Tempeh (tem-pay) originated in Indonesia, where it has for hundreds of years served as a high protein food staple. At its most basic, tempeh is fermented soybean cake; doesn’t sound too appealing if you’ve never tried it and have no idea what to envision, right?
I adore it. The same way that some people crave a good steak, I crave tempeh – go figure. Its taste profile is based in umami (more about that in another blog entry, but suffice it to say it’s the opposite of a sweet tooth).
If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, tempeh is your “go to” meat substitute; it’s whole soy, with 10 grams of protein, 4.5 grams of fiber, and significant amounts of calcium and iron per 4 ounce serving.
I like to slice a cake of tempeh horizontally into 1/2 inch pieces, pop them into a hot cast iron skillet with a bit of olive oil and black pepper, and cook until both sides are brown and crispy. I find that 1/2 cup of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce poured into the pan just as it begins to dry out (tempeh tends to absorb the oil) lends just the right level of flavor. Let the tempeh sit and bubble away in the water/soy sauce bath until all of the liquid evaporates; then let the tempeh cook a few minutes longer until it’s deliciously browned; if you can wait.
Serve on toasted whole grain bread (homemade if you can swing it), smothered in a mix of sauteed onions, mushrooms, and cabbage. Melt low-fat cheddar on the bread as you toast it, then smear on Dijon mustard and a touch of horseradish before piling on the veggies and tempeh (thanks to Deborah Madison for the inspiration).