I know that sounds strange, but it really tastes that good!
As a vegetarian-minded/flexitarian-type eater, I've bought my fair share of commercial tempeh. It's okay. It's kind of boring, though, so I rely heavily on marinades like soy sauce and honey to spice it up. Plus, tempeh costs around $4 for an 8 oz. package - $8/lb. is do-able, but not for something that's merely 'okay'.
One day, my partner Morgan and I were leafing through our copy of Wild Fermentation, and saw the section on bean ferments. She offhandedly commented, "I'd be into making tempeh."
Two days later, I bought 20 pounds of dried soybeans for $10 on Craigslist, and soon after, bought a packet of Rhyzopus oligosporus (the tempeh spore) from G.E.M. Cultures.
I was committed.
So we did. And then we did it again. And then we did it again. And oooh... homemade tempeh is incredibly delicious! I wish there was a way for me to convey the delectable taste through the web, but I guess you'll just have to:
Make Your Own Homemade Tempeh
You Will Need:
~ 2 1/2 c. soybeans
~ 1 tsp. Rhyzopus oligosporus
~ 2 Tbsp. vinegar
~ 2 baking pans (with at least a .75 inch lip) & aluminum foil sheets
-OR- 2 gallon-sized plastic ziplock bags
~ large pot
~ stirring device (i.e. a spoon)
~ incubating container (cooler, oven, box, etc.)
~ heat source (pilot light, 10-watt light bulb, jars full of hot water, etc.)
~ a day at home
~ grain-grinder (optional)
Yields ~3 pounds tempeh
Step 1: Prepare the Beans
Option 1 - If you have a grain-grinder, for the sake of all that is good and decent, use it! It will break the beans and remove the hulls, saving you a lot of time & tedium.
Option 2 - If you don't have a grain-grinder, no worries - it won't really be as bad as I just made it out to be. Just soak your soybeans overnight or as long as it takes for them to soften. Then boil them for ~1 hour, to loosen the hulls. Rinse them with water to cool, then rub the beans between your palms and fingers to remove the hulls. Scoop floating hulls from the top and set aside to compost. Rub, remove, rub, remove - repeat until all hulls are gone.
Warning: Option 2 takes a long time. As in, at least an hour - if not two or three. So get comfortable and be patient. I try to have interesting conversations or watch goofy movies while my fingers do the dirty work.
Cook the Beans
Depending on the last step your soybeans may already be partially cooked. Boil them as long as necessary - you want them to be almost done. Think al dente plus. Incubation creates heat, so the beans will fully soften later on.
Drain the beans and spread them on large (clean!) dish towels, bath towels, old t-shirts... anything absorbent. Excess moisture is one of the most common causes of failed tempeh, and it leads to a foul, inedible product (yuck). So dry those beans! Swaddle them in the towels - yes, swaddle them. Swaddle, pat, and tenderly dry the beans. Remove any hulls you may have missed the first time. Then dry them some more. To quote Katz again, "It is rare that we have the opportunity to be so intimate with soybeans. Enjoy it."
Combine Beans with Spore & Vinegar
Pour the dry, body-temperature beans into your (dried) pot or a mixing bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. vinegar (I used white) and 1 tsp. powdered tempeh starter (Rhyzopus spore). The acidic vinegar suppresses wild, unwanted yeasts & bacteria, giving the tempeh spore the competitive advantage (a very good thing!)
Option 1: Spoon the mixture into your baking pans and spread it out evenly. Poke holes in aluminum foil every inch or so, and use it as a cover, forming it around the pan lip.
Option 2: Poke holes in your plastic gallon bags, spaced every inch or so. Spoon the mixture into the bags, spread it evenly, seal the bags, and place them on oven racks (or wherever they will incubate).
Incubate at ~85-90 degrees Fahrenheit for ~24 hours
This is the trickiest step. Your method may be different than mine, but your key elements are 1) consistent heat, 2) ventilation, 3) a thermometer and 4) a watchful eye.
The easiest method may be to make tempeh when the weather is hot - I haven't tried it yet.
Katz generally uses the oven of his propane stove with the pilot light on, and props the door open with a Mason jar ring.
I've seen other people make self-regulating tempeh incubators, complete with thermostats.
I use my oven and some hot water bottles.
(I did it in a cooler once, but it was too small for multiple trays and it didn't have good enough ventilation - too much water condensed and dripped onto the tempeh.)
- Fill steel and glass containers (water bottles, old saurkraut jars, anything you have that seals) with just-boiled water.
- Nest them at the bottom of your oven, then set the trays and the thermometer on the racks.
- Keep the oven door propped open with a jar lid until it reaches the right temperature, then close it.
- Keep checking on the temperature every 5 minutes for the first half hour, or until it stays at ~89 F with the door closed.
Try not to open the door too often, or too widely. The temperature will stay in range for a long time, but check on it every couple hours just to make sure. You can (and will, I hope) go to sleep during the incubation, which is totally fine - just make sure the temperature is at or near to 90 F before you go to sleep, and check it when you get up. If it falls below 85, don't freak out - it will just slow down the process by a few hours.
Nothing much will happen in the first 12 hours. At some point after that, you'll see a hairy white mat of spores form throughout and on top of the soybeans. Hooray! Jump up and down - it's working!
Once your tempeh has large patches of grey and black, it's ready (yes, it's supposed to look like like that, and yes, it's definitely edible)!
Cool the Tempeh
Let it sit at room temperature, with foil removed or bags open, until cool.
Option 1 - You can stack your bags/trays in the refrigerator (make sure it's really cool, or the spore will continue to develop where the tempeh overlaps in the fridge).
Option 2 - Wrap your tempeh in aluminum foil or non-holey plastic bags. If in bags, use a straw or the hollow body of a pen to suck the air out and form a vacuum seal. Store in the fridge until you're ready to eat!
Figure out your favorite way to eat your homemade tempeh with online recipes or any of your usual recipes - you can also check out The Book of Tempeh or The Tempeh Cookbook for ultimate devotion to tempeh!
The delicious taste alone will be enough to convert you - if you're anything like me, that is. But for the final kicker: when I do the math, homemade tempeh costs ~$0.50/lb. Save $7.50 a pound and triple the tastiness? Yes please!
Did you try this technique? Do you have other ideas?
What's your favorite way to prepare tempeh?
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