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!

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Malaysian Tomato Rice to chase the rainy day blues away…

Tomato rice,  beef korma,  chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

Tomato rice, beef korma, chicken in red sauce and pickled vegetable salad.

It rained last night, and it has continued to pour all day here, in Kuching. While I love the rain, unfortunately too much rain makes me want to snuggle under my comforter, surrounded by my pillows and snooze continuously.  Fortunately, (or otherwise depending on how you look at it,) housework never ends. It meant saying buh-bye to my bed and hello to my dusting cloths, vacuum cleaner, mop and bucket. By midday I was happy to be able to put away laundry and start on dinner.

If I felt lethargic all day, I can only imagine how hubby and son were faring out there. A look in the fridge showed me some leftover canned tomatoes, half a carrot, half an onion and it dawned on me to use up whatever leftovers I had in the fridge and make Tomato Rice.

It has to be said that this type of rice was never popular in this household because it can be rather sour. Hubby has really low tolerance to sour stuff, however, I thought by using canned tomatoes instead of tomato paste, the tartness can be toned down.

Traditionally too, the spices and onions were sautéed in ghee or clarified butter. This has now been replaced in this household with extra virgin olive oil resulting in a cleaner and lighter tasting rice.

When hubby and son walked into the house, the smell of the rice and accompaniments wafting from the kitchen told them that they are in for a treat. The happiest moment of the day for me is when we are all sitting around the dining table and I get to listen to the chatter while serving what I know would be a wholesome meal, cooked with love to the two most important people in my life.

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Tomato Rice (for 4)

  • 1 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 3 cloves, a cinnamon stick about 5 cm long
  • 4 shallots, 2 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger (all sliced thinly)
  • 1 fresh lemongrass (bruised)
  • 2 cups basmati rice (soak 30 minutes)
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes + juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh milk
  • A small handful fresh coriander
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in rice cooker pot. Sautee whole spices, sliced items and lemongrass. Gently cook until onions turn amber.
  2. Add canned tomatoes and 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional.) Break tomatoes up into small pieces and stir to ensure tomato paste is incorporated.
  3. Add chicken stock and milk. Season with salt.
  4. Add soaked and drained rice. Stir gently. Let liquid come to a boil
  5. Add fresh coriander. Cook rice as per normal.

Beef Korma

  • 500 gms stewing beef
  • 6 shallots, 3 cloves garlic, 1 inch fresh ginger, 1/2 tablespoon whole black pepper – all blended finely
  • 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 tablespoon Korma spice powder
  • 2 potatoes cubed golf ball size
  • 1 carrot sliced (not too finely)
  • 1 red onion – quartered
  • 1 tomato – quartered
  • 1 each red and green fresh chillies (halve length wise)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  1. Cube beef according to preference.
  2. Put beef in a pot with blended ingredients, Korma powder, some water and salt. Boil covered till beef is tender (this can be done in pressure cooker)
  3. Once beef is tender, add potatoes and carrots.
  4. When potatoes and carrots are soft, add red onion, chillies, tomatoes.
  5. Lower heat, add yogurt, taste seasoning. Sauce should be thick.

Optional:

To add to the aroma, finely slice 6 shallots and 2 cloves garlic. Sautee in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When caramelized, pour everything into the Korma pot. Cover pot tightly. Sprinkle fresh coriander just before serving.

School Lunchbox: Home-made Wonton Noodles, Shrimp and Chicken Wonton Parcels and Vegetable broth

Dry wonton noodles, chicken and shrimp wonton parcels and veggie broth

Dry wonton noodles, chicken and shrimp wonton parcels and veggie broth

Busy, busy day uploading today…. I have left this blog for about a week and a half due to circumstances as covered in my posts before this. So, today for son’s lunchbox, I decided to be a little adventurous – making the wonton noodles from scratch and using the same dough rolling it really thin to make the wonton skins for the parcels. It took me 90 minutes to make everything this morning, though this does not take into account the post cooking clean up time 😛

Wonton Noodles (adapted from ChubbyHubby)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 9 tablespoons cold (icy) water
  • a few drops sesame oil
  • some cornstarch for rolling

Method:

IMG_00000308  IMG_00000312 IMG_00000313 IMG_00000314

  1. Sift the flour and salt into electric stand mixer. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
  2. Beat eggs and cold water – pour into the well.
  3. Put on paddle attachment. Switch mixer on low (Kenwood Major speed 2) and leave for 5 minutes (while you prepare the wonton pockets)
  4. The mixture will be like little balls. Pour out onto floured surface and knead. The mixture is hard but you must knead, it will come together. Put your elbow into the kneading for about 5-7 more minutes – the dough should be pliable and springy when pushed with a finger.
  5. Wet your hand with a few drops of sesame oil, rub all over dough, leave to rest for 30 minutes (continue preparing wonton pockets)
  6. After 30 minutes, divide dough into 4, (I use 3 for noodles, and 1 for wonton skins)
  7. Pat the dough flat, roll using widest setting. Fold into 2, roll again (repeat 3 times) Keep setting the roller thinner after each 3 rolls. I stop at setting no. 6.
  8. Dust thin sheets with corn flour and cut.
  9. For the wonton skins – roll to the thinnest setting (till you can see your hands on the other side) dust with cornflour and cut.
  10. Boil hot water in big pot and get ready another big container of cold water.
  11. When hot water is on a rolling boil, put in a handful of noodles. When it starts floating, retrieve and plunge into cold water. Do for all noodles.
  12. Just before adding to the flavourings – dip the noodles quickly in hot water, drain and put in the mixing container.

Dressing for Dry Wonton Noodles (from 3 hungry tummies)

  • 1.5 tbs of garlic oil (3 cloves of garlic chopped fine, fry over slow heat in a little vegetable oil)
  • 1 .5 tbs of light soy
  • 1.5 tbs of caramel sauce
  • 1 tbs of oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp of castor sugar
  • dash of white pepper

Shrimp and Chicken Parcels (adapted from 3 hungry tummies)

IMG_00000309  IMG_00000310

  • 200 gms shrimp – clean and chop into tiny pieces
  • 100 gms minced chicken
  • 2 scallions (white part) chopped fine
  • a pinch of grated ginger
  • 1/2 of beaten egg
  • dash of light soy sauce
  • dash of oyster sauce
  • dash of sesame oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp corn starch

Mix all the above together. Fill wonton skin with 1 tsp, wet the edges of skin and pinch together.

Fry till golden.

Nasi Minyak – Malaysian flavored rice

IMG-20130116-00281

Growing up, this special rice was served usually at weddings. In fact, the question “when are we eating nasi minyak?” to a bachelor or bachelorette also means – when are you getting married? Of course, the accompaniments of this special rice would be even more elaborate at weddings, beef beriani for the main cuts of beef, dalca for all the yummy beef bones and fattier parts, chicken in red sauce, vegetable chutney and salads. The rice would be fragrant with saffron and rose water – and cooked on open fire. Anyone would know when there is a wedding, just follow the yummy smells (and beautifully dressed women and men clad in traditional attire.)

These days, the nasi minyak served at weddings are usually pre-prepared by caterers. Still special, and with more accompaniments than ever. However, the simpler version of the dish can also be served at home. Children who sometimes refuse to eat plain, steamed rice can be enticed to having a full dinner by making this flavoured rice with chicken and sweet pickled cucumber and carrots. Purists would make the rice with ghee and milk, making it a very rich dish. I make the rice with olive oil, thinly sliced onions and spices. Here is the recipe (for 4 people):

IMG-20130116-00277  IMG-20130116-00278

Nasi Minyak

  • 2 cups of basmati rice – wash and soak in water for 30 minutes, drain.
  • 2.5 cups of water (for cooking rice)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion – sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon juice from fresh ginger (grate fresh ginger and squeeze out juice)
  • 2 cardamom seeds, 2 cloves, a small cinnamon stick, a star anise, 1 bay leaf (we usually use pandanus leaf here in Malaysia)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric or saffron powder,
  • 1 .5 teaspoon sea salt

– Heat olive oil, brown onions till caramelized. Add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaf. Stir until well mixed. Add ginger juice and salt. Add water.

– Put in the turmeric powder and sea salt, let water boil, add rice. Lower heat and when the water has evaporated and rice has puffed up, lower heat to the lowest setting, cover the pot. 7 minutes later, fluff the rice with a fork (gently) and if rice is fluffy and no more water has remained in the bottom of the pan, switch off heat and let rice steam a further 5 to 10 minutes.

IMG-20130116-00279

Chicken in Red Sauce – This is a sweet, sour, slightly spicy chicken with a very thick sauce. Add as much chillies as you like. This recipe makes a sauce that is not too spicy.

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 12 pieces – marinade with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon turmeric powder for 30 minutes. Brown in a little oil – do this in batches – the purpose is to get the outside of the chicken seared and the inside should still be rare.
  • 1/2 onion sliced finely
  • 2 cardamoms, a small cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 1 fresh lemon grass – bruised
  • 2 shallots, 2 garlic, 2 large red chillies 1 whole tomato, 1 inch of ginger – blend fine
  • 1 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons chilli sauce (optional), 1 teaspoon fish sauce.
  •  some salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup water

– Brown the chicken pieces, remove when golden, do the next batch till done. Reserve 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan. Add to the pan the blended ingredients and the lemon grass. Stir well, add cardamoms, cinnamon and star anise as well as the sambal oelek. After the water has evaporated, add the onion that had been sliced fine, tomato sauce, chilli sauce and fish sauce. Mix well.

– Add the 1/2 cup of water, taste. If  too tart, add some brown sugar. Add chicken pieces, cover pot and cook on medium heat till chicken is tender and sauce has thickened. Finally taste again, the sauce should be salty, sour, a little sweet and spicy. Add frozen piece, stir to cook through. Ready to serve.

Pickled Cucumber and Carrots

  • 1 cucumber and 1 carrot – cut into half, lengthwise, slice thinly
  • 1 red onion, cut into two and slice thinly
  • 1 fresh red chilli – slice thin
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water

– Place all the sliced veggies into a bowl.

– Mix the rest of the ingredients and stir till the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the pickling juice to the vegetable. Mix well, leave in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the flavours meld together.