Image Source: Gingery Maple Glazed Tempeh
Giving into temptation is not always a bad thing. This is especially true when tempeh is involved.
The first time I tried this firm cake-like soy patty was four years ago on a road trip, in the form of a loaded down Reuben sandwich, freshly made by the friendly deli staff at a health food store. Like any proper Reuben, each bite oozed with Russian dressing and sour kraut. While I often dream about this very sandwich, and occasionally get to bring my dreams into fruition when traveling back through said town, since then, I’ve found ways to enjoy tempeh closer to home. I find myself picking up a pack each time I visit the health food store and cook it up to my liking, and of course, enjoying it while dining out at local vegan eateries.
Although tempeh can seem a little intimidating or texturally peculiar at first, it can be incorporated into your diet as a firmer substitute than its familial tofu. Plus, it allows you to steer clear, or at least take a break from more meaty, yet wheat-y alternatives.
While still not quite as readily available as its tofu in block form, tempeh in its packaged form is making its way to more and more grocery shelves, and of course, can be found in excess at health food stores.
A Health-Packed Patty
Tempeh is made with whole soy beans, and its fermentation process allows it to retain more of its nutritional value than tofu. Meaning more of the good stuff, including protein. For an example, WestSoy Tempeh packs 15g of protein in each serving. Next time someone looks at you with concern and makes an inquiry as to where you get your protein, you’ll have yet another protein-packed plant-based alternative to add to your already lengthy response.
Not only does tempeh allow you to get more than your fill of protein, it contains quite a bit of fiber. It has also been known to aid in stabilizing blood sugar and lowering cholesterol. And since the fermentation process has already taken care of doing some of the work, it remains easier for your body to break down and absorb its minerals—taking a load off of your digestive system. This fermentation process also allows for the production of antibiotic agents that can help ward off disease-causing organisms. Tempeh’s home country of Indonesia has been swearing by it for years upon years. Additionally, unlike other soy products such as miso, or soy sauce itself, tempeh remains quite low in sodium.
Because eating tempeh right out of the package is frequently likened to munching on raw mushrooms, unless you’re one of the few who can appreciate the full on earthiness and a slightly bitter punch, cooking it is the way to go. Still, despite having a stronger flavor of its own, the good news is that much like tofu, tempeh does take on desired flavors when soaked and cooked, although it’s denser nature means it beckons for a little extra time spent marinating. Turtle Island Foods, Inc. , a company you may already be familiar with as the maker of Tofurky products, offers packaged tempeh in numerous pre-marinated forms, saving some preparation time. They aren’t the only ones. Companies like Lifelight offer it in multiple varieties. Both companies cite using non-GMO soy beans. While tempeh in it’s truest form is gluten free, it’s best to check each package as certain varieties incorporate wheat or other fillers into the mix.
Whether you start with tempeh in its natural tasting form, or opt for a more dressed up variety, here are a few tasteful tempeh-tations to give in to, that is, ways to sub tempeh in to your daily meal routine.
Fakin’ Bacon: Did somebody say, bacon? Of course, one way to get your bacon fix is to simply slice and heat up some pre-marinated tempeh options. But, if you are looking to get a little more original and slightly fancy with breakfast and care to get a head start the night before, make your own marinade to soak your tempeh in bringing in flavors such as liquid smoke, cayenne, soy, olive oil, and maple syrup. Allow to soak overnight before unveiling just in time to fry up for breakfast.
Mighty Fine Mock Ups: While tofu may be a smooth star in eggless egg salad ensembles, not to mention the reigning champion of the scramble, tempeh makes a firmer un-fishy substitute for tuna. Whether you are craving tuna a la carte with a handful of crackers or are in the mood for a larger helping sandwiched between slices of bread to make for a full meal, here is a recipe for a tempeh tuna delight. If you aren’t a tuna fan normally, surely you can appreciate a proper unchicken salad.
Picnic Favorites: There are a few cookout, or picnic favorites in which some may deem meat a necessary player. I argue otherwise. Personally, I am a sucker for barbecue, and I recently starting changing up my go-to barbecue tofu routine and turning toward barbecue tempeh instead. For easy prep and a quick cook time, simply cut packaged tempeh into cubes or slices and grill lightly on the stove until heated throughout. No overnight soaking necessary. Simply pour barbecue sauce into the pan, lower to a simmer, and continue to sauté until desired flavor and consistency are met. Throw on a bun, dress up and serve. For a sloppier finish, try this recipe for sloppy joes. If you care to ditch the bread, try either atop a bed of leafy greens.
Crumble-icious Classics: Yes, frozen soy-based crumbles can be a quick fix when making chili, spaghetti, or anything else that warrants a meaty touch. However, crumbling tempeh into one of these signature dishes is equally effective, and offers a fresher finish with desired texture. For spaghetti, place crumbled tempeh into a pan and heat with bit of olive oil and preferred spices until desired brownness is met. Then add in pasta sauce. Not only does this option work great for spaghetti, it works wonders in tacos. Rather than just settling for beans, try browning some tempeh with taco seasoning, diced peppers and onions, and mixing into your next fiesta in the form of tacos, burritos, or even a Mexican salad.
Once you’ve given tempeh a thorough test run, if you care to expel just a bit more energy, branch out and start from nearly scratch. Here is a recipe to make your own tempeh using a tempeh starter. Making your own allows for air drying which aids in keeping a full range of vitamins intact that may become stripped out due to the commercial production.