Broth-Braised Tempeh

Will I ever get tired of posting pictures of my tempeh?! Probably not; I’m always so shocked when it turns out. This was my best batch yet. I therefore wanted to show it off in a tempeh-intensive dish: one that showcased how well the tempeh turned out. I decided to simply braise it.

Broth-Braised Tempeh

1 lb tempeh, chopped into 3/4″ cubes
1/2 cup white wine
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
3 Tbsp capers
1 cup vegan broth of some sort
1 tsp dried tarragon

Heat some olive oil in a large, hot frying pan. Add the tempeh.

Fry until golden.

Add the wine and then the garlic, mustard seeds, and capers. Saute for 2 minutes.

Add the broth and tarragon.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 20 minutes or until broth is almost completely dissipated.

Serve! I chose sauerkraut and baked carnival squash as accompaniments.

I started making my own sauerkraut tonight! Here’s a sneak preview:

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Tempeh Sauerkraut Casserole

I’m getting good at making tempeh! Tonight I was wondering what I should do with my latest successful batch and decided to throw together a casserole. My father was proudly observing German-American Day yesterday, so although it’s a day late, I decided to give the casserole a German flair by adding sauerkraut. I don’t know how fair it is to just add sauerkraut to something and call it “German”, but that’s what I’m going to do in order to impress my father. And hey, the mashed potato topping can honor my Irish heritage. It’s the casserole that represents all my ancestors!

Tempeh Sauerkraut Casserole

2 Russet potatoes, chunked
1 onion, sliced into half-moons
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1 Tbsp vegan margarine
3 Tbsp prepared horseradish (or to taste)
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
2 carrots, chopped
1 pound tempeh, cubed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the potatoes. Cook until tender.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic powder in a medium small pot.

Add the water and heat over medium heat until thickened, whisking often.

While the potatoes and sauce are cooking, heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan. When I was in San Francisco, I mentioned that I had purchased a little oil brush that I like to use to coat my cast iron pan with a thin layer of oil. This is what it looks like:

It’s overexposed, so you can’t see that the brush retracts. Then you store it in a little container that holds the oil so it’s always ready.

Anyway, get a little oil onto your frying pan in some fashion. Then add the onions.

When the sauce is thickened, remove from heat and stir in the margarine and horseradish. I finished up the freshly prepared horseradish my friend gave me, which I think was a bit mild, so you may want to taste the sauce before dumping in a full 3 Tbsp.

By the way, the sauce is just the Yeast Cheeze from Simply Heavenly! (or perhaps more accurately New Farm), substituting horseradish for the mustard.

Check that your onions are reducing nicely…

Meanwhile, when the potatoes are very tender, drain and put in a large bowl.

Mash the potatoes, adding salt, soy milk and/or Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream (my secret mashed potato ingredient) to gain the desired creamy consistency. I was fortunate enough that my husband wanted to help mash the potatoes.

While your husband is goofing off with the potatoes, check the the onions. When they are a deep golden color, remove them from the heat.

In a medium large bowl, mix together the sauerkraut, caraway seeds, onions, and 2 cups of the sauce.

Now take your tempeh, …

(okay, okay, this is a completely gratuitous shot of yet another successful batch of homemade tempeh!)

… chop it, and add it and the carrots to the sauerkraut mixture.

Place the sauerkraut/tempeh mixture into a 2.3 liter casserole dish and smooth into a nice layer.

Smooth the mashed potatoes over the sauerkraut/tempeh layer.

Finish with a layer of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with paprika, or Creole seasoning if you are like me and get distracted by the Creole seasoning when reaching for the paprika.

Cover and bake for half an hour. Remove cover and bake for 15 more minutes.

Remove from oven.


Your Druid husband will love it!

Actually, he was worshipping it before he even tasted it, but after cleaning his plate, he announced it “excellent” and also “better than a lot of other things”.

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Last post from San Francisco

Today is my last day here in beautiful, wonderful San Francisco. I take a red-eye back home to Mark, Tigger, and Brachtune. My friend and I are hitting up the Haight today but although I think I am going to lug my camera with me, I won’t have a chance to post again until I’m home.

Last night we ate at an Indonesian restaurant. I had a “tempe” and tofu dish that looked like this:

Not a very good picture, I’m afraid, but I had to use the flash and I didn’t want to disturb our neighbors, who were pretty close to us, by taking more than one picture. As it is, they asked me twice if I am a food critic. They also suggested that posing as a food critic would be a way to get good service in restaurants. Anyway, after the meal I asked the waiter if they made the tempeh on the premises and he answered affirmatively. I could tell that it was homemade, though, without even asking. It just has a more lovely texture than store-bought. Theirs was even better than my homemade tempeh, but the somewhat unfortunate thing is that after eating their tempeh, and after making my own, and finding it so much better than store-bought, I’m not sure if I can buy it any more. The unfortunate part is I’m not that great at making it and sometimes fail. I am getting better though and I ordered more starter before I left, so hopefully soon I’ll be a tempeh master.

Yesterday I took a Victorian house walking tour because I love Victorian houses. That obviously has nothing to do with food, but I’ll share a couple of photos anyway since my posts have been so wordy lately.

This is a block in Lower Pacific Heights:

These are a couple of Queen Annes:

This is an Italianate house I thought was pretty:

Too bad the houses I saw on the tour ranged in price from 3 million to 30 million. Apartments in Victorians are 1 million. Oof.

Well, time to pack up and check out. I will surely be leaving my heart in San Francisco.

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Spicy Tempeh

Tempeh SUCCESS again! Yay!

I checked Asian Vegan Kitchen out of the library last week. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I couldn’t resist any book with a title containing the words “Asian”, “Vegan”, and “Kitchen”. In looking for a dish to showcase my homemade tempeh, tonight I chose Spicy Tempeh from this book.

2 Tbsp peanut oil
3 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 medium tomato, chopped
4 dried red chilies, sliced
2 slices galangal
4 Tbsp palm sugar
2 salam leaves
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
1 Tbsp tamarind juice
1/2 tsp salt
14 oz tempeh, sliced into thin strips, deep-fried
1 cup peanuts, deep-fried
2 Tbsp kecap manis
celery leaves, for garnish
red bell pepper, sliced, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the shallots, garlic, tomato, chilies, and galangal for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
2. Add the palm sugar, salam leaves, water, tamarind juice, and salt. Stir over medium heat until the palm sugar has dissolved.
3. Add the deep-fried tempeh, deep-fried peanuts, and kecap manis. Stir constantly over high heat until the sauce has caramelized.
4. Stir with rice, garnished with celery leaves, and red pepper.

I made a few changes, the most significant being I didn’t deep fry anything. I pan-fried the tempeh and just used roasted peanuts. Since the peanuts were salted, I omitted the salt. I used bay leaves instead of salam leaves, and I used tamarind concentrate, not juice, which made it sort of “sweet and sour” in addition to “spicy” (and salty), but i liked it that way.

Mark liked it!

Tigger was ambivalent.

In other news, I will be in San Francisco, my favorite US city (shh, don’t tell New York!) from Saturday through Thursday, so if you don’t hear from me for a while, that’s why. I’ll have my camera and laptop, though, and SF is a vegan haven, so I may pop in to say hi. I’m fairly familiar with SF, but if anyone has any suggestions for must-see or must-eat items, drop me a comment!

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Braised Tempeh in a Tomato and Soy Sauce

I made another failed batch of tempeh over the long weekend. Sigh. Tempeh is so picky!! I’m nearly certain it got too hot. I think when I use the yogurt maker, at least in the summer, I need to not put the lid on it at all. I was putting it on ajar – really sort of half on, half off – for the first 12 hours or so, then removing it, but I forgot to remove it and when I remembered, the thermometer was reading 100 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit: too high. I pluckily tried a second batch that day, though – without the cover – and that one turned out. I can pretty much make tofu in my sleep, but I am no master of tempeh at this point.

Since I did manage to have a good batch, tonight was tempeh night. I’d had it in my mind to cook the tempeh in a tomato/soy sauce combination, which I thought might go well for my planned side dish, and flipping through a couple of cookbooks for inspiration, I came across exactly what I was looking for. This recipe was adapted from Mark Bittman’s Braised Tempeh Three Ways in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Braised Tempeh in a Tomato and Soy Sauce

12 ounces tempeh, chopped in 1″ pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 thumb-sized piece of garlic, minced or grated
1 large can chopped or whole tomatoes
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 very small head Savoy cabbage
several leaves of regular or Thai basil, torn

Prepare the ingredients by mincing or pressing the garlic and mincing or grating the ginger:

Tear up the basil:

Chop the tempeh:

If you are using whole tomatoes, pulse with an immersion blender a few times to break them up:

In a large skillet or wok, fry the tempeh in some oil until it is beginning to brown:

Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for a minute. I added a little water to the pan because the tempeh had absorbed all the oil and I didn’t want to use more:

Add the tomatoes and soy sauce:

… and the cabbage:

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and boil at an active simmer for 15-20 minutes. Toss in basil and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste.

I served it with China Forbes’ Quinoa with Avocado from Tea and Cookies.

In other news, Mark and I went to a nearby regional park on Sunday and I captured this picture of a deer:

I’m sharing this with you mostly because that picture cost me more than 25 bug bites, from my scalp to my toes, and damn it, I’m making it worthwhile by showing it to whoever will look at it! I AM SO ITCHY! There were three deer in all, and they stood there in the distance staring at us for a full 5 minutes while I switched to my telephoto lens from the macro lens. I don’t know why. Perhaps they knew I was being eaten alive by bugs and found it amusing. Here is what I had just photographed with the macro lens, though:

It’s an extremely tiny frog!

And finally, this also has absolutely nothing to do with food, but since you always see pictures of Mark, and you always see pictures of Tigger, but you never see pictures of me, here is a self-portrait I took this weekend of me and Tigger. I’m completely amazed Tigger’s looking at the camera: I was controlling it with a remote. I always thought he was looking at me when I took his picture, but I guess he’s so used to having his picture taken he knows what to do even if I’m not behind the camera!

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Streamlining the soy milk process and other soybean news, cookbooks, and catching up

The last time I failed to post for several days in a row, I had the excuse of being extremely busy. This time my excuse is exactly the opposite. There is a direct correlation between the day they finally fixed my pool filter and the day I stopped having anything to post here. I’ve pretty much been either swimming in the pool, or floating atop it in my inflatable barge, reading a book. In short, doing nothing. Dinner’s been a rushed affair every night as I’ve been making up for all the swimtime I’ve lost while the filter was broken. Although I don’t have any exciting food to share with you, my weekend has been pretty idyllic.

I did spend all of Saturday morning in the kitchen, though. It was a soy extravaganza on Saturday, in fact. I recently purchased The New Farm cookbook to see if it held any secrets that would help with my tempeh-making. I made tempeh per its instructions (the main difference being that I cooked the soybeans for an hour an a half instead of just half an hour or so). Success!!

I think the problem last time was definitely cramming too many beans into the baggie. I’ll just have to weigh them from now on and make sure it’s exactly 8 ounces of dried beans, which results in the perfect amount for one sandwich-sized bag. I used a higher quality, thicker baggie this time and not only was it much easier to pierce it with the needle, but I was able to remove the tempeh without cutting it, so I will be able to reuse it.

In other soy news, I’ve been noticing that when I make soy milk, the liquid drains through the okara bag that came with my tofu press faster than it does the bag I made myself out of muslin, which I concluded was because the weave of my muslin was tighter than that in the other bag, and since the faster the liquid drains, the easier it is, I’ve been wanting to find a fabric even more loosely woven. So Friday night I went to the fabric store and discovered chiffon.

If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid, you may recognize chiffon as the stuff the bride made you wrap 200 tiny plastic bottles of bubbles, or Hershey kisses, or other wedding favors in. (No one had to wrap anything in chiffon for my wedding because my entire bridal party consisted of Fortinbras traipsing down the aisle carrying our rings on a wedding stick as we said our vows before all of six witnesses in a Scottish castle. I wore black, Mark wore a kilt, and there was no chiffon in sight!)

I may not have been interested in chiffon for bridal reasons, but I’m here to tell you it makes a great okara bag! Because it is slippery, it’s a bit of pain to sew, but it’s worth the small amount of trouble. The soy milk filtered right through it, and with just a couple gentle presses with potato masher, I had extremely dry okara. Not only that, but cleanup was a breeze! My other okara bags never get really clean, but the okara just slides right off the chiffon! And it dries very quickly. I also used a piece of chiffon to line my tofu press when I made the weekly tofu. This worked well because not only did the whey drain through it rapidly, making a firmer tofu faster, but it’s not as bulky as the big piece of muslin I had been using.

I think my tofu should marry my tempeh!!

Another new thing I’ve incorporated into the soy milk-making process is the Multiquick. It had never occurred to me to use an immersion blender to grind the soybeans; I guess I didn’t think they were powerful enough to do it. But one of the reviewers on Amazon said she used hers when making soy milk, so I tried it out, and it worked fine. So after they are finished soaking, I pour off the soaking water, add fresh water to cover, and blend them right in the same bowl I soaked them in. This is particularly helpful when making more than a quart of soy milk because I used to have to do it in batches in the regular blender.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m ashamed of how wasteful I am when I make soy milk and tofu. Because I haven’t had much success using okara, I usually just throw it away. Same with the whey when making tofu. This weekend, though, since the chiffon afforded me the opportunity to extract so much liquid from my okara with very little effort, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to dry it as suggested by Maki at Just Hungry. So I spread it on a pan …

… and baked it at the lowest temperature my oven allows (170 degrees Fahrenheit) until it was completely dried out. I’m not sure how long it ended up taking because I sort of did it in cycles, being “busy” in the pool most of the day. It was maybe 1.5 hours total?

Then I ground it up.

Now I will do something with it. I think Bryanna was discussing dried okara as a parmesan substitute recently; I’ll probably give that a whirl. Maki suggests using dried okara in baked goods, but ugh, I’m so disgusted with using soy byproducts in baked goods! I’ve tried using okara before and it turned my bread into bricks! I wasn’t using dried okara, and Maki claims the texture is much better with dried, but after baking a brick this weekend using whey leftover from making tofu – because the New Farm cookbook said it was good to add to bread – I’m about ready to claim that soy products have no place in bread!

I’ve become a bit of a bread snob; I rarely bake any “straight doughs”, that is, dough made and baked all at once, with no pre-ferments or sponges. But since I was too busy Friday night playing with my chiffon to put together my usual doughs to bake on Saturday, I decided to try the whole wheat recipe in the New Farm cookbook (which, as you can see, has gotten a lot of use since I got it), and at New Farm’s recommendation, I added some of the tofu whey.

Big mistake! It didn’t proof very well, which was the first sign that things were going badly, but I thought maybe I’d just put it in too large a loaf pan. But when I removed it from the oven, I recognized that signature pale, deathly color I’d seen in my previous attempts to use okara in bread. Look at it, it looks sick:

I hadn’t mentioned my whey trial to Mark, from whom I have to hide fresh bread if I don’t want it devoured within two minutes, and who cut himself a slice after it cooled. He took a bite and promptly came to me with a skeptical look on his face, asking me to taste it and tell him if it tasted, well, tasteless. It did. It tasted like cardboard. Mark threw the slice away in disgust.

So today, I decided to bake the same bread, but without whey. Look at the difference:

Now, to be fair, the bigger loaf was much better kneaded, because my mixer crapped out on the bad loaf before it was fully kneaded, and due to an injury sustained while making the okara bags the night before (my thumb tangled with a rotary cutter and lost – ouch!), I wasn’t able to knead it by hand very effectively.

So, speaking of the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, on Thursday night, I was making Vegan Dad’s Green Enchiladas and decided that instead of using my usual “cheese” recipe from Simply Heavenly!, I would flip through the New Farm book to see if they had any “cheese” recipes I could try out. I found one and was shocked to find myself looking at the very recipe I almost always use from Simply Heavenly! I don’t want to say Abbott George Burke is a plagiarist, and I honestly think most of his 1,400 recipes are original, but I just found this weird:

Melty Nutritional Yeast “Cheese” from the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook Yeast Cheeze from Simply Heavenly!
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1/4 cup margarine
1 tsp wet mustard

Mix dry ingrdients in a saucepan. Whisk in water. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens and bubbles. Cook 30 seconds, then remove from heat, whip in margarine, and mustard. It will thicken as it cools but will thin when heated, or add water to thin it.

1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
1 Tbsp nondairy margarine
1 tsp wet mustard

Mix the dry ingredients in a saucepan. Whisk in the water. Cook over medium heat while whisking as it thickens and bubbles. Cook 30 seconds more and remove from the heat. Whip in the margarine and mustard. This thickens when it cools and thins when heated. Water can be added to thin it more. This keeps about five days.

I have made the recipe on the right so many times I have it memorized, so I recognized it the instant I saw it in the New Farm cookbook…which was published 22 years before Simply Heavenly. Incidentally, although I feel lost, confused, and misled – like I did when I realized that Bauhaus’s song Telegram Sam was really a T.Rex song – I actually recommend the “Simply Heavenly” version because it uses 1/4 the amount of margarine (it’s the only difference!), and it’s plenty. Also, this “cheese” was really good in Vegan Dad’s enchiladas, which you really must make. Mark has been absolutely rhapsodizing about them ever since. I’m a bit afraid he prefers Vegan Dad’s recipes to my own! I guess if I’m second best to anyone, Vegan Dad might as well be the one.

Whew…that was a lot of jabbering on my part without posting a recipe! I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you, especially after deserting you for so many days. I can show you a picture of the Sweet and Sour Tempeh I made tonight:

It’s from – surprise! – the New Farm cookbook. I’m probably the last vegan on the planet to buy this cookbook; it’s been on my wishlist forever, but I just never got around to it. Maybe because I think I have half of it in the form of printouts of recipes that have been posted on various websites, forums, and mailing lists over the years. So I guess it’s about damn time I bought a proper version of it. I was surprised to realize, too, that Tofu Cookery, which I have had for years, is also by Louise Hagler and the folks at the Farm. I had no idea!

That’s all the food news from nowhere. Here is a picture of a turtle we rescued from the pool yesterday, though:

Isn’t he great? I named him Prince Harry. I don’t know why I named him that because I have no special interest in the royal family and in fact can’t tell Harry from William, but that’s the name that popped into my head. Prince Harry didn’t think much of me, I’m afraid. He was so eager to get away from me and my animal paparazzi tendencies that he walked right into a chain link fence and had to be helped by Mark, who relocated him to a safe place. Then Prince Harry toddled off somewhere as far away from me as he could get.

I discovered wild raspberries growing by the pool as well.

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a few photos

My homemade chili oil:

My tempeh-making luck ran out and I ended up with another bad batch this weekend. I’m not sure why. The only thing I can think of is that the Ziploc bag was too full and the soybeans therefore layered too deeply. I didn’t weigh the soybeans; I just guessed at the 8 ounces I was going for, but possibly it was more than that and therefore too much. At any rate, here is what tempeh looks like when it doesn’t turn out. It didn’t smell that great either.

I want you to know that I am very careful about the food I buy and I would never, ever buy anything made of wheat flour that had been breached.

Here are two of my tomato plants. The one on the left is Roma and the one on the right is San Marzano. (Mark’s hot peppers are in the background.)

I grow them in Earth Boxes, which my mother-in-law turned me on to and which are great. In fact, here’s the San Marzano plant I put in a regular container:

It’s not nearly as big and healthy. Unfortunately, the Earth Box isn’t doing wonders for the two heirloom varieties I have, Mr Stripy (which I totally bought just because I wanted to grow Tigger Tomatoes) and Brandywine. Those plants don’t look as healthy.

While I was outside photographing the tomatoes, I scanned the yard for anything colorful I could photograph. The only color I could find in the entire yard was this tiger lily. Everything else is green, green, green.

Well, unless you count my tiny little tomato blossom:

Or the incredibly tiny flowers on Tigger’s catnip:

Much of our backyard looks like this:

As you can imagine, we have a lot of problems with pandas! And ninjas.

The cats can’t stand it when we’re outside without them. They sit forlornly at the door and meow piteously.

They often hang out on the patio with us, on leashes, but it was about to starting raining again, so instead of bringing them out, I went back inside and began pondering dinner…in which I hope to feature:

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Tempeh Reubens

Back when we lived in Baltimore, our favorite bar was Club Charles (affectionately known as Club Chuck), the world’s best dive bar, frequented by John Waters and quintessentially Baltimore. When the owner of Club Chuck bought the building next to Club Chuck and turned it into a vegan-friendly restaurant called the Zodiac, I was deliriously happy. The Zodiac used to have really cheap, really good food, including a tempeh reuben that I loved. Then a new chef came in and suddenly the reuben was gone from the menu, never to return, and the prices about doubled on everything else. We still go to the Zodiac when we need something late at night and are planning to hit the Chuck anyway, but I usually grumble about missing the good old cheap tempeh reuben days.

Fortunately I then discovered the vegan reubens at Liquid Earth, a cute little juice bar and restaurant in Fells Point. I generally scarf down two entire reubens whenever I’m in the city. I think the reuben on the menu is not vegan, but you can ask for a vegan version. I’ve heard the Liquid Earth vegan reuben even made an appearance on Homicide once, but I never saw the show. The Liquid Earth vegan reuben, although absolutely delicious, is not a tempeh reuben. When I haven’t been to Baltimore in a while and am in need of a reuben, however, I make tempeh reubens at home.

I should confess I’ve never actually eaten a “real” reuben, so I can’t compare the taste. But I don’t know what’s not to love about rye bread, sauerkraut, and tempeh. And today when I was wondering how to showcase my first successful batch of homemade tempeh, either Mark or my visiting best friend, Fortinbras, suggested reubens. Because they are yummy!

First, make the Thousand Island Dressing, because it needs time to chill.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Vegenaise
2 Tbsp minced shallot or onion
1 Tbsp sweet relish
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/8 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp Indian black salt (optional) – I added this because Thousand Island Dressing traditionally contains hard boiled eggs

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Tempeh Reubens

For two sandwiches,

4 slices rye bread
1/2 package tempeh, sliced in half
1 cup sauerkraut
1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 slices vegan cheese – honestly, the “cheese” is the least interesting part to me and if you can’t find a good brand, you might as well just omit it

By the way, do YOUR cats love to eat plastic? Mine do and it drives me crazy!

If your tempeh is uncooked, steam it for 20 minutes. I do this in a wok:

After steaming the tempeh, heat a skillet or cast iron frying pan up, add a little bit of oil, then fry the tempeh on both sides until slightly brown and crispy:

While the tempeh is frying, set up your sandwiches. Swipe one side of each piece of bread with the dressing, then top one slice with the sliced “cheese” if using and the other with some sauerkraut:

The tempeh will look something like this when ready:

Place on one of the bread slices …

… then grill. I used my George Foreman, but you can also grill them in a pan or under the broiler.

They’re ready when they are golden brown on both sides:

Serve with a pickle on the side and enjoy:

In other news, Fortinbras won Tigger a Scooby Doo doll at the fair last night because he loves Tigger.

That’s as much of that story as you’re getting, I’m afraid. I can tell you, however, that Joan Jett does not give a damn about her bad reputation.

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Making tempeh

When I first started making tofu last year, I included a tempeh starter with my first order of tofu coagulants. Unfortunately, although making tofu came naturally to me and I considered the result perfect on the first attempt, I had a lot of trouble when I tried to make tempeh. The first problem is you have to crack and hull the soy beans, a process I found tedious and annoying. Most instructions I’ve found say that after soaking the soy beans for 8 hours, you should rub them, squeezing each one between your thumb and forefinger in order to remove the skin and break the soybean in half. If you do this under water, the skins should float to the top of the container and you can just push them out. Not only did I have problems with the skins magically floating away on their own, but my hand ached after nearly an hour of soybean rubbing. I attempted to incubate the tempeh using a food dehydrator, but despite my best efforts to keep the temperature as close to 88 degrees Fahrenheit as possible, I think it got too hot and the tempeh didn’t look right. I threw it away.

The horrible process of dealing with the soybeans made me shy away from further tempeh attempts, until last weekend when I was looking at my favorite kitchen appliance and I realized I could use the mixie to crack the soy beans when dry. If I didn’t have to rub every individual soy bean, I was willing to try to deal with the hulls again.

So I fitted the mixie with the dry grinder attachment (which is not the attachment shown in the photo) and put some dry soy beans in it …

… and pulsed it several times until most of the soy beans had been cracked.

I was then very happy to find that the hulls actually floated better this time around and I was able to simply float most of them off this time:

After removing as many of the hulls as I could (but not driving myself crazy over removing every last one of them), I drained the water …

… then soaked them overnight. In the morning, I rubbed them a little bit to force any remaining hulls to float up, and skimmed off the few that I found.

Then I drained them again, put them into a pot, covered them with water and a tablespoon of vinegar and cooked them for half an hour. While they were cooking, I prepared a ziploc bag by piercing it all over with a thick needle at 1/2″ intervals, which is probably next to impossible to see in the photo.

After cooking, I drained them a final time and returned them to the pot, where I put them over medium-low heat and stirred for about 5 minutes, to thoroughly dry them. It seems that trying to incubate wet beans is a recipe for disaster. I’ve also seen it suggested to dry them in a towel. Heating in the pot seemed a lot easier.

Next I mixed in the tempeh starter. Tempeh starter is a mold called Rhizopus oligosporus. I purchased it from GEM Cultures, the same people I recommended for tofu coagulants. (And yes, I’ve been eyeing up those miso and soy sauce starters because I’m just crazy enough to make my own miso and soy sauce.) If you are interested in making tempeh, I don’t think there are any easy-to-find substitutes for the tempeh starter, like Epsom salts and vinegar for tofu coagulants. Here’s what the starter looks like:

The amount to use is one teaspoon per pound of dry soybeans. Because I failed the first few times I tried to make tempeh, I started using only 4 ounces of soy beans per attempt, so I used 1/4 teaspoon. This resulted in about the same amount of tempeh found in a commercial package (12 ounces), which is a good amount for Mark and me. I’ll probably use 8 ounces next time and freeze half after it’s made. Anyway, stir the starter in very well to ensure it is equally distributed.

Place the soy beans into the prepared Ziploc bag. You can fit 8 ounces of dry soy beans (after cooking) into each standard-sized Ziploc bag. Lay the bag flat and make sure the soy beans are equally distributed, and that the layer is not thicker than 3/4″.

Your next challenge is to keep the soy beans at about 88 degrees Fahrenheit for about 24 hours. This was something else I struggled with. I thought about leaving them outside yesterday but at 100 degrees, it may actually have been too hot! Plus I wanted to come up with a method I can use no matter the weather. What finally worked for me was putting the soy beans on a wok steamer nestled into a yogurt maker, the lid of which I kept partially on for the first 12 hours then removed. After 12 hours, the tempeh will begin generating its own heat, which you’ll want to compensate for. Here’s my contraption:

When the tempeh is done, it will have congealed together and somewhat disconcertingly be covered in white and black mold:

Here’s a cutaway picture:

My next goal is to think of an alternative to the Ziploc bag. I had to cut it away in order to remove the tempeh without breaking it, so I won’t be able to re-use it as I’d hoped. Although it’s still less packaging than buying tempeh, I’d really like to devise a more Earth-friendly method. I believe banana leaves were traditionally used in Indonesia, from whence tempeh originates, so I may see what kind of leaves I can find at the Asian market.

Incidentally, I read somewhere that although Indonesian tempeh contains the elusive vitamin B-12, pre-packaged Western-made tempeh is too “pure” to contain it (unless it is artificially added). However, the article further stated that people who make homemade tempeh probably end up “contaminating” it enough that it will contain B-12. I’ll have to see if I can back that up, although even if it’s true, you’ll never be able to control the amount of B-12 and should not consider homemade tempeh a reliable source of B-12. You can, however, consider it delicious.

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