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









Sweet and sour glazed tempeh

This dish completely satisfies my hankering for the Cantonese blend of the sweet and sour taste. It reminds me of my Dad's sweet and sour pork!


1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (no pulp)
1 tbs freshly grated ginger
2 tsp tamari
1 1/2 tbs mirin
2 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
10-12  ounces of tempeh
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 lime
a handful of cilantro

Combine orange juice, grated ginger, tamari, mirin, maple syrup, ground coriander, and garlic. Mix together and set aside.

Cut the tempeh into bite-sized squares. Oil a large frying pan over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the tempeh and let it brown on both sides. I really love my cast iron pan for this. It browns the tempeh nicely and gives it a "deep frying" firmness without calling for much oil.

When the tempeh is golden brown on both sides, pour half the orange juice mixture into the pan and let it simmer until the sauce has reduced to a  thick glaze. Turn the tempeh again, pour in the rest of the mixture, let the sauce reduce and caramelize.

Serve the tempeh drizzled with any remaining sauce and a squeeze of lime. Garnish with cilantro.

Baked chickpeas snack

It is much easier to eat well for the main meals, but a healthy snack? Forget about it!  There are very few healthy, unprocessed options out there other than nuts and fruits. But here is one - baked chickpeas or garbanzo beans. My daughter LOVES it (but she also loves kale and leaves in general...)!

I wish I could tell you that canned chickpeas work just as well in this recipe, but they don't. So I would start from scratch, soak the dried beans overnight. Make sure there is at least 4 or 5 inches of water above the chickpeas because they expand big time. (Now walk away and go to bed.)

The next morning, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put them in a large pot and cover with a few inches of water, boil for 1-1 1/2 hours. If you have a pressure cooker or vacuum cooker, cook according to instructions. When chickpeas are cooked, drain again.

Dry the cooked and drained chickpeas with paper towel. Spread them on a baking tray. Drizzle olive oil on top. Mix well. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes or until crunchy and crisp.


Remove from oven. While they are still hot, mix in salt and desired spices like cayenne, cumin or chilli powder. Let cool and transfer to an air-tight container. They should keep in room temperature for about a week.