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What Is Tempeh and How Do You Cook It? Demystifying Tofu’s High-Protein Cousin

In recent years, the unprecedented rise in popularity of the plant-based diet (coupled with the increasing interest in healthier ways of eating) has led to the “discovery” of many new vegan foods and ingredients previously unknown in the West – save for the odd Asian restaurants here and there.

While tofu has long been used by cuisines all over the world, its hardier cousin, tempeh, has only recently broken into the culinary mainstream, placing itself as one of the best alternatives to meat for those who choose to avoid it.

But what is tempeh exactly, and how is it best cooked? In this article, we’ll be demystifying this amazing soybean product and show you some of our favourite tempeh recipes for satisfying meals that will make the whole family happy!

What is tempeh made of and is it good for you?

Tempeh is a natural fermented product made out of soybeans, originally hailing from Indonesian cuisine. In order to make tempeh and get its signature intense flavour, the soybeans need to be cooked first with an acidic ingredient (like vinegar) and fermented in a warm environment for 24 hours or longer.

The result is a firm product with a characteristic crumbly texture and a strong smell and taste, not unlike other fermented products like aged cheese, kimchi, and kombucha. So, when compared to the “bland” unseasoned tofu, tempeh already has a strong flavour that’s guaranteed to add character to any dish.

But is tempeh good for you, the same way tofu is?

The good news is that tempeh boasts an even more nutritious profile that the other popular soybean product, thanks to the fermentation process needed to make it. Tempeh is incredibly nutrient-dense and protein-packed, providing a whopping 15 grams of protein per serving alongside plenty of iron, magnesium, manganese, and riboflavin. Studies show that eating soy isoflavones-rich tempeh may also help combat oxidative stress and reduce cholesterol levels, as well as helping promote optimal digestion thanks to the prebiotics created through fermentation.

If it already sounds too good to be true, know that this is just the start: the best thing about tempeh is how versatile it is when it comes down to cooking it and whipping up meals that are just as nutritious as they are delicious!

Our favourite tempeh recipes for a delicious, high-protein vegan lunch

What is Tempeh and how to cook it

Satay tempeh stir-fry

As the star of many authentic Indonesian recipes, it doesn’t come as a surprise that pairing tempeh with a satisfying, homemade peanut sauce (satay) would be one of the best ways of cooking it! To prepare this easy dish, you’ll need:

A block of unseasoned, natural tempeh

1 cup of natural peanut butter

2 tbsp of light soy sauce

½ tbsp of apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp of sesame seeds

1 tbsp of garlic powder

1 tbsp of ginger powder

1 tsp of chili powder

2 tbsp of maple syrup/agave syrup/golden syrup or any other sweet syrup of your choice

Your choice of stir-fry veg (we recommend bok choi, cabbage, and bell peppers)

Start by cutting your choice of vegetables and the tempeh into bite-sized pieces, before heating up your choice of oil on a skillet or wok. Season the vegetables and tempeh lightly with a dash of soy sauce, salt to taste, and garlic powder (alternatively, you can throw in a couple of garlic cloves and chopped onions as the oil heats up) and let them cook on a medium heat until soft and until the tempeh starts browning – approximately 8-9 minutes. Make sure to turn the tempeh over as it cooks, so that it can get crispy and brown on all sides evenly! As you’re frying, start preparing your peanut sauce separately by mixing 1 cup of natural peanut butter, 2 tbsp of light soy sauce, ½ tbsp of apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp of sesame seeds, 1 tbsp of garlic powder, 1 tbsp of ginger powder, 1 tsp of chili powder, and your choice of syrup (approximately 2 tbsp, but we recommend tasting the mixture before adding more!) into a mixing bowl. Stir frequently until you get a thick paste, and add a dash or two of hot water to make the sauce smoother – the smoother the better, as you’ll want to completely coat the tempeh and veggies with it.

Once the veg and tempeh in the pan are done cooking, turn the heat off and pour the peanut sauce over them, continuing to stir throughout. You can garnish the stir-fry with fresh coriander and more sesame seeds, serving with steamed rice or noodles.

BBQ tempeh wraps

This is an even easier recipe to prepare, as for making the baked tempeh, it only requires two ingredients! Hearty, nutty, and deliciously smoky, these BBQ baked tempeh wraps can be endlessly customized by filling your wrap with any leftover veg you may have sitting in the fridge, or even packed with rice for a more filling option.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

A block of unseasoned, natural tempeh

1 cup of barbecue sauce (your favourite brand will do!)

2 wheat or corn wraps

Your choice of salad veg (carrots, bell peppers, onions, lettuce, spinach…), canned beans or chickpeas, or rice

Start by preheating your oven at 200C and cutting the tempeh into bite-sized pieces or thick strips. Coat the bottom of your baking tray with a layer of your favourite BBQ sauce, place the tempeh in the tray, and coat with more sauce until fully smothered (you can also add a little salt and pepper to taste). Bake the tempeh for around 20 minutes while preparing your choice of crunchy veg – for a more filling meal, you can also boil some rice on the side or crack open a tin of kidney beans or chickpeas!

All you have left to do now is pack your wraps with all your favourite ingredients and dig in!

Where can you buy tempeh?

Up until recently, pan-Asian or Chinese supermarkets would have been the only reliable stores stocking unseasoned, frozen tempeh blocks.

As tempeh is still quite hard to find in most supermarket chains, shopping online and independent is going to be your best bet for finding great quality tempeh – it’s truly never been easier to try new foods and recipes than now!

You can find the best organic unpausterised tempeh here on our website.

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