the soybean, how many ways i eat thee. as milk on my cereal, in creamy bricks of pressed tofu, dry roasted with salt, fermented as miso and soy sauce, whipped up with peanut butter, chocolate and banana and pressed into a graham cracker crust, incorporated into various sauces and dressings and smoothies, as hotdogs, burgers and even, gasp "cheese", your discarded hulls otherwise known as okara added to breads or formed into patties. but never, ever as natto. that's taking things a little too far for me.
oh yes, did i mention tempeh? this indonesian soyfood is loaded with good stuff and is darn tasty too. you can cook it about a million different ways but the way i like it best is simple. salted and quickly pan-fried. i began making my tempeh several years ago while living in a little town in northern mexico where tempeh was nowhere to be found. soybeans yes. ziplock baggies yes. vinegar yes. on a trip back to the us i ordered the culture and thus began my love hate relationship with homemade tempeh. love the taste and the price. hate the splitting and dehulling. if you're a tempeh fan or just a closet science freak, i highly recommend you try making your own at least once. the taste is just not comparable to store-bought, in my humble, cheap-skate opinion.the materials:
a large towel
2 1/2 cups dried soybeans
tempeh starter, 1 teaspoon
white vinegar, 2 Tablespoons
2 ziplock sandwich bags
: use dried, whole soybeans that have been soaked for at least 6 hours to overnight. 2 1/2 cups dried soybeans will yield approximately two ziplock sandwich bags of tempeh. i generally make a double batch of tempeh and freeze for later use.the starter
: you can buy the starter online from any number of sources. i ordered mine through G.E.M. Cultures
, located in northern california. you can get enough culture to make 18 lbs. of tempeh for about four dollars. it seems to last indefinitly if stored in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator...i've had mine for about three years now and it still keeps cranking out the tasty fungi.the incubator
: there are several crazy makeshift incubator ideas out there, the most rambshackle of which includes a styrofoam cooler with string of christmas lights blazing inside, lid slightly ajar. i use my gas oven. the pilot light keeps it warm inside and to regulate the temperature i jam a rolled up washcloth in the door, keeping it slightly ajar. in an electric oven i've used a low wattage cheapo desk lamp pluged in with the light source pointing up and away from the tempeh and the wadded up washcloth for temperature regulation. the point is that you want to maintain a temperature of about 30-32 c, about 80 degrees f. it's important to make sure your incubator is not
airtight and to make sure you do a trial run in your incubator with just your thermometer first. as the tempeh culture grows it will begin to generate it's own heat and the opening of the oven door may need to be adjusted.the baggies:
stab a bunch of holes into your ziplock sandwich bags with the sterilized safety pin. at least 1 hole every 1/4 inch in a grid pattern.the procedure:
the dried soybeans for 6-24 hours.
the soaked soybeans. this is the fun (as in getting stabbed in the eye fun) part. ideally each bean will be split into two halves. some suggest kneading the beans between your two hands to split the beans (never works for me), some suggest using a rolling pin or straight edged glass to apply pressure in a rocking motion over a thin layer of the beans (works okay but it a giant pain and makes a mess), some lucky souls have a grain mill which they set on a loose setting and split the beans when dry, some use a food processor to lightly split the soybeans. i generally use a straight edged glass and do the rocking motion thing until i get bored, then dump the remaining beans a tiny bit at a time into a food processor.
3. cook and dehull
the broken soybeans. bring a large pot of water to boil and add the soybeans. as the water boils skim off the hulls that float to the top and discard. simmer for about 20 minutes, removing as much of the skin as possible but not stressing over any laggers.
4. dry the skinless, broken, naked soybeans
. this is where the big beach towel that your grandma gave to you comes in. unfurl that sucker and place the drained beans in a thin layer on it. roll it up like a burrito. unroll and place the dry-ish beans into a large mixing bowl. it's important to get these beans pretty dry because too much moisture may cause a batch to go bad.
. once the beans come to slightly less than skin temperature add and thoroughly mix the vinegar. once incorporated, add the starter and again thorougly mix.
6. bag and incubate
. pack one half of the tempeh into one prepared ziplock sandwich bag, trying to pat it down as flat as possible and fill out all the corners so you have a solid cake. on your cookie sheet place the dishtowels about 2-3 layers thick. lay the packaged tempeh on top and place in your incubator.
7. watch and wait
. this is the really fun part. nothing will happen for the first twelve hours so don't be disappointed. by about hour 15-20 you will begin to see white stuff growing in there. don't panic, this is good. by about hour 24 the cake should have a nice white tightly knit covering of white stuff with some black patches in the edges and around the little holes in the baggies. don't panic. this is also good. the black stuff is just a part of the lifecycle (sporulation) of the culture. although unsightly, i find the flavor better with more of the black stuff...it's a little stronger. minimally the tempeh should tightly bound with white stuff and hold its shape when sliced.
after 24 hours. there are some black spots around the airholes and in the edges. this is good!
the sliced cake should be tightly bound with white stuff and hold its shape well.
when it's done as you like it remove from the incubator. i always steam the cakes for 20 minutes immediately and freeze for later use. the tempeh should have a nice, mushroomy smell. if it's slimy or smells heavily of ammonia then it's probably bad and should be discarded. any color other than white or grey or black is not good.
for more instructions on tempeh making: click here
and click here
for the more information on tempeh (history, etc.), click here.