The Basics

Ingredient of the Week: Tempeh

What is it?

Due to my self-imposed hiatus on all things derived from animal products (for Lent), I'm in previously uncharted territory when it comes to cooking and eating. One fateful discovery making my journey much more enjoyable is tempeh, a fermented soybean cake that originated in Indonesia.

While initially, it sounds very similar to tofu, there are big differences in the taste, texture and nutritional value because tempeh uses the whole soybean and requires much less processing. Because it's made from whole soybeans that have been soaked and softened as well as partially cooked, tempeh is denser, firmer and has a nuttier flavor.


The entire process starts by soaking dehulled soybeans and partially cooking them. Sometimes, other grains like brown rice are added, along with nuts or flaxseed. Then, the mixture is combined with a "starter" that gets fermentation going with the spores of a fungus called Rhizopus Oligosporus, and it's all spread in a thin layer to ferment away for the next 24 to 36 hours.

How is it used?

It's used as a source of protein and texture, and as a meat substitute. You can literally cook it any way possible - although I prefer it grilled, baked or pan fried. It also soaks up a salty marinade very well, which makes it flavorful and satisfying if you're avoiding meat.

Where can I find it in Houston?

I found several varieties at Whole Foods, but would love to know if any of you have another spot where you like to buy it.


Buffalo Style Grilled Tempeh

8 oz. tempeh cake 1 tbsp olive oil 2 - 3 tbsp vinegar-based cayenne hot sauce (we used Frank's Red Hot) ½ tsp garlic powder

Cut the tempeh into one-inch strips. Coat in thin layer of olive oil. Grill over high heat - about 5 minutes on each side, or until nice grill marks form (it doesn't take much at all). Toss in mixture of hot sauce and garlic powder and serve with ranch or bleu cheese dressing. If you don't like it too spicy, cut some of the hot sauce with a little melted butter (vegan butter works well too).

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Amber Ambrose