Friday, August 21, 2009

Cooking Tempeh: A Photo Essay

People always ask vegans where they get their protein. Most don't realize that there's actually a vast number of choices for vegans -- from meat analogs, like Boca burgers and soy dogs, to beans and legumes to traditional soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh. As for tofu -- normally, I hate it; occasionally, I like it. Tempeh, however, blew my mind (and my tastebuds) the first time I tried it and it has remained one of my favorite "high-protein" food ever since.

Tempeh is made by culturing and fermenting soybeans in a process similar to making cheese. This fermentation process causes the soybeans to bind together into a "cake." Since it contains whole soybeans, tempeh is higher in protein, fiber, and vitamins than tofu. I find tempeh to be easier to work with in recipes than tofu because it holds its form very well.

After a few tempeh cooking mishaps at home, I gave up trying to cook it myself and only ordered it at restaurants. Thanks to Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, I finally learned how to cook my own tempeh on par with my favorite restaurant fare. So here's a post chronicling the steps to delicious tempeh!

1. You can't go wrong starting with an amazing marinade recipe -- today I made the Smoky Grilled Tempeh, which I took from Veganomicon. I used LightLife brand garden veggie tempeh, since it's easy to find in my area.

2. I begin by cutting the into 8 equal pieces. First, I cut the block in half width-wise, then cut each half into half again, length-wise, and finally, I cut each piece through the center. I don't think the exact way you cut it is important, as long as you cut it into smaller slices than can be easily marinated.

3. After bringing a pot of water to a boil, I add my tempeh slices and lower the heat to allow the tempeh to simmer for about 10 minutes. This step is important because it removes the strong taste of the tempeh and prepares it to soak up whatever marinade you choose to use.

4. Veganomicon's Smoky marinade includes liquid smoke, veggie broth, garlic, maple syrup (I used agave nectar), and soy sauce (I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos). I drained the tempeh and arrangeed the slices in a single layer in a baking dish and covered them with the marinade. You can marinate for as little as an hour, but I prefer to marinate them for 7-8 hours, covered in the refrigerator.

5. You can cook the tempeh any way you want -- grilling, pan-frying, broiling, baking, etc. I tried to brown mine in a toaster oven, but when that didn't seem to work, I switched to a non-stick pan over high-heat. Your basically just heating the tempeh through for about 5 or so minutes. I ate my tempeh crumbled over a bowl of millet, brussels sprouts, and fresh corn. Delicious!!


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