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Apr. 9 2010 - 12:10 am | 880 views | 2 recommendations | 19 comments

T&T Challenge: Talkin’ Tempeh With Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Isa Chandra Moskowitz was just a tot when vegetarian cooking doyenne Mollie Katzen penned The Moosewood Cookbook, but by the late ’80s, when fellow meatless pioneer Deborah Madison wrote The Greens Cookbook, Moskowitz was a punk rockin’ teen, dreaming up vegan vittles for her pals.  Flash forward 20-plus years, and Moskowitz is a best-selling author of several cookbooks (including Veganomicon, which sold 90,000 copies in less than two years) and the 21st century voice of vegan cooking in this country. Her new book, Appetite for Reduction, a collection of low-fat vegan meals, comes out in January.

********************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.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Hot Sauce Grilled Tempeh. Photo: Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

If there is a little black dress of vegetarian cooking, tempeh certainly is not it. It’s more like the convertible one. You’ve seen the photos and you know there are a million wonderful different ways to wear it, but when you’re holding it in your hands you’re just left to wonder “What in the world am I supposed to do with this rectangle thing?”

The answer is…everything! From sandwiches to fanciful entrees, breakfast to sushi, tempeh is a perfect protein for all your culinary whims.

Tempeh is a soy patty, but that description doesn’t exactly get the tongues wagging. It’s from Indonesia, and got a rich and interesting history, but really, all of that info can be Googled.

The reason I love it is because the first time I tasted it, in burger form at a vegan restaurant in the 80s, it was so delicious it made my eyes roll back in my head. I had only been vegetarian for a short while, but sinking my teeth into that tempeh, I knew I was gonna be all right. It was downright succulent and the flavor complex – nutty, earthy, meaty. Everything you could want out of food.

Learning to cook tempeh is not hard, but as with almost any other food, it is important to know a few things. You have to treat it right; otherwise you might end up with something kind of dry and unpleasant. So use this tempeh guide from cutting board to oven for tempting tempeh every time.

Become a tempeh butcher!
Hey, I like a cube as much as the next guy, but sometimes changing up the shape of your food can enhance not only its visual appeal, but taste and texture, too. Tempeh’s firm texture makes it a perfect candidate for cutting into cool shapes, or at least triangles. Since tempeh usually comes in a long recatangle, that’s what we’ll work with to begin.

Scrambled Tempeh. Photo: Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

Slabs: Slice the tempeh in half across the waist. You’ll have two squares. Slice each of those squares corner to corner. These triangular slabs will be great for grilling.

Mini triangles:
Slice the tempeh in half across the waist. Then quarter the resulting squares so that you have 8 little squares. Slice each of those squares corner to corner and you’ve got yourself some cute little triangles that work great in stir fries or baked dishes.

Sandwich slices: When I figured out I could slice tempeh into large but thin slices, I felt a bit like the apes at the beginning of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Careful with this knowledge, it’s pretty powerful. Cut tempeh widthwise into 4 equalish pieces. Now slice those 4 pieces across, like a clam. You’ll have 8 slices that are perfect for stuffing into sandwiches. Tempeh Ruben, here you come.

Fingers: Human beings seem to be obsessed with finger shaped food, and it would be interesting to look at the psychological reasons for that. Until we figure it out, why not slice your tempeh widthwise into about 3/4 inch thick slices. Bread it, fry it or bake it.

Of course you know about the ubiquitous tempeh bacon, right? Or did you never step into a health food restaurant in the 90s? Sometimes it’s unwieldy when cut it into long strips, because it breaks as you try to flip it in the pan, so I’ve been cutting my strips widthwise, into about 1/4 inch strips.

Crumbled: You can tear tempeh into bite-sized pieces and saute it to make great toppings for pizzas.

Cubes: Because sometimes cubed really is fine! Slice lengthwise into thirds, then slice widthwise into about 3/4-inch cubes.

To Steam Or Not To Steam?
Tempeh can have a bitter flavor, but not necessarily in a bad way, more like in an arugula way. If you’re easing into the world of tempeh, have something against arugula or just want the other flavors you’re using to stand out more, steaming the tempeh is the way to go. First slice tempeh into the desired shape, then steam for about 10 minutes. Another benefit of steaming is that it loosens the tempeh up and gets it ready to soak up more marinade. Can’t go wrong there.

A Nice Long Bath
Whether or not you decide to steam, a long marinade time is really beneficial. Tempeh works best with thin, acidic marinades that can really penetrate and get all up in those soybeans. Marinate in a big bowl, for at least an hour or up to overnight.

Methods To The Madness
Tempeh is so so versatile, it takes to just about any cooking method you throw its way. Here are a few methods, along with recipes, to get you started. But feel free to use some of your favorite marinades in place of these. All of the following recipes are for 8 ounces of tempeh and serve 2 to 4 people.

Basic Baked Tempeh
This marinade of basic pantry ingredients works well with any of the cuts of tempeh. Try sandwich slices or serve slabs over a salad or alongside mashed potatoes, gravy and greens.

8 oz tempeh
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
2 garlic cloves, minced

Here’s what you do:
Mix together ingredients and marinate tempeh for at least an hour or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Place tempeh slices on sheet in a single layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping once. Spoon extra marinade over tempeh a few times during baking.

Hot Sauce Grilled Tempeh
This tempeh is excellent served with sauteed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. Use a cast iron grill for best results indoors.

8 oz tempeh, in slabs
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup Louisiana hot sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like a little extra heat)

Here’s what you do
Mix together ingredients and marinate tempeh for at least an hour or up to overnight.

Preheat a greased grill pan over medium-high heat. To grease it, brush lightly with olive oil or if you have a spray bottle of olive oil, that works, too.

Grill each side for 5 minutes, until dark grill marks appear. When the second side is almost done, spoon some of the marinade over the tempeh and let cook for 30 more seconds.

Sauteed Tempeh With Chard
I’m kind of cheating here because when I serve this for dinner I call it “sauteed,” but when I serve it for brunch I call it “scrambled.” Either way, it’s wonderful paired with roasted butternut squash. For this recipe, cubed tempeh is perfect.

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 oz tempeh, cubed
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 a cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme, or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fresh black pepper
4 large leaves Swiss chard, or any leafy green, torn into pieces

Here’s what you do:
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Saute in 2 tablespoons olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until lightly browned. Add red bell pepper, and red onion and drizzle in remaining tablespoon of oil. Saute for about 5 minutes, veggies should be softened but still have a bit of crunch.

Add garlic and thyme, saute for two minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Add swiss chard and saute just until wilted. Serve immediately.

Tempeh Sausage Crumbles
These are perfect for topping pizza or serving over pasta. No need to steam the tempeh for this recipe.

8 oz tempeh
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried margoram or oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon extra olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Here’s what you do:
In a saute pan, crumble the tempeh and add enough water to almost cover it. Over high heat, steam the tempeh until most of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Drain the remaining water, add the rest of the ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Tempeh Bacon
Tempeh bacon is great alongside scrambled tofu and home fries, served over a salad or make a TLT with some vegan mayo – Veganaise grapeseed mayo is a favorite. Use tempeh strips for this.

8 oz tempeh
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cups vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, crushed
To cook: 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Here’s what you do:
In a wide shallow bowl, mix together all the marinade ingredients. Add the tempeh slices and marinade for about an hour.

Preheat a large heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat. Pan fry the tempeh in oil for about 7 to 10 minutes, flipping occasionally and adding more marinade as you cook. Tempeh is done when it is browned and crispy to your liking.

Tamarind BBQ Tempeh and Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4
Tart tamarind is often a secret ingredient in BBQ sauces, but I love it as an in your face, not-so-secret ingredient. I love that this all comes together in one pan, with minimal prep. The sauce glazes the tempeh and sweet potatoes and creates the perfect mingling of sweet, tangy, savory and smoky. Serve with basmati rice and a green veggie.

1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced in 3/4 inch chunks
12 oz tempeh, cubed or in mini triangles
For the sauce:
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
3 tablespoons agave or maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Cooking spray

Here’s what you do:
Spray an 9×13 casserole pan with cooking spray. If using glass (which I don’t recommend! But I can’t stop you!) then line the bottom with parchment to prevent sticking. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Make sure to get the tamarind dissolved. Poor over the tempeh and sweet potatoes and use your hands to coat well. You can bake immediately or let marinate for at least an hour to get more flavor into the tempeh.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 F. Cover with tinfoil and place in the oven for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and toss out the tin foil. Flip tempeh and sweet potatoes, making sure to scrape the bottom with a spatula in case anything is sticking. Bake for another half hour, flipping once. Sweet potatoes should be tender, but not mushy, and the sauce should be thickened and coating everything. Serve!


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4 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 19 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    I’m actually surprised by how much my tune has changed about tempeh and tofu. I normally put tofu and tempeh in the same category as the faux meats; I felt like tofu and tempeh were just meant to be used as meat substitutions. However, now I understand that these are whole foods and can be enjoyed. I’ve also loved the contributers all week. I’ve hear so many people gush on how good tofu and tempeh can be, and I’m sold!

  2. collapse expand

    I rarely eat tofu. Everyone assumes that is all vegans and vegetarians ever eat. I’ve always preferred to add another vegetable. However, I occasionally have a few soy treats like soy yogurt, soy ice cream, soy cream cheese, soy Parmesan, and soy sour cream. But my diet tends to include less and less processed foods over time. As newer research indicates that fermented soy is preferable I try to limit unfermented soy and have switched to almond milk. I will occasionally cook tempah.

  3. collapse expand

    False. But that’s because I loved both tofu and its meatier, sassier cousin so much already. What is true, however, is that I have some new recipes with which to tame them.

  4. collapse expand

    True re tempeh (tempeh bacon was the discovery this week – hmmm) – but false re: tofu. Though this week did inspire me to try something I have been wanting to make for a while – ie tofu “egg-less” salad. It was delicious. Thanks again for T&T week!

  5. collapse expand

    True and False for me too – I’ve been a long time convert to Tofu and Tempeh (and to Isa) but I know I’ll be using the chard recipe this weekend. That hot sauce recipe looks similar to Isa’s hot glazed tempeh marinade in Veginomican – that stuff is addictive! I love it.

  6. collapse expand

    False, but only because I loved tempeh and tofu on the first try. When I first went vegetarian when I was 14, my aunt and uncle discouraged me from trying tofu because they thought it would turn me off of vegetarianism. Now I think maybe they just didn’t know about pressing it first.

  7. collapse expand

    N/A: I, too, was already a tofu and tempeh convert :)

    I don’t get fancy with my tofu and tempeh preparation–I’ve never pressed tofu (though it sounds like it might be a good idea to try it), and I keep the tempeh prep really simple by just sticking cubes of it in the toaster oven to get them good and cooked, then throwing them into my saucy dish afterward.

    Even though I prepare it the lazy way, the stuff still tastes fabulous.

  8. collapse expand

    Though I’ve been open-minded about serving T&T, and have dabbled with recipes, this week has been so inspiring. I love the recipes, my tofu dishes have come out great, and now tofu and tempeh will be weekly regulars. I have a vegetarian cousin coming from Germany in three weeks (I’ve never met her) but plan to make a tempeh dish and a tofu dessert for the get-together our family is going to have for her. Before this week, I never would have had the confidence to plan this; it would have been a bean salad and fruit pie. So, I’m excited, and happy for ethical reasons too. I so wanted to be vegetarian but couldn’t seem to get it together and got really tired of lousy tofu and many bean and legume meals. Can’t thank you enough for all the information you and other contributors have provided.

  9. collapse expand

    True and False for me. I wasn’t a stranger to tofu, but it had been far too long since I’d cooked with it. Tempeh was another story, with my initial foray being pretty inedible; all of that changed with the T&T challenge. Now I have the tools, some know-how and a bunch of amazing recipes to keep me cookin’. THANK YOU.

  10. collapse expand

    Very true! I’m looking forward to experimenting more in the kitchen, especially now I know tofu is more acceptable to my family. I think they may rue the day they said they liked my tofu burgers, bwahahaha!!!!
    Thanks for an awesome and informative week Kim, it’s been a real opener to me!

  11. collapse expand

    I am angela rickson. I always see your site something everyday because I like your thought and I get many advice after read you article. I tell to my other friends about this site. I hope you will read my this comment and you will remember me. i want you always make new articles like this.
    Personal ISA

  12. collapse expand

    I love masala maggie. Its taste is so delicious.

    Best Buy ISA

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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.

    Home is Seattle for now, but until last year was parked on the east coast, born and raised outside of Philadelphia, where H20 is pronounced "wooder."

    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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