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Tempeh, eh? by Pierre-Luc Moeys, owner of Oriole 9 in Woodstock

As more and more people make the conscious decision to become vegetarians or vegan—for whatever ethical, dietary, and philosophical reasons—there’s become an increased awareness of protein alternatives to meat. One of the best and plentiful plant sources of protein—as well as dietary fiber and vitamins—is the humble soybean, from which tofu and tempeh are made.

But where tofu is soft and neutral in taste, tempeh has a firm texture and nutty mushroom-like flavor, and possesses more of the good soybean stuff, as the process uses more of the bean. Tempeh is made from soaked, de-hulled, and partially cooked soybeans which are then fermented by a reaction to the spores of the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus, a process which binds the beans into a compact white cake. The fermentation process makes the soy protein more digestible.

Tempeh originated in Indonesia, but it may have been introduced there by the Chinese, who made similar product by fermenting de-hulled soybeans with koji, or Aspergillus oryzae, which is used to make sake, rice vinegars, soy sauce, among many other Eastern favorites. The Indonesian climate favors the Rhizopus however, and tempeh has since become the island country’s top protein staple.

Tempted to make your own tempeh? It takes a little time, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s a traditional Indonesian method to use:

what you need:

600 grams (@ 1 1/3 lbs.) whole dry soybeans
5 tblsp. vinegar
1 tsp. (@ 5 grams) of tempeh starter
(available in specialty stores and online)

You may be lucky enough to find de-hulled soybeans somewhere; if so, use them, and skip this part. But if not, you have to crack the beans, which is best done with a loosely set grain mill (also available online, usually for less that $100). Ideally, the beans will crack in half. (The tempeh process can be done without cracking the beans, but doing so make the hulls much easier to remove later.)

Soak the beans in two quarts of water for 6 to 18 hours. If you’re using uncracked beans, split beans with a kneading motion, and stir gently, allowing the hulls to rise and float. Pour off water and hulls and repeat until hulls are removed. Don’t worry if a few hulls remain attached. Put beans in a cooking pot and add enough water to cover. Add vinegar and cook for 30 minutes. Drain off water and dry beans by continuing to heat in the pot over medium heat for a few minutes (don’t burn!). Cool beans to below 95°F (35°C).

Mix tempeh starter into the beans with a clean spoon, making sure to distribute it evenly. Take two medium-sized plastic bags, and perforate with holes ½ inch apart with a needle. Divide the beans, put into the bags, and seal. Press flat so the thickness is just under an inch, and place in an incubator/warm space at @85°F (30°C) for about 36-48 hours. The containers should be filled completely with a white mycelium, and the tempeh should be able to lifted out in one piece.

But if you just don’t have the time to make tempeh—I sure don’t!—there’s a new tempeh “factory” coming to Rosendale from Brooklyn we’ll tell you about later. At Oriole 9 we use their black bean tempeh. You should come by sometime and check it out! Here are a couple of recipes to try…

smoked tempeh miso soup
what you need:

1 lb. soy tempeh
1 quart of miso soup (see cuisine corner, roll feb. ’10)
bunch scallions
¼ lb. shitake mushrooms
soybean oil
barbecue/smoker grill

Smoke the full tempeh cake on the grill or smoker for 1 ½ hours at a maximum of 225°F. Cut into small cubes and fry in hot soybean oil. Heat miso soup to just under a boil. Chop scallions and mushrooms and mix into the soup. Pour soup into bowls, add fried tempeh, and serve quickly.

black bean tempeh and tomato salsa sandwich
(I recommend making the salsa the day before serving)
what you need:

1 lb. black bean tempeh
1 avocado bunch cilantro
1 red onion
1 lime
¼ cup olive oil
3 tomatoes
a nice loaf of bread
some arugula

Chop tomatoes, cilantro, and red onion. Squeeze in lime, add olive oil, salt/pepper to taste, and mix well. Slice tempeh into long strips, and slowly fry in a sauté pan until crispy. Toast bread slices in toaster or broiler. Cut avocado and layer on toast. Add tempeh on top of that, pour salsa over, and top with arugula and additional bread slice.

benefits of tempeh
Tempeh’s fermentation process produces natural antibiotic agents while leaving intact health-promoting phytochemicals such as isoflavones and soy saponins. Isoflavones strengthen bones, helps to ease symptoms of menopause, and reduces the risk of coronary disease and even some cancers. Soy saponins help increase bile production (lowering cholesterol) and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Tempeh is also a complete protein food that contains all the essential amino acids, and some anti-oxidants.

Pierre-Luc Moeys is the chef/owner of Oriole 9

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