If a sci-fi movie and a high school biology class had a child, it’d be tempeh. It sort of looks like a brain and involves fermentation (a process that is just as complex as a brain’s), but don’t worry, it’s not a brain. It’s actually a great plant-based protein made of soybeans that you can find in the refrigerated section of most larger grocery stores, and you can stir-fry, marinate and bake with it. You can even use it in tacos like the spiced tempeh tacos with fresh fruit salsa that we’ll be making during our virtual vegan class this Thursday, June 10 at 6pm CST. Check it out if you want a live lesson on cooking with tempeh in your own kitchen!
Originating from Indonesia hundreds of years ago, tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans. Unlike tofu however, it has a firmer, dense texture (great for slicing, cubing, etc.) with a nutty and earthy flavor, which is a result of the way it’s made. Tempeh is a fermented food in which Rhizopus oligosporus fungus is added to cooked soybeans in a controlled environment so that the fungus’ mycelium (the white layer on tempeh) binds the soybeans tightly together in a “cake” form and digests the amino acids (what makes up protein) to create a more appealing texture and flavor. See? This is what sci-fi and biology dreams are made of.
Despite it being a perfect subject for sci-fi experiments and studies, tempeh’s recorded history in the world is skewed and light compared to its long existence. Much of the research and documentation of tempeh comes from Europeans living in or visiting Indonesia and heavily occurred during the period of 1895-1960. This was due to native Indonesian peoples being largely unable to study at university while being a Dutch colony since the 1600’s, and even if they were able to attend, most aspects of indigenous culture were discouraged from being studied or promoted. However, tempeh persisted and has spread to every part of the world.
Brought to the United States in 1961 by Indonesian immigrants, tempeh has aged well with the rise of interest in plant-based eating patterns to combat chronic health diseases that have overridden the US. As a meat alternative, tempeh is nutritionally competitive. A 3-oz serving of tempeh provides 18 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and 2 mg of iron for just 160 calories with very little saturated fat (0.5 grams) and no cholesterol. Compare that to the same amount of 85% lean ground beef, which has about 16 grams of protein, 0 grams of fiber, and 2 mg iron for 180 calories with 5 grams of saturated fat and 58 mg of cholesterol, tempeh has the same if not more protein and iron with less saturated fat and cholesterol. Plus, you get a little boost of fiber and probiotics that help support healthy digestive systems.
Now, it looks great on paper, but when you see tempeh sitting on your counter, your mind probably says, “now how do I turn it into something delicious?” Luckily, the answer is easier than most people think. One important prep tip to remember with tempeh before diving into any recipe is to steam it in a pan with some water for a few minutes on each side. This is to remove any bitter flavors and to open up the dense texture so that it will more readily absorb the flavors of whatever you’re cooking.
Then you can marinade and bake or stir fry it, or crumble into a saucy dish.
This rainbow, Thai-inspired salad with peanut tempeh is super flavorful and shows what tempeh can do. Just a note, it may seem like there are a lot of ingredients, but the marinade used for the tempeh and the dressing for the overall salad use all the same ingredients, so don’t be fooled! This recipe can be a simple and easy go-to. If you try this recipe, make sure to post a picture and some tips/tricks to our private Facebook group page as part of this week’s cooking challenge to share and connect with other group members!
Rainbow Thai-Inspired Salad with Peanut Tempeh
From Minimalist Baker
Marinated Peanut Tempeh
Yield: 4 servings (⅓ cup servings)
Active Time: 20 minutes
Start to Finish: 1 day 20 minutes
8 oz tempeh
For the sauce:
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons salted creamy peanut butter
2 Tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
2 Tablespoons lime juice
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
- Add tempeh to skillet or saucepan filled with 1 inch water and bring to low boil over medium heat. Steam for 5-6 minutes on each side. Then rinse, pat dry, and cut into desired pieces (I sliced the tempeh in half lengthwise then cut into small triangles).
- Whisk marinade ingredients together. Taste and adjust flavor as needed (hint: you want this to have a lot of flavor)!
- Add sliced tempeh to marinade and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably 24 hours.
- Once marinated, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add tempeh and reserve any leftover marinade to brush/coat the tempeh once baked.
- Bake for 22-30 minutes or until caramelized and deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush/coat with any remaining marinade.
Rainbow Thai-Inspired Salad
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Active Time: 30 minutes
Start to Finish: 30 minutes
2 medium whole carrots, “ribboned” with a vegetable peeler or spiralizer
2 stalks green onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
2-3 Tablespoons chopped mint
1 cup loosely packed spinach, chopped
1 cup red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 batch marinated peanut tempeh
For the dressing:
1/3 cup salted creamy peanut butter
3 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce or ¼ tsp. red pepper flake
1 medium lime, juiced (about 3 Tablespoons)
1/4 cup water to thin
- Toss carrots, green onions, cilantro, mint, spinach, cabbage, and bell pepper together in a large serving bowl. Set aside.
- Make the dressing by whisking together peanut butter, tamari, maple syrup, chili garlic sauce, and lime juice in a small bowl. Then add warm water a little at a time until the dressing is thick yet pourable. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Add ½ of tempeh and ½ of the sauce to the salad and toss. Then top with remaining tempeh and sauce. Serve immediately. If you want to store for later, leave the salad undressed and store tempeh separately. Enjoy!
Show off your tempeh creations this week in our private Facebook group!