice with a side of salad

I realize that this is a pretty long and rambling post. I am sorry for that... but I hope it inspires at least one person to try tempeh... it's really fun!


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