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Tempeh 101

This article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

 Tempeh is one of those foods that I find even some of my vegan friends don’t know how to use. Tofu seems to be challenging enough, and usually once someone masters the art of cooking tofu, they stop there. Tempeh is a wonderful soy product, full of protein, with a great nutty flavor. It can be used in many ways, and much like tofu, it is a sponge that soaks up the flavors you cook it in.

Tempeh is easy once you know how to buy it and cook it. When buying, look for a nice beige color. A few dark spots are OK—that’s mold, and you can easily cut them off. Too many dark spots, however, are not good. Don’t buy tempeh unless it looks fresh and clean. When you open the package, the tempeh should be somewhat dry to the touch and have a light, sweet smell, kind of like fresh soy milk smells. If it’s slimy, sticky, or sour smelling, take it back to the store or throw it out.

One of my favorite ways to make tempeh is to marinate and bake it. You must first steam it to soften it up and allow the marinade to soak up easier. Steam the block in your vegetable steamer for about 12 minutes. Next, cut it into slices and place it into a baking pan or baking dish, and pour on your favorite marinade. Marinate it for about 30 minutes, turning once. Tempeh soaks up marinades faster than tofu, so the marinating time is shorter. Bake it, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until nice and brown. Once done, you can eat it right away or let it sit at room temperature. And it’s delicious the next day for leftovers.

An easy marinade uses 3 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil. Tempeh baked in this marinade is delicious served with brown rice. You can just lay the slices on your plate, you can cut them into chunks and toss into your rice, or you can crumble the slices and sprinkle them on top of your rice. You can do the same thing with your favorite pasta. I have even tossed baked chunks of tempeh into my potato salad.

When using tempeh in a soup or stew, steaming is not really necessary. With enough liquid, it softens during the cooking process and soaks up all the wonderful flavors from your pot.

Tempeh can be crumbled and tossed into your favorite chili recipe. It can be cut into chunks and sautéed, stir-fried, tossed into soups or stews, or made into kabobs with onions, bells, mushrooms, and pineapple slices. Tempeh picatta is another easy-to-find and easy-to-make recipe. Tempeh ruben sandwiches can be found in many vegan restaurants. There are numerous recipes in cookbooks and online for tempeh because of its growing popularity as a delicious and healthy food. I have written two previous blogs that included tempeh recipes—for tempeh tacos and tempeh stew—so those can get you started.

I was a tofu girl—until I discovered tempeh. I hope you will give it a try. Once you do, I am sure you will be hooked on it because it’s so easy to prep and deliciously tasty.

Let me know what you think or if you have any favorite tempeh recipes!

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