I’ve always wondered why tofu is so much more popular than tempeh. I’m betting that it’s because tofu is on menus in Chinese, Korean and Japanese restaurants, while tempeh is really more Indonesian, so you see it on the rare Indonesian restaurant menu, and at vegetarian places. It’s a shame, since you could make a case that tempeh should be the star of the soyfoods roster. With 20 grams of protein in a 4 ounce serving, tempeh is as high in protein as ground beef.
With the wave of interest in fermented foods, like kimchi and kombucha, we might see a rise in tempeh love. Tempeh is a fermented soy food, with all the great benefits of having been pre-processed for you by beneficial bacteria. Any fermented protein, like miso, cheese, or tempeh, will have extra umami, since the process breaks the proteins into peptides and amino acids that give foods a meaty quality. Tempeh has umami, as well as a chewy, nutty texture that tofu lacks.
Tempeh has a slightly mushroomy flavor, and like tofu, is a great carrier for a tasty marinade or spice rub. The unique texture is really good crisped in oil, for a seared edge that crunches when you bite into it. It can also be ground for a “ground beef” substitute, that is great sauteed and made into chili or stew.
That texture is there because tempeh is a whole soybean, slightly cooked, then fermented. Tofu, on the other hand, is made with soybeans that have been cooked, then the fiber is strained out to make soymilk. That leaves tempeh with a bunch of healthy fiber that tofu doesn’t have. Many experts recommend eating fermented soy, because the process breaks down the proteins and makes them more digestible. It also liberates many beneficial compounds and makes them more absorbable. Tempeh is loaded with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune building chemicals.
If you are new to tempeh, you may as well know, it is made with (ahem) mold. A really, really good mold. Not like the green stuff that crops up on your bread. This Rhizopus mold is added to cooked, cooled soybeans and allowed to flourish under controlled conditions. Letting the beneficial mold do this work for us is a good thing. The tempeh is bound by a fluffy mycelium, and that is what holds the beans together.
It’s best to lightly steam the tempeh before the final cooking process. This makes the cake a little moister in the center, and in this recipe allows the rub to adhere to a damp slice of tempeh. Don’t skimp on oil for the pan, it makes the edges nice and crisp and seals in the moisture.
To add even more umami, I went with smoked salt. Smoke is another umami boosting flavor, so it gives these strips even more satisfying flavor. It also reminds you of grilling, summer, and campfires, all things that make eating fun.
I recommend making a double batch of these to keep in the fridge, to use in salads, on bowls of grain and veggies, or just as snacks. They make a wonderful sandwich, so I piled mine on creamy avocado, and some tangy kraut. A few strips of sweet red pepper, and I was good to go. The avocado is so creamy I didn’t need any more condiments, but if you wanted to schmear some mayo and Dijon on there, it would be really tasty, too.
So give tempeh a try. It’s certainly a great way to get protein that uses less water and resources, and a bargain compared to beef or chicken. I much prefer a real, whole food like this to any faux burger, and it is easy to make and store.
Crispy, spicy, chewy and nutty, this one is a winner!
Smoked Salt Rubbed Tempeh and Tempeh and Kraut Sandwiches
1 package tempeh
1 tablespoon smoked salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
olive oil for pan
2 small avocado
1/2 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 medium roasted red pepper, drained and slivered
8 slices whole wheat bread, toasted
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Thinly slice the tempeh cake to make three thin sheets. This is easier if you cut the cake in half, but you can do it either way. Slice the sheets into inch wide strips. Set up a steamer and bring the water to a boil, then stack the tempeh in the steamer and steam for 3 minutes.
On a plate, mix the smoked salt, brown sugar, paprika, and thyme. Spread a relatively generous amount of olive oil on a sheet pan.
Dip the tempeh slices in the spice mixture, lightly coating each side. Place on the olive oil on the sheet pan. When all of the strips are coated, turn them to get olive oil on both sides.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the slices and bake for 5 minutes more. Cool on rack.
For sandwiches, slice avocado in the shell, then place half an avocado’s worth on each sandwich. Cover with kraut and tempeh, then slices of red pepper. If desired, spread some mayo on the top slice of bread. Put the tops on and serve.