Tempeh, a fermented cake of soybeans and grain, has been a staple protein in Indonesia for centuries, but it didn't gain widespread popularity in America until the late '70s. Now you can find the vegetarian meat substitute at grocery stores and restaurants across the Richmond region. "It's a good ingredient because it pretty much takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking with," says Sam Krivanek, food-service director at Ellwood Thompson's Local Market.
At Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Louisa, about an hour northwest of downtown Richmond, Brenda Callen handcrafts tempeh in small batches using non-GMO, organic soybeans from a farm in Westmoreland County. Because they choose to freeze their tempeh rather than pasteurize it, Twin Oaks can only distribute to the Charlottesville and Richmond markets. You can find Twin Oaks tempeh in the frozen-foods section of Ellwood Thompson's ( 4 N. Thompson St., 359-7525 ) or Good Foods Grocery ( 3062 Stony Point Road, 320-6767; 1312 Gaskins Road, 740-3518 ).
Why it's good for you
Tempeh is rich in soy protein, dietary fiber and B vitamins, and it's cholesterol free. "It's a whole food and a very good meat substitute," says Janet Starkey, nutrition specialist at the VCU Medical Center's Nutrition Clinic. Starkey adds that the fat in tempeh is primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — the good kind — and that tempeh is a significant source of potassium.
Eat the mold
Don't let the gray and black spots on the tempeh fool you. They form naturally as part of the fermentation process and don't indicate spoilage. In the case of tempeh, black mold is actually a good sign.
Sweet and Sour Tempeh
Sam Krivanek of Ellwood Thompson's Local Market contributed this recipe, a favorite at the store for years. (Makes 6 main-dish servings.)
- 1/4 cup of sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup of minced garlic
- 1 cup of yellow jumbo onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup of grated fresh ginger
- 1 cup of julienned red bell peppers
- 1 cup of julienned green peppers
- 1 cup of matchsticked carrots
- 1 cup of crushed pineapple
- 1 cup of toasted sesame oil
- 1 1/2 cups of natural cane sugar
- 1 cups of brown-rice vinegar
- 2 cups of tamari sauce
- 1/2 bunch of diagonally cut green onions
- 2 pounds of organic tempeh
First, steam the tempeh for 10 to 15 minutes and then cut it into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat a saucepan and add the sesame oil. Add the vegetables and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, until the onions and peppers start to soften. Next, mix together the other ingredients, except the tempeh and scallions. Boil for 30 to 45 minutes, and reduce by half stirring frequently. Once the liquid has begun to thicken, add tempeh. Stir every 2 to 3 minutes to prevent sticking.
Cook until the tempeh has absorbed all of the liquid and looks glazed. Transfer to a sheet pan, sprinkle scallions over the top and serve.