Sunday, February 10, 2013

How I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh

Since I first encountered it as a college student, tempeh has been one of those foods I've wanted to like more than I do.  It's high in protein and fiber!  It's made from whole foods!  It's fermented!  But I've always thought it tasted kind of nasty, and I've avoided it for years.  My girlfriend disliked it too, so I had no reason to try cooking it.

I'm not sure how it happened, but lately we've been talking about giving tempeh another try.  Maybe it's because I decided seitan is a trigger food for me, and stopped making it.  We both felt like it would be nice to add a little more variety to our protein options.  I was looking through my copy of Vegan Eats World and found a recipe for tempeh chorizo that sounded easy and tasty (except for the tempeh part).  We figured that might be a good gateway recipe since the seasoning would help disguise the tempeh. So we bought a package of tempeh and it was hanging out in the fridge, waiting for the weekend, when I do most of my kitchen experiments.

Then we went out to dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday.  I have to say that with the exception of sushi, I'm not really a big fan of eating out these days.  Most restaurant food has crack in it (read David Kessler's brilliant The End of Overeating to learn about how this is done deliberately), and when I find some that doesn't, I usually think I could make something tastier at home.  So these days I eat out almost entirely for social reasons, and do what I have to do to make the food work.

We ate at One World Cafe, which is sort of the tempeh of restaurants.   It has a lot of vegan options on the menu, and the kitchen uses organic produce when they can.  It's wheelchair accessible.  It's in a convenient location, although the parking is less than ideal.  We want to love it.  But the food just isn't that great.   I know I can get brown rice, veggies, and tofu, though, so at least I don't have to carry a protein option in my purse.

My girlfriend decided to order curried veggies and tempeh over rice noodles.  The dish looked beautiful, and the flavors were good, but the salt and oil in the dish were just overwhelming.  I expect restaurant food to be saltier than what I cook at home, but this was really over the top.  She couldn't finish it, and neither of us was tempted to take the leftovers home.  I thought to myself, "I can do better than this," and on Friday night I decided to try.

I used this recipe as a guide, and came up with this:

That's tempeh with carrots, Shanghai bok choy, and fresh basil, in a sauce made with onion, garlic, curry powder, Bragg's, and coconut milk.  I am not a fan of packaged curry powder, but I had some homemade Madras curry powder from a recipe in 660 Curries, and it worked well. I used an 8-oz package of tempeh and enough veggies to make two generous dinner servings.  And we broke the tempeh barrier.  We loved it. What can I say?  Pan frying plus coconut milk makes everything better.

I did make a huge mess, though, and even working in shifts we were not able to get the pan completely clean. Next time we are going to try baking the tempeh in the oven to get it brown, and then adding it back to the veggies when we add the coconut milk.  I think that will work a lot better and will also reduce the fat in the dish (although nothing can make this low-fat, because soybeans and coconut milk).  We'll try out different veggies, too.  This dish is a keeper.

That was Friday dinner.  You know it really broke the tempeh barrier, because I made the tempeh chorizo for breakfast the next morning:

I followed the recipe in Vegan Eats World pretty much to the letter, except I used a lot less oil.  I've never had "real" chorizo so I have no idea whether this tastes anything like it, but it's yummy so who cares.  This is a great weekend breakfast dish that I will definitely make again.

Breakfast of champions:  temprizo, reheated baked potato, and a very ripe banana.  Om nom nom.

And that, my friends, is how I learned to stop worrying and love tempeh.  Watch for more tempeh recipes, and much more from Vegan Eats World, in future posts.

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