Tempeh Crash Course

Most of us have heard that tempeh is a healthy fermented food, probably one of the best plant-based protein sources. But what exactly is it? Where did it come from?

Originating in Indonesia, tempeh is a fermented food made from cooked whole soybeans that have been treated with cultures (rhizopus oligosporus) and formed into a dense, chewy cake-like patty. It has a firm, meaty texture and distinct nutty flavor.

Can you still eat tempeh if you don't want to eat soy?

Soy is a rather controversial food these days because soy bean is one of the top GMO crops in the US. Though traditional tempeh contains only soybeans, many brands on the market these days are soy-free made from all kinds of  (gluten-free) grains, legumes and seeds like azuki beans, white beans, flax seeds, brown rice and buckwheat.


What are the nutritional benefits of tempeh? What is healthier, tempeh or tofu?

Tofu is made from soy milk that has been coagulated. Tempeh is made from the whole bean. That's why tempeh is considered more of a whole food, with a higher nutritional profile. A 4-ounce serving of tempeh provides about 18 grams of vegetarian protein, along with an impressive 8 to 10 grams of fiber from the soybeans. (Tofu has about 1/2 the protein content and no fiber). The fermentation process also makes the bean more digestible, adds pro-biotics and healthy enzymes to the food.

What is my favorite brand of tempeh?

I am very fortunate to be in Brooklyn where I found a tempeh artist who makes his products from non-GMO grains and beans from scratch, freeze-packing them without any pasteurization. The result is a fresh, living food that tastes way better than the vacuum sealed products you see in most markets. (But any tempeh is better than no tempeh at all!) You can find Barry's tempeh here.

How do I cook tempeh?

Tempeh is a dense, unyielding food with a distinct flavor, but it also absorbs whatever marinade or sauce you give it. For me, browning them in a cast iron pan gives it the best crunchy texture. A glaze or a rich curry sauce also works amazingly well. Here are my two favorite recipes:

Tempeh in Red Pepper Sauce

Sweet and Sour Glazed Tempeh









Sauerkraut making - introduction to lacto-fermentation

Contrary to what most people think of what sauerkraut and pickles are, lacto-fermentation does not involve vinegar. In fact, vinegar kills the good bacteria that we are trying to grow and eat here! So in this fermentation process, the acid comes from the naturally occurring lactobacilli on the vegetables that have the ability to convert the sugars in the foods into lactic acid.  Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful and putrefying bacteria and promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. It also increases the vitamin and enzyme levels of the foods.

In this sauerkraut recipe, only 2 ingredients are required - cabbage and salt.

It was April 2nd, my friends Liane and Emma came over for a sauerkraut making party.

We had 5 heads of cabbage. We patiently chopped them into thin shreds and put them in the biggest bowls I had in the kitchen.

We added sea salt to it (about 1-2 tsp for each head of cabbage) and gave the leaves a good massage. The salt draws the water out of the vegetables and creates a natural brine.


The fun part began - we started packing the cabbage down into a 1.5 liter ball jar with our fists to create an anaerobic environment by getting all air bubbles out. You can see that the cabbage was already softening and the moisture was coming out.

 We were pushing and pushing until the brine started to rise to the top of the cabbage. Can you believe that we pushed almost 2 heads of cabbage into this 1.5 liter jar?

Finally after much muscle building exercise, we created these 3 little musketeers, 2 big and 1 small. To keep the cabbage under the brine so that no molds could form, we put a jar filled with water to weigh the content down.

Done! We covered each jar with a cloth secured by a rubber band so no bugs could get inside. The best temperature to ferment sauerkraut is 55-65 degrees and the ideal fermentation time is 2-4 weeks.

For the first couple of days, the cabbage was bubbling nicely - a good indication that the bacteria was feasting on the veggies, producing lactic acid to preserve the food. Now we'll just have to wait!

Summer Bock, a fermentation guru once said, "If I had to pick one thing, one assignment for everybody to go out and do, it would be to learn how to make your own sauerkraut."