Tempeh: cultured food

fried tempeh

Tempeh is one of our favourite protein sources. We use it in sandwiches, salads and even on pizza.  Tempeh is a cultured cake of whole soybeans that have been pressed and lightly fermented until they are bound together with a network of mycelium. Tempeh has a firmer bite and more flavour than its distant relative, tofu, but it takes on the flavours of marinades and spices just as well. It’s super nutritious too.

Tempeh is widely available in supermarkets here – look for the Tonzu brand, which we use in the cafe, in the chiller section. Tonzu tempeh is organic and made in Auckland by a living-wage employer.  It comes wrapped in plastic rather than the traditional banana leaves, but such is the nature of our modern food distribution system.

Tempeh is Javanese in origin and there are plenty of Indonesian recipes online as well as recipes that use tempeh as a meat substitute - tempeh tacos, tempeh bacon... If you want to introduce a little tempeh into your diet, try this quick coconut curry recipe.

Tempeh and greens in coconut milk

Curry paste

In a blender, mix the following together with just enough water to make a smooth paste.

3cm fresh ginger, peeled

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

3 red chillies – or to taste. Remove the seeds to tone down the fire.

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 Tbsp brown sugar, palm sugar or jaggery

Other ingredients

1 block of tempeh (250gm), cut into 2cm cubes

1.3 cups (250gm) blanched green vegetables – try French beans, broccoli, or choi sum

2 cups of coconut milk

2 lime leaves (if you have some handy)

Vegetable oil

Putting it together

Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok until it begins to smoke. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until it smells irresistible (about 5 minutes). Add the coconut milk and lime leaves and let it come to a boil. The sauce will start to thicken. Add the tempeh and vegetables. Let the liquid return to the boil then lower the heat until the vegetables have softened a little and the tempeh is hot. Season and serve with rice or roti. Garnish with fried shallots. Quick, delicious, and brilliant for lunch the following day.