Tempeh Making – An Obsession

I love, love, love tempeh. Growing up in Malaysia, tempeh was something that we had regularly. It can be made into sambals, marinated in spices and fried, it can also accompany many different vegetable dishes as it adds a certain succulent “meatiness” due to its ability to absorb nutritious, flavourful broth. It is supposed to be a highly nutritious meat substitute. However, I never really cared about its nutritive content. Tempeh was just a yummy thing.

Then, life started to take me away from the comforts of home. Living in Bognor Regis, England, then Warsaw, Poland, and now Windhoek, Namibia – tempeh is not something that we could always easily obtain. Saudi Arabia was the only other place that we have lived in where tempeh was readily available.

The first time I tried to make tempeh was in Warsaw. Hubby traveled to Moscow for work and came back with two packs of tempeh. What a precious, precious gift! In the dead of winter, I saved half of a pack of tempeh and mixed it with some boiled soy beans and left it to do its own thing in the linen closet (for warmth). For the first day it seemed to go alright. Mycelium started to grow around the new beans. Yet, on the second day I could smell the tempeh turning bad. There was a reek of ammonia in the linen closet and the batch was thrown out. Sigh. I never tried it again. Even when we got more precious tempehs from Berlin, I prefered to cook it, rather than waste it on another attempt at tempeh making.

14 years from the Warsaw experience, we were told that we would be moving to Windhoek (what’s with us and capital cities beginning with “W”?) Quick research told me that tempeh would be very difficult to source there. I was determined that before we left Malaysia, I would take with me some tempeh starter.  For weeks, we scoured various markets in search of tempeh starter. No luck. A day before departure, we were referred to a tempeh maker in a wholesale market. I spoke to the lady and asked if we could get some newly innoculated beans (in the hope of keeping it alive for a few days and starting a new batch in Windhoek immediately upon arrival). Perhaps it was the desperation on my face, but she asked if I would not just rather get the starter in a sealed bag as that would last me a few years, as opposed to innoculated beans that would not last the week. She sold me the only bag of starter she had on hand.

Step 4

My precious bag of tempeh starter

We got to Windhoek, settled in and just before Eid, I decided the time was right to make tempeh. Conditions were not ideal as July is winter and the house is not really built to insulate us from the cold. I spent weeks reading up on other blogs, various websites of home experiments of making tempeh in temperate climates. We bought a big bag of soy beans. I soaked half and started preparing the first batch.

ATTEMPT 1:

464 gm soy beans

2 gm tempe starter

  1. I soaked the beans for 12 hours.
  2. Spent 1 and half hours dehulling the beans by hand (ugh!!!)
  3. Boiled the beans for 3 hours (those beans were just too hard and refused to get soft). They became somewhat soft at the third hour, but instead of looking plump, light coloured and soft-ish, the beans were yellow and not very plump.
  4. Left the beans to cool, rubbed them dry with kitchen towel.
  5. Added 2 grams of starter, mixed well.
  6. Placed beans in perforated, ziplock sandwich bags, sealed.
  7. Placed the bags in oven with lights on, but heating element off.

OBSERVATION:

After a few hours, the beans started to sweat. It meant to me that the starter was active. I kept a close eye on the first appearance of white mycelium. After 12 hours, no mycelium. The beans started to look soggy from all the sweating.

After 20 hours, once again the smell of ammonia. The beans looked slimy. I chucked the beans out.

Depression. I wanted to blame the starter. I wanted to blame the weather. I wanted to blame the blog writers for giving me wrong information and advise. Yet, I knew there were things that didn’t seem right in this attempt. The yellow beans, the 3 hours of boiling, the excessive sweating. All those do not seem conducive to delicate mold growing environment.

 

ATTEMPT 2

500 gm soy beans

a tablespoon of tempeh starter

  1. I soaked the beans again, but this time in warm water. After 3 hours, I added boiling water to the soaking beans. I repeated this process 3 to 4 times. After 14 hours the beans looked white and plump.
  2. Dehulling the beans seemed easier this time around. Maybe because the soybeans were better hydrated. It took me about an hour to dehull and discard the soybean skin.
  3. Instead of boiling the beans, I decided to steam them this time around. It took about 90 minutes at high heat before the beans became somewhat soft with a few kernels being al dente. The beans were definitely not yellow this time. See the comparison below:

4. Once the beans were ready, I removed them from the steamer onto a clean, highly absorbent kitchen towel (meant for drying dishes). I left the beans out in the sun for about an hour. Then I cajoled my son into blow drying the beans for about half an hour. Again to reduce the moisture level. He obliged.

5. Once the beans were dry (some moisture, but not wet) – I added more starter compared to the first time – a tablespoon instead of a mere teaspoon. The starter was carefully mixed into beans with a very clean spoon. Then the beans were placed in perforated sandwich bags again (new ones).

6. This time, I decided to place them on oven cooling racks and instead of putting these bags in the oven, I decided to leave it on a table with warm air from the heater circulating naturally. After a few hours again, the beans started to sweat excessively. I started to panic.

7. Scoured the internet on what to do. Read that another person decided to make more holes in the bag to allow for better control of temperature inside the fermenting beans. Another person did not even put his beans in a bag, but left them in a glass container. I did not want to poke more holes in these bags and potentially disturb the spores, so I just opened the zip to allow the beans to breathe.

8. The beans became cold. I panicked. But I also fell asleep. Dead to the world.

9. A few hours later, the beans were no longer sweating. There was no heat emanating from any of the bags. I prepared myself for another round of failure, but as there was no ammonia-like smell coming from the bags, I decided to ignore the beans and let them do their own thing.

10. At around the 14th hour, hubby claimed that the bags were warm to the touch. And indeed, they were. I started to get a little hopeful, but also got a little distracted and forgot about them for a while.

11. At 16th hour – white fuzz were all over the beans. The mycelium is announcing its presence!!

12. At 20th hour… we have these:

and 24 hours after being put into the bags, here is the cross-section of the tempeh:

Finally1

 

So, making tempeh is not as easy as it is made out to be. Dehulling the beans can be a bit of a chore. There are many elements that contribute to the growth of the mycelium – moisture and temperature control being key. Cleanliness is also important as any contamination can result in the beans going bad. However, the thrill of seeing the growth of mycelium, the nutty smell of tempeh as it ripens, the taste of fresh tempeh and knowing exactly how it was made, makes the whole experience worth while. However, if you have a timeline (e.g. if you have a dinner party and you would like to have some tempeh on the menu), start soaking the beans 3 days before the event.

I have seen websites that sell tempeh starter online. If you have the inclination to try, why not order some and make your own tempeh from scratch at least once. You may just get hooked!

Advertisements

About mumstech
Retired at 40 after working in various industries including banking and financial services, oil and gas as well as higher education.Now a stay-at-home mum, cheerleader for husband and son, cleaner, nutritionist, cook, laundry lady, driver, clerk cum administration assistant, public relations, personal assistant... I never knew that squeaky clean floors can give me such satisfaction!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: