Out of the Comfort Zone: Tempeh

I almost titled this post “The Return of Flavor,” except that doesn’t fit with my theme. Let’s just say that last night’s dinner rocked the house, unlike the Great Miso Debacle on Monday.
I’m not a fan of most forms of soy, because they are little more than ultra-processed foods masquerading as health foods. Ironically, those are the forms of soy I have used most (in the past, before I knew better). Soy milk, soy protein powders, soy protein isolate in energy bars designed just for women (!). Those are mild, meek forms of soy, non-threatening to the masses.
And then there are the traditional, healthier forms of soy. Miso, tempeh, edamame, tofu (in moderation). Tofu I’ve done, and like prepared in some ways but not others. Edamame I’ve tried, and didn’t see the point. Miso…well, we know about my fledgling experience with miso. That leaves tempeh. I honestly never considered trying it until I saw Kath rave about it more than once on KathEats.
I bought a package a few weeks ago (look…real ingredients!), and when I bought Super Natural Every Day, I found the perfect recipe to try: Black Pepper Tempeh. This recipe was super easy to put together. The most time consuming part was peeling 15 cloves of garlic! The cooking of the shallots-garlic-ginger-pepper flakes required little tending, so I was able to empty the dishwasher and get a few other kitchen tasks done. I love recipes like that!
When told Jeff we were having tempeh, I got the “Are you trying to kill me?” look. But he liked it so much that he went back for seconds…and emptied the pan! It was so good and flavorful, and the tempeh had a really nice texture. I’ll definitely repeat the recipe, and definitely buy tempeh again. I did buy a five-grain tempeh, and I don’t know how that compares to other types of tempeh. I’ll have to experiment a bit more.

Black Pepper Tempeh
Serves 4 (or one woman and one hungry man)

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin coconut oil
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
15 small cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon peeled and grated or minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons shoyu, tamari, or soy sauce
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (I used sucanat)
2 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
8 ounces tempeh, sliced pencil-thin
12 ounces cauliflower, very finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

  1. In large skillet over low heat, combine the coconut oil, shallots, red pepper flakes, garlic, and ginger. Cook slowly, taking care not to brown the ingredients and stirring occasionally, until the garlic cloves are soft throughout, about 15 minutes.
  2. While the garlic is cooking, whisk together the shoyu, sugar, and water in a small bowl.
  3. Increase the temperature under the skillet to medium-high and add the tempeh. Gently stir to get the tempeh coated. Add the shoyu mixture and stir again to coat. Cook for a minute or two, then add the cauliflower. Stir and cover. Cook for about 3 minutes. Uncover, turn the heat up even more, and cook until the cauliflower and tempeh start to brown a little. If you need to add more water to prevent sticking, add 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove from heat and stir in the black pepper. Taste, add more pepper if you like, and serve immediately.
I’m determined to find tasty ways to use up the nearly full tub of miso in my fridge. In my online quest for recipe candidates, I came across this article on the NPR website. I was heartened to discover that I’m not the only one who has repeatedly bought containers of miso in a burst of healthy good intentions, only to throw them away a year (or more) later when I find them, expired and lurking, in the back of my fridge. This article has persuaded me to try using miso in marinades.