If you’re a vegetarian like me, you’ve probably become tired of that game we all play when we first make the switch – trying to make everything taste like meat. I’m one of those people who’s learned to cook tofu properly, so I can put that in almost any dish to add a little protein boost. But when I really want to go for flavor, I follow this simple homemade tempeh recipe and make it myself.
Tempeh originated in Indonesia, probably between the 12th and 13th centuries. At that time, of course, there was no refrigeration and people needed to find a way to preserve perishables. Fermentation was the perfect way to do this. Tempeh is basically fermented soybeans bound together in a sort of cake held together by the mold that forms around the beans. It is a delicious ingredient in lots of Indonesian food!
Unfortunately, it can also be quite expensive to buy here in America. Even at our local Indonesian restaurant, a small block of tempeh will set you back about $6. You can buy it at Trader Joe’s for much less, but the quality is not nearly as good. I decided to find a good homemade tempeh recipe and learn how to make it on my own!
Homemade tempeh not only adds a deep flavor to your dish, it’s also one of the healthiest foods out there. Some of tempeh’s nutritional benefits:
- The niacin in tempeh helps reduce cholesterol
- Because it’s fermented, tempeh contains probiotics
- Calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin D in tempeh help increase bone density
- Protein, protein, protein!
You can read more about the nutritional benefits of tempeh here.
Homemade Tempeh recipe with three simple ingredients
The ingredients in this homemade tempeh recipe seem almost impossibly simple. All you need to make tempeh at home are:
- White Vinegar
- Tempeh starter (yeast)
That’s it! Just three ingredients and you’ve got what you need. Vinegar is obviously easy, but if you cannot find a large bag of soybeans in your local store, try any Asian grocery store, which most medium to larger places have. For a 5 pound bag (2.2 kg), you can expect to pay about $6.00. If you can’t find them where you live, you can order them from Amazon. – although you will pay far more, but it’s worth it just to give this a try!
You may have some difficulty finding tempeh starter, however. When I tried my first homemade tempeh recipe, I struggled to find a good place to buy the stuff, and I ended up buying it at a complete ripoff price from some place in Belgium! I don’t know what I was thinking, but it seems that Amazon has even recognized how great this stuff is and you can order tempeh starter there!
These days, I get my tempeh starter for about one-tenth the price at a local Indonesian restaurant. But ask around. If you see a place selling homemade tempeh, they’ll know where to get the stuff and may even sell you some!
Now, the “hard” part
The hardest part about any homemade tempeh recipe is hulling the beans. You have to allow them to soak overnight and then get rid of the husks. This can be time-consuming. There are grain/bean mills you can buy that will handle this quite easily. You simply run your beans through a rough grinder that will crack them in half. After soaking, the hulls just float to the top. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a suitable mill at a decent price. This one is recommended, but it is quite expensive and I wanted to keep this cheap. So, I do it manually! I you find a cheaper one, let me know in the comments.
Soak your soybeans in a large pot for several hours, or better yet, overnight. Then, get your hands in there and start squeezing! Your goals are to:
- Squeeze the hulls off, and;
- Break the beans in half
I promise the end result is worth it! (I sometimes use my food processor, set on low, with a plastic blade to assist) As you’re doing this, the water will become murky. Just drain it and add more. Eventually, you’ll break enough of the beans in half and get enough of the hulls off that you’ll be ready for the next step. And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get as many of the suckers hulled and cracked as possible!
Cooking the soybeans
The next part of this homemade tempeh recipe is to cook the soybeans. To do this, put them in a large pot and add enough water to cover them. Add about 4 tablespoons of white vinegar for every pound of soybeans, bring it to a boil and allow the beans to cook for about 30 minutes. When done, drain all the water out and put the beans back on the stove. Turn down the heat and continue heating them until all of the liquid has evaporated. Remember, you’ve drained almost all of the the liquid, so it’s very important to keep stirring the mixture so that you don’t accidentally burn the beans.
After you’ve finished, turn off the heat and allow the beans to cool to about 35°C (95°F).
Inoculating your soybeans
And now, the last part of the tempeh recipe – the part where you get to start the fermentation process! Take that tempeh starter you bought and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon per pound of beans and mix it all up really well! You’re preparing these little morsels of goodness for the final stage, incubation!
I use these Ziplock bags for this part, or some other type of zipper bag that’s about 1 quart/liter. I poke about 20-30 holes straight through each bag using a kebab skewer (knitting needles work too!) This allows air to get into the bag to aid in the fermentation process.
Next, I fill each bag with tempeh and zip it up, being sure that each bag of beans is about 3 centimeters, or just a little over an inch thick. Now, you’re ready to store them.
A few years ago, I went online and bought a second-hand bar fridge to use for this, but now, I prefer just to use my oven. I warm it up – just a little to get it started – and I take each of the bags and place it on the oven racks and allow it to just sit there for about 2 days (we don’t use our oven a lot!) As long as the temperature inside that oven is about 30°C/85°F, it’s fine. Keep in mind, the tempeh will generate a bit of heat during fermentation, but if you need a little assist, you can put a light of some sort in the oven to generate heat.
Note: Cleanliness is important for any tempeh recipe, but especially here. Wherever you’re fermenting your soybeans must be absolutely clean. I recommend washing out the inside of your oven with a disinfectant soap and water before putting your tempeh in it. Like beer and wine making, the last thing you need is a foreign bit of bacteria to ruin your tempeh.
The final product
Voila! Your homemade tempeh recipe is finished and it’s ready to eat! If you’ve made a large batch, you can keep it in the freezer using a proper freezer bag, where it seems to do pretty well.
You can use tempeh in a variety of recipes or you can just cook it and eat it on its own. Like tofu, it tends to absorb the flavors of whatever you’re cooking it with. I’ve made some excellent tempeh “meat”loaf and have even had delicious tempeh burgers. If you’re so inclined, tempeh bacon is also very popular. It’s all up to you. Just know that by using tempeh in your recipe, you are eating something that is very healthy and doing your body good!
For More on Indonesia: When we travel, we use Lonely Planet. By buying a book at one of the Amazon.com links below, we get a small referral fee at no additional cost to you.