See what you've bean missing with tempeh
If you are keen to include soya in your diet and find tofu too bland or the texture too uninteresting, tempeh is very much worth a try.
Tempeh is a versatile and nutritious product made from soya beans and is packed with phytochemicals, which boost the immune system and help prevent heart disease, cancer and hormone-related problems.
Tempeh is a form of bean curd traditional in Indonesia that is now popular all over the world. It is a very good source of protein and, unlike meat, contains no saturated fat. It is one of the few vegetarian foods that contains vitamin B12, which vegetarians often struggle to get in their diet.
Tempeh has far more texture than tofu as it is made by mixing the dehulled, split and precooked soya beans with a yeast culture, similar to how cheese is made. The beans are packed tightly into perforated containers (traditionally banana leaves) and moulded into flat cakes or sausages.
These are left to incubate in ovens or the sun until the fermentation process transforms the mixture into a solid little cake. These are then either frozen or bottled in brine to maintain freshness.
The finished product is delicious, with a pleasant texture and a savoury, nutty taste. Tempeh can be sliced and fried to give it a crispy finish or marinaded for extra flavour.
It can also be cubed and added to stews and other dishes. The fermentation breaks down the beans partially so they are easy to digest and don't cause the same unpleasant side effects that other beans can.
Tempeh is packed with healthy carbohydrates, fibre and protein and also minerals, B vitamins, phytoestrogens (isoflavonoids), protease inhibitors and saponins that have anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.
Phytoestrogens are active against viruses and are known to inhibit the growth of cancers. They halt the spread of malignant cells into surrounding tissues, reducing the risk of breast and prostate cancers in particular. They also appear to be protective against other hormone-related conditions such as osteoporosis, endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
Protease inhibitors are believed to prevent cancer-causing agents from entering cells and so help to keep cellular DNA intact.
They have also been found to inhibit the growth of some cancers and to stop the spread of tumour cells.
Saponins support the immune system, reduce the growth rate of some cancers and help control blood cholesterol.
Heart disease is much less common in regions where soya protein is eaten in preference to animal protein. Like other soya products, tempeh helps lower blood cholesterol. It contains a protein that inhibits the intestinal absorption of dietary cholesterol and helps remove cholesterol from the blood, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovasular disease.
Tempeh is very rich in B vitamins, which help the body to cope with stress and boost energy levels. The nutrients in it also aid in the production of haemoglobin (which transports oxygen in the blood), as well as supporting liver production and fat metabolism.
It is important to buy organic, non-GM soya products as most of the world's soya crops have been genetically modified and this is thought to have contributed in the rise of soya-bean allergies. You will find tempeh in health shops and Asian markets.
In this delicious recipe the tempeh is both marinaded and fried to enhance the flavour and texture.
Oriental Tempeh Salad
8 tempeh pieces
1tbSP sunflower oil
6 spring onions, finely sliced
8 baby corn cobs, sliced
100G bean sprouts
2 carrots, peeled into ribbons
Half Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
2tbsP sesame seeds, toasted
2tbsp sesame oil
1 thumb ginger, grated
2 clove garlic, crushed
10cm lemongrass stalk, grated
8tbsp lemon juice
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
2tbsp maple syrup
200ml orange juice
8tbsp soy sauce
- Mix all the marinade ingredients together and marinade the tempeh for an hour.
- Lift out the tempeh and reserve the marinade. Fry the tempeh in the sunflower oil.
- Bubble up the marinade in the pan until it goes thick and syrupy.
- Mix all the vegetables with the cooked tempeh and marinade.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.