Thursday, June 4, 2020

Tempeh: Vegan Food You Should Know About


Tempeh is the Indonesian equivalent of cheese. It is cooked soybeans fermented until they develop a white mold that binds the beans together to form a “cake”.

Fresh tempeh is white, dry and has a nice fragrance.

I read recently, in The Book of Tempeh, that Indonesians also eat mature or “smelly” tempeh. This is yellow / brown, moist and has a strong smell of ammonia (urine smell). The authors of the book liken this to Camembert cheese!

For our purpose here, use the fresh version.

Tempeh is usually sold wrapped in a large oval leaf with brown wrapping paper on the outside.

You can find it at tofu / beansprouts stalls in wet markets. Each cake is about 1 1/2 inches by 5 inches and about 1/2 inch thick in the middle. They usually come in parcels with two cakes of tempeh inside and S$1 will buy you three parcels.

Just the other day, however, I came across what I call “giant tempeh”. It was a huge rectangular block wrapped in banana leaf, about 2 inches by 2 inches by 10 inches! At just $2, it was enough to feed two small families!

Vitamin B12

For “pure” vegetarians who do not take any meat products like eggs and dairy, tempeh is an important source of vitamin B12, a rare but important vitamin normally found in meat products – but not, as many nutritionists say, “only” in meat products.

In fact, tempeh has been found to contain up to six times as much B12 as horse meat, which is regarded in Europe as the richest source of B12.

Interestingly, the high level of B12 was found only in traditional tempeh made in cottage industries under somewhat “dirty” conditions, because B12 is produced by bacteria. Modern tempeh made in ultra-hygienic factories contain practically no B12 and you may read on the label that it is B12 “enriched”.

Because tempeh is a fermented product, it is easy to digest.

Using tempeh

In Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, tempeh is usually deep fried and eaten on its own with a chilli paste, or with vegetable curries like lontong and sayur lodeh.

However, you can use tempeh in any meat recipe, including curries, stews and even steaks and burgers.

Or, you can cut into fine strips and stir fry with vegetables. If you wish, fry the tempeh pieces to make them crispy before adding to vegetables.

Tempeh with sauerkraut

This is an adaptation of a German dish that normally uses sausages.

  • 8 cakes tempeh
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, including juice
  • oil for frying

Cut tempeh into medium rectangles. Heat oil in a pan and fry tempeh on both sides until they are golden brown. Leave aside.

Cook sauerkraut over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add tempeh and cook another 5 minutes. Serve.

Variation: Instead of sauerkraut, use the leaves of Chinese salted vegetables. Cut finely and rinse well to remove excess salt before using.

Tempeh “tuna”

This tastes quite like the real tuna salad.

  • 8 cakes tempeh
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 cup mayonaise or Nayonaise (eggless “mayonaise” from natural foods stores)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)
  • pepper or chilli powder (optional)

Steam tempeh for 15 minutes. Leave to cool then chop or crumble into small pieces.

Finely dice vegetables.

Mix everything together. Serve in sandwiches or pita bread, or over leaves of lettuce.

Tempeh with simple spices

Instead of complicated spice mixtures of chilli with five or more ingredients, I like to experiment with simple combinations. Try the following:

  • large section of ginger
  • ginger + onion
  • ginger + onion + chilli (red or green)
  • chilli + garlic
  • chilli + onion
  • onion + green chilli + coriander leaves

Blend the spices in a food processor. Add salt and, if necessary, a bit of water.

Cook spices over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Add tempeh and cook another 5 minutes.

Or gently fry the spices in oil until fragrant, add tempeh and continue to fry another few minutes.

May Ling
Macrobiotics & natural health practitioner of Chinese decent. May Ling provides a Yin-Yang perspective to holistic health and natural healing. Contact:

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