Make time for tempeh
A healthy and delicious ingredient that's too good to ignore
By Mike Lewis
If you're like many vegetarians or vegans, you've probably heard of tempeh but have never thought of trying it. You might have seen it in your local health food or Asian store, but were put off by the fact that you had no idea what to do with it. Or maybe you just dismissed it as yet another exotic ingredient that has no place in your kitchen - along with tofu, miso, tamari and all those other weird-sounding foodstuffs.
If that's the case, it's a pity. Tempeh (pronounced tem-pay) is not only a very healthy food, it also forms the basis of some truly delicious dishes. In Indonesia, where it originated, they've been eating for centuries. More recently, it's found its way into western cuisine, and can now be seen on supermarket shelves in many parts of the world.
Like tofu, tempeh is made from soya beans. And like tofu, it's a very versatile ingredient, with an uncanny ability to absorb the flavors of the things it's cooked with. But, happily, it doesn't have the slightly disgusting spongy feel of tofu. Its texture is pleasantly firm and chewy, making it ideal for slicing, dicing and grating. Tempeh tasted good on its own, and also goes well in stir-fries, stews, casseroles, curries and many other recipes.
For an easy way of cooking tempeh, just cut it into slices and roast it in a little oil. Serve with vegetables, potatoes, rice, couscous, noodles - whatever you prefer. Or simply stuff it into a sandwich along with your favorite fillings. You can also fry, broil or bake it, or use it to make burgers and kebabs.
One of the main reasons to try tempeh is its undoubted health benefits. Tofu is often promoted as a wonder health food, but tempeh goes a few steps better. It's a fantastic source of protein and fiber, while being completely free of saturated fats and cholesterol. It offers a wonderful array of minerals, vitamins (notably B2), isoflavones and omega-3. It's also thought to bring about some specific medical benefits, from a lowering of the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, to an easing of menopausal symptoms.
If you're still unsure about tempeh, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Tempting Tempeh, edited by Emily Clark. This delightful little book certainly lives up to its name. If its twenty appetizing recipes don't tempt you, the eye-catching photos certainly will.
Some of the dishes in this book are real dinner-party fare. You can treat your guests to tempeh "steaks", marinated in a gingery sauce and served with wasabi mashed potatoes. Or take a shot at the impressive red wine and mushroom casserole. But most of the recipes are straightforward everyday dishes that require only a little time and effort. The tempeh chips with miso sauce would be a good one to start on. Others include tempeh kebabs (illustrated, right), tempeh burritos, and a particularly nice tempeh cottage pie - great comfort food.
Tempeh might never become the centerpiece of your culinary efforts, but, with only a little effort, it could make a very versatile and useful addition to your repertoire. Give it a try.
Note added September 2010: Unfortunately, Tempting Tempeh is now out of print. In its place, I can recommend William Shurtleff's Book of Tempeh, which has 130 excellent recipes.
Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.