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Apr. 9 2010 - 1:01 pm | 209 views | 2 recommendations | 3 comments

T&T Challenge: For the Love of Fresh Tempeh

Philadelphia-based T&T Challenger Bernard Brown is the director and founder of the PB&J Campaign, a web-based environmental advocacy project encouraging people to eat more plant-based meals. He dreams of the day when he can buy fresh tempeh (warm and soft) and tofu (bobbing in the bucket) at the supermarket.

I still remember the conversation that kicked off my love affair with tempeh. We were playing cards with friends, one who was a tofu grilling master  (wrapped in foil with teriyaki sauce and veggies – it sounds simple but is hard to get just right) and a guitar player in a now-defunct Philly anarcho-punk band called Rambo.

Fresh tempe at the market, Jakarta, Indonesia ...

Image via Wikipedia

I asked him about grilling tempeh, but he just shrugged. After touring through Indonesia and eating lots of the ‘real thing’ there, he couldn’t get into the American stuff. He had, however, been to a restaurant in South Philadelphia that cooked tempeh like he remembered it from overseas.

The next day, I got down to Googling. I tracked down the restaurant – Hardena, a great hole-in-the-wall Indonesian place with cheap food and too many plastic tables crammed into a small space at the corner of Moore and Hicks Streets.  I also found references to Indonesian markets in the same neighborhood, where, I figured, I could buy Indonesian-style tempeh.    My hunt ended in a corner market packed tight with sacks of red rice, imported canned goods, and prepared meals in plastic takeout boxes. For two dollars, I got a brick of tempeh, still slightly warm from the incubator and a little spongy when I squeezed it.

At home I couldn’t wait to get to work; it smelled a little like mushroom and fried up with a light, crispy outside and tender interior. These days it’s the only tempeh I buy. It freezes surprisingly well (which makes me wonder why it can’t be marketed frozen), so I head down to South Philly every few months and buy a dozen or so bricks. I can’t say I won’t eat the flatter, harder, less-tasty tempeh I could buy in the supermarket, but if you’re lucky enough to live near an Indonesian market, do make the trip.

KOD Note:  A few weeks ago, I heard from reader Betsy Shipley in southern California.  For more than nine years, she and her partner Gunter Pfaff made fresh tempeh in Michigan and sold it to the Michigan State University community.  Now retired, they are are on a quest to teach others how to make their own tempeh.  Their Web site includes how-to details on making a DIY incubator using a food service-grade insulated carrier.  Should you need more tempeh tutoring, they’ve made a DVD available for purchase ($15).

********************ENTER TO WIN!***********************
Every day during the T&T Challenge, there will be a chance to win a VegNews gift package (valued at $50). To enter, answer the following question in the comments section below by 6 p.m. PT: True or False: On Day 5 of the challenge, your tune has changed about tempeh and/or tofu. Discuss/elaborate. A winner will be randomly selected from the comments.


3 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    I would love to try tempeh. I think I’m going to take what I’ve learned this week, head over to Whole Foods to buy a brick and give it a whirl.

  2. collapse expand

    As a vegan and former natural foods co-op employee, I am no stranger to tofu and tempeh – I always keep my fridge stocked with a package of each for endless mealtime possibilities. I usually prepare it as part of a savory dish (half the time, admittedly, I use Isa’s recipes), so I was pleased to see all of the sweet tofu dessert recipes from Fran!
    A favorite tempeh recipe (besides Isa’s tempeh bacon, which I make at least once a month) is from Cooking Light 2006:

    Serves 4

    1 tablespoon canola oil
    2 cups finely chopped onion
    1 teaspoon salt, divided
    2 teaspoons tamarind pulp
    1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh garlic
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
    1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
    3 cups chopped peeled sweet potato (about 1 pound)
    1 cup water
    1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
    8 ounces organic tempeh, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
    2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

    1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice
    1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    1/4 teaspoon salt


    To prepare curry, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 2 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tamarind; cook 2 minutes, stirring to break up tamarind. Add ginger and next 5 ingredients (through cinnamon); cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, potato, water, milk, and tempeh; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Uncover; stir in juice and soy sauce. Simmer 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Discard cinnamon stick.

    To prepare rice, cook rice according to package instructions, omitting salt and fat. Stir in cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve with curry. Enjoy!

  3. collapse expand

    Today’s random (and final) giveaway goes to Valerie Mirko! Step right up & get in touch with your mailing info. Congratulations to Valerie & thanks to all of you for making this such a fun, informative & inspirational week. Hats off.

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    About Me

    You might know me from The Washington Post, where for a dozen years I dished up cooking content, both as Web chat hostess ("What's Cooking") and daily blog minx ("A Mighty Appetite").

    To the table, I offer a stew of journalism (total = 16 years) and cooking smarts (a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education), served with a side of life-long curiosity.

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    In addition to the Post, I have written for Real Simple, Smithsonian.com and Culinate, where I host "Table Talk," a weekly chat every Thursday (1 pm ET/ 10a PT).

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