While tofu has long been part of the mainstream vernacular, tempeh, its Indonesian cousin, has been slower on the uptake. Nevertheless, tempeh has definitely arrived now, and while it won’t soon replace tofu as the plant-based protein mainstay, tempeh certainly brings its own distinct qualities to the plate. For many, it is the preferential choice.
Even though lots of us have grown to love tempeh, it’s still not something we commonly make it home. By make, we aren’t talking cooking it in delicious stir-fries or making killer sandwiches with tempeh; rather, we are talking about going from beans (or grains) to a homespun block of it. The process easier than you might think, and it’s a fun project.
This article will take you from making your own tempeh starter out of store-bought tempeh, through to making it from soybeans (traditional) and into creating contemporary tempeh with blends of grains, seeds, and pulses. By the end, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the neighborhood tempeh master.
What Is Tempeh, Actually?
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While we may know what tempeh is, that doesn’t necessarily mean we know what it is. Traditionally, tempeh is a soybean product that is formed through a very specific fermentation process, including a type of fungus, Rhizopus oligosporus, commonly referred to as “tempeh starter”. Unlike tofu, made from soybean milk, tempeh uses the whole soybean, which makes it higher in protein and other nutrients. It also has a much firmer texture.
How to Get a Tempeh Starter
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Without tempeh starter, there is no tempeh, so the first step in our tempeh-making endeavor will be acquiring a starter. While it is possible to order tempeh starter online, it takes some of the fun (and experience) out of it, kind of like buying sourdough starter instead of just making your own. Plus, making a tempeh starter at home means we get to go out and buy some tempeh now because we need store-bought tempeh from which to cultivate our own starter.
But, we must by the right tempeh at the store. Fresh is best, and more so, we are looking for i tempeh with black spots in it. This means the tempeh has sporulated, i.e. grown spores. Those spores are what we need!
- Once we’ve gotten good tempeh, we have to slice off thin strips.
- These strips should be dried, either in a dehydrator or on a sunny windowsill.
- Finally, blend the dried slices with twice as much rice flour.
That’s the starter, and this starter should be stored indefinitely in a sealed container where moisture cannot reach it.
How to Make Tempeh
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While soybean is the traditional base for tempeh, it is certainly not limited to soybeans. Different pulses, such as black beans, chickpeas or lentils can be used, as can different grains and seeds. While each type of tempeh will have its own idiosyncrasies, the basic process is the same, and though it takes days to make, it isn’t all that time-consuming.
The first step for making tempeh is cooking the beans and/or grains. For soybeans, start with two cups of dry beans. Soak them overnight then drain that water. Cook them in fresh water. As they begin to soften, add four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. When the beans are adequately soft, strain the water off of them, and add them back to the pot in order to evaporate any remaining water. Finally, allow the beans to cool to summertime temperature (around the 90 F mark).
Once cooled, it’s time to add the tempeh starter (3/4 teaspoon) and mix it in well. Portion out the mixture and put it into a glass loaf pan. Cover that with a damp cloth. Put this in a wooden, plastic, or cardboard box. This should be put in a warm spot (again 90 F) for at least 48 hours, until the beans have been bound by fungal growth. It can then be cut and portioned out.
What to Do with Your Tempeh
Tempeh stores very well in the freezer, keeping for up to six months. When you wish to use it, the tempeh should be cooked—steamed, boiled or pan-fried—before consumption, a good rule for all fungi, even store-bought mushrooms. There are plenty of wonderful tempeh dishes to make, and they will be even more enjoyable with homemade tempeh.
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