One of the questions we get here at Cultures for Health is how to make tempeh without plastic. Many people have worked hard to reduce the plastic in their homes, and then are faced with having to use plastic bags to make tempeh. And it is tough to avoid. Rhizopus spores stick to everything! So cloth is not an option.
But the mold needs a balance of low moisture and airflow, so a solid container is also not an option. The acidity and moisture also limit paper and metal. I decided I would test a traditional method for making tempeh to see if I could use it in my home kitchen. It was easy, fun and pretty!
Here’s how I did it…
I started by looking at my local Asian food store for banana leaves. I’d seen them there before. I found them in the freezer section. One large bag was only $1.49. You can’t eat the leaves themselves, so they say “not for human consumption” on the bag. But they are food-safe. They are commonly used to make packets of meat, fish or vegetables for cooking.
It turns out that this big package held three leaves. Why only three? This is why!
They are huge!
After collecting all of my ingredients, I hulled my soybeans. This time I used the food processor method. It was much faster than the soak and massage method. To use this method, soak the beans for 15 minutes. Place them in a food processor fitted with a blunt blade. This is usually the “dough” blade. Let the machine run for 2 or 3 minutes. Stop and check the beans. Nearly all of them should be split. You can tell the split ones as they are usually a darker yellow than whole beans. If there are still a lot of whole beans, run the machine for another minute and check again.
Place a colander in the sink and pour the beans into a large pot. Fill the pot with the split beans and lots of water. Swirl the water and beans, allow the beans to settle for a second and pour off the water. Refill and stir. Let the beans settle, swirl the water, and pour off again. Repeat until you have most of the hulls removed.
Cook your beans in some fresh water for about an hour. Beans for tempeh do not need to be soft, as the enzymes from the tempeh mold will digest the beans and soften them. Drain your beans, rinse in cool water, and drain well. Lay a large towel out and pour your beans over the towel. Dry thoroughly. The beans should be moist, but you don’t want any standing moisture. The most common cause of failure in tempeh is starting with beans that are too wet. Another alternative is to use a hair-dryer! Nice and quick and no laundry!
After your beans have been dried, add vinegar and your packet of starter according to the instructions. Stir very well. Then stir again. And one more time for good luck. Mixing the starter in thoroughly is important.
Now lay out your banana leaves. I cut mine into 3 sections. Rough squares is what I was going for. I have also seen tempeh made in rolls. Place a portion of inoculated beans on each leaf section and fold up like package. Then seal with a toothpick.
Now it is time to culture your tempeh. There are lots of ways to keep your tempeh warm. We have several ideas on our website. You can spend as much or as little on the incubator as you’d like. Typically a yogurt maker gets too hot, but if you can vent the lid and keep it at a steady 86-88o, that will work. Excalibur dehydrators are wonderful tools for this job.
You will notice that I have a cooler set up. I am lucky enough to have an old heating pad with no auto-shutoff and a low setting that stays in the mid 90’s. To keep it away from the tempeh I lay a dish on top of it and then put the tempeh on the dish. The picture shows a metal pan and I put an insulating layer on top of that, since metal conducts heat.
Stack in your pretty tempeh packets and leave for 12 hours. After that amount of time, turn off the heat for about an hour and check to see if the tempeh is still warm. If so, success! Your tempeh can now make it’s own heat. If not, turn the heat back on and check back in a few hours.
Once the tempeh is staying warm on its own, check back in another 24 hours. Pick up a package and feel for firmness. If the beans feel like they are a solid, firm mass, you can peek inside. You may see mold growing in the outside of leaf packet even.
Finished tempeh will be completely covered in white, velvety mold. All the beans will be firmly joined to the cake. You may see spots of grey or black, but it is unlikely with Rhizopus Oryzae mold spores as they tend to stay white longer.
If you see some crumbly edges or some spots that are a bit sparse, go ahead and re-wrap and return to the culture box for another 8 hours or so. It may take 48 hours to completely firm up and be covered in mold.
Now it’s time to enjoy your tempeh! Unwrap the packets and admire your success! You can place them right in the refrigerator if you take care to not stack them. Any insulation and they will keep culturing. I prefer to boil mine briefly to halt the process and have a quick addition to meals. Salt some water to taste and bring to a boil. Submerge the cakes in the water one at a time. Boil for 1 minute each side as they will float to the top of the water. If you’d like, you can add any herbs, spices or seasonings to the water to impart their flavor.
In this picture you can see the mold smoothed out by boiling, and also that I’m impatient and didn’t culture the middle cake all the way!
Drain the tempeh and refrigerate for up to 10 days. Or freeze for 6+ months for longer storage. I love to add my tempeh to a breakfast hash for a high-protein way to start the day. You can use it like meat in many of your favorite recipes. It is quite good sliced, pan fried in coconut oil and dipped in some BBQ sauce!