by Jill Nussinow
Tempeh (pronounced “tem-pay”), an ancient Indonesian soyfood staple, is a relative newcomer to the U. S. vegetarian culinary scene. It’s a terrific source of complete protein, with 5 to 6 grams of protein per three-ounce serving, as well as a good source of iron and vitamin E. It’s also rich in fiber, containing 2 to 8 grams per three-ounce serving. Traditionally tempeh is made at home in Indonesia by lightly cooking soybeans and grains, combining them with a starter mold and wrapping the mixture in banana leaves to ferment several days. The fermentation process renders the soy protein more digestible, resulting in the synthesis of healthful quantities of vitamin B12.
Tempeh produced in the United States is slightly different from the Indonesian product. Here, to prevent the growth of other organisms, tempeh ferments for a shorter period of time under strictly controlled conditions in an incubator. The resulting tempeh has a much lower vitamin B12 content than the Indonesian variety.
Tempeh comes in 8- or 10-ounce refrigerated or frozen packages which must be cooked. You can prepare it to your liking by steaming and marinating it.
Once opened, refrigerated tempeh lasts about a week. Black spots on the surface are normal, but if the tempeh smells sour or changes color, throw it out. It freezes well, maintaining its taste and texture for about four months. If your recipe calls for cutting tempeh into cubes, partially thawed tempeh is easy to cut. Just defrost and use.