Are you looking for an easy homemade tempeh recipe? Look no further! We’ve made tempeh for years.
Making tempeh is not necessarily easy, but it’s very simple!
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is often called a “meat alternative” made with fermented soybeans. I’d like to get away from calling it a meat alternative and call it a “main dish.”
I don’t think anyone had “vegan” or “vegetarian” in mind when they invented this delicious food.
Tempeh is an Indonesian delicacy. Whoever first thought of it was probably just trying to make something delicious that wouldn’t go bad in a place without refrigeration.
They probably were not trying to figure out how to reduce their meat consumption.
So, vegetarians and vegans don’t “own” tempeh. People who created it out of necessity own it.
Is tempeh vegan?
And besides, if you’re a vegetarian like me, you’ve probably become tired of that game we all play when we first make the switch – trying to make everything taste like meat.
I’m one of those people who’s learned to cook tofu properly, so I can put that in almost any dish to add a little protein boost.
But when I really want to go for flavor, I follow this simple homemade tempeh recipe and make it myself. Tempeh is vegan and gluten-free!
Tempeh originated in Indonesia, probably between the 12th and 13th centuries. At that time, of course, there was no refrigeration and people needed to find a way to preserve perishables.
Fermentation was the perfect way to do this.
Tempeh is basically fermented soybeans bound together in a sort of cake held together by the mold that forms around the beans.
It is a delicious ingredient in lots of Indonesian food!
What does tempeh taste like?
That’s a good question – and a little hard to describe. Tempeh has a deep, nutty taste. And, unlike tofu, which absorbs the flavors of whatever it’s cooked it, tempeh retains it’s own flavor a lot more.
Why make your own tempeh?
Unfortunately, it can also be quite expensive to buy tempeh in America. Even at our local Indonesian restaurant, a small block of tempeh will set you back about $5.
You can buy it at Trader Joe’s for much less, but the quality is not nearly as good, and it’s not always gluten free.
I decided to find a good homemade tempeh recipe and learn how to make it on my own!
Homemade tempeh not only adds a deep flavor to your dish, it’s also one of the healthiest foods out there. Some of tempeh’s nutritional benefits:
- The niacin in tempeh helps reduce cholesterol
- Because it’s fermented, tempeh contains probiotics
- Calcium, vitamin K, and vitamin D in tempeh help increase bone density
- Protein, protein, protein!
You can read more about the nutritional benefits of tempeh here.
Homemade Tempeh recipe ingredients
The ingredients tempeh seem almost impossibly simple. All you need to make tempeh at home are:
- White Vinegar
- Tempeh starter (yeast)
Just three ingredients and you’ve got what you need. Vinegar is obviously easy, but if you cannot find a large bag of soybeans in your local store, try any Asian grocery store, which most medium to larger places have.
For a 5 pound bag (2.2 kg), you can expect to pay about $6.00.
If you can’t find them where you live, you can order them from Amazon. – although you will pay far more, but it’s worth it just to give this a try!
Where to buy tempeh starter
You may have some difficulty finding tempeh starter, however. When I tried my first homemade tempeh recipe, I struggled to find a good place to buy the stuff.
I ended up buying it at a complete ripoff price from some place in Belgium!
I don’t know what I was thinking, but it seems that Amazon has even recognized how great this stuff is and you can order tempeh starter there or by clicking the picture above!
These days, I get my tempeh starter for much cheaper at a local Indonesian restaurant in Atlanta we often frequent anyway.
If you see a place selling homemade tempeh, they’ll know where to get the stuff and may even sell you some!
If you’re lucky enough to have a Chinatown in your city, go there and ask around. If there’s an Indonesian restaurant in your town, try that.
How to hull soybeans – the “hard” part
The hardest part about any homemade tempeh recipe is hulling the beans. You have to allow them to soak overnight and then get rid of the husks.
This can be time-consuming.
There are grain/bean mills you can buy that will handle this quite easily. You simply run your beans through a rough grinder that will crack them in half.
After soaking, the hulls just float to the top.
Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a suitable mill at a decent price. People recommend this soybean mill.
It doesn’t appear to be available right now, but click over just in case that’s changed. That soybean mill is quite expensive though and I wanted to keep this cheap.
I do it manually, but I’d prefer not to! I you find a cheap soybean mill, let me know in the comments.
Soak your soybeans in a large pot for several hours, or better yet, overnight. Then, get your hands in there and start squeezing the beans through your fingers!
Your goals are to:
- Squeeze the hulls off, and;
- Break the beans in half
I promise the end result is worth it! (I sometimes use my food processor, set on low, with a plastic blade to assist) As you’re doing this, the water will become murky. Just drain it and add more.
Eventually, you’ll break enough of the beans in half and get enough of the hulls off that you’ll be ready for the next step.
And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just crack and hull the soybeans as best you can!
How to cook soybeans for tempeh
The next part of this homemade tempeh recipe is to cook the soybeans – ion other words, inoculating them.
To do this, put them in a large pot and add enough water to cover them. Add about 4 tablespoons of white vinegar for every pound of soybeans, bring it to a boil and allow the beans to cook for about 30 minutes.
When done, drain all the water out and put the beans back on the stove. Turn down the heat and continue heating them until all of the liquid has evaporated.
Remember, you’ve drained almost all of the the liquid, so it’s very important to keep stirring the mixture so that you don’t accidentally burn the beans.
After you’ve finished, turn off the heat and allow the beans to cool to about 30°C (85°F).
Incubating soybeans for tempeh
And now, the last part of the tempeh recipe – the part where you get to start the fermentation process! Take that tempeh starter you bought and sprinkle about 1 teaspoon per pound of beans and mix it all up really well!
You’re preparing the soybeans for incubation – the final stage!
I use these Ziploc bags for this part, or some other type of zipper bag that’s about 1 quart/liter. I poke about 20-30 holes straight through each bag using a kebab skewer – knitting needles work too!
This allows air to get into the bag to aid in the soybean fermentation process.
Next, I fill each bag with beans and zip it up, being sure that each bag of beans is about 3 centimeters, or just a little over an inch thick.
Now, you’re ready to store your tempeh for fermentation.
Proper tempeh fermentation
For this step, I prefer just to use my oven racks.
I take each of the bags and place it on the oven racks and allow it to just sit there for about 2 days. As long as the temperature inside that oven is about 30°C/85°F, it’s fine.
Keep in mind, the tempeh will generate a bit of heat during fermentation, but if you need a little assist, you can put a light of some sort in the oven to generate heat.
It’s helpful to have a thermometer inside the oven when fermenting tempeh. Don’t let the temperature get too high or too low.
DO NOT STACK your tempeh. There has to be airflow around each of the bags. If you stack them, they will not ferment, or they will ferment completely unevenly.
Note: Cleanliness is important for any tempeh recipe, but especially here. Wherever you’re fermenting your soybeans must be absolutely clean.
I recommend washing out the inside of your oven with a disinfectant soap and water before putting your tempeh in it.
Like beer and wine making, the last thing you need is a foreign bit of bacteria to ruin your tempeh.
The final product
Voila! Your homemade tempeh recipe is finished and it’s ready to eat! If you’ve made a large batch, you can keep it in the freezer using a proper freezer bag, where it seems to do pretty well.
Freezing tempeh can change the look of it a little bit. But don’t worry, it will taste just as good.
You can use tempeh in a variety of recipes or you can just cook it and eat it on its own. For those who want to use it as a meat alternative, I’ve made some excellent tempeh “meat” loaf.
I’ve even had delicious tempeh burgers in Indonesia.
If you’re so inclined, tempeh bacon is also very popular.
It’s all up to you.
Just know that by using tempeh in your recipe, you are eating something that is very healthy and doing your body good!
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.
Removing hulls from soy beans and chickpeas is very easy and simple.
Boil the dried beans for 15 minutes. Cool in cold water. Rub the beans between the hands and pour off the hulls. Do his five times and there will not be a hull and the beans will usually be split. I do a pound at a time or half a liter. It takes five minutes and no fuss or stress.
Can cheesecloth be used instead of the plastic bags?
Hmmmm, good question. I would assume so as long as you maintained the shape. My guess is that when this was invented centuries ago, they used cloth of some sort. Just make sure it’s clean!
I have bought tempeh wrapped in banana leaf, I believe that’s original packaging
And adds to the depth of flavor!
I made tempeh and it tasted absolutely disgusting…it took longer than it should because I started the temperature too low, so I wonder if it went bad because of this. It had a horrible aftertaste when uncooked and cooked – kind of plastic like. I hope it’ll be nicer on attempt 2 – I had to throw attempt 1 away, and I’m not normally fussy at all.
Yeah, making tempeh is kind of like brewing beer or making wine. There’s a bit of room for error, but not much. Temperature-wise, you have to let it sit in a pretty well-controlled 30-is degree Celsius environment. I turn on my oven for a few seconds to let the inside get warm. Then I let it cool to 30 degrees and put the tempeh inside with a thermometer. I open and close the oven door a crack to keep it at roughly the right temperature throughout. It only varies by about 5 degrees higher and it comes out pretty well.
FYI, If you have an Instant Pot, the *LOW* yogurt setting maintains a perfect temperature of 86-92F for incubating tempeh. (the regular [med.] yogurt setting is a bit too high and goes over 100) I just pack 3-4 perforated quart bags and stack them inside the liner with a couple of bamboo skewers, corrugated cardboard, or other spacers laid on top of each package to separate them for air circulation. Put on the lid, (the sealing valve is irrelevant here) and set it to *LOW* on the yogurt setting, then set the time to 18-20 hours. By then it’s creating it’s own heat, so just leave it sit covered for another 30 hours or so until it’s done. (Alternately, in the summer I make huge batches in covered boxes in my garage, where the daytime temps are in the 90’s).
A few other thoughts…
I started making tempeh not just because it’s nutritious and I love it, but because the grocery store version was less than great… and was far too pricey on a fixed income. Though the beans are affordable, the starter I initially bought was not! So I was thrilled to learn I could easily make my own FREE starter for future batches and save the hassle and expense of buying it…and have done it ever since! After you’ve just made a batch of tempeh, slice about a 1″ strip off of a finished block, (refrigerate or freeze the rest), place the reserved strip back into the perforated bag or banana leaf you made it in, and return it to a warm place for another day or two to sporulate…until it becomes covered in black spores. Once it’s all black, remove it from the bag and let it air dry for a few days until it is hard and brittle. Break it into a few smaller pieces and toss it into your blender with about double the amount of rice flour. (If you don’t have rice flour you can also grind whole dry rice into powder, if your blender can handle it.) The flour just helps further dry and distribute the dried tempeh pieces so it doesn’t clump.) Put this finished powder starter into an airtight bag or small bottle, and store in the freezer. To use I usually start with 3 cups of dry beans when making tempeh and after cooking, cooling, and adding 2 TBS of vinegar, I mix in about a good heaping teaspoon of the starter I made.
I never worry about the time consuming process of dehulling soybeans. Once they are done cooking (when they are easy to split but not mushy) and cool enough to touch,I beat them up a bit by rubbing them between my hands (still in the cooking water) until the hulls are mostly loose, skim off whatever hulls float, then drain. Just loosening most of the hulls is the goal to make it easier for the spores to penetrate the bean, but the hulls actually add some much needed fiber.
You can use a combo of ANY beans and whole grains to make tempeh, not just soy, and no dehulling is needed. Play around with your new free starter and experiment with them all! Chickpeas and brown jasmine rice; black beans and quinoa; black-eyed peas and barley; and mung beans and red rice are a few of my current favorites, and the Instant Pot makes all steps a breeze! (no affiliation, I just love it!) My only gripe is I wish i could afford 2 of them because fermenting in it ties up the rest of my cooking!
If you make your own soymilk, you can use all the “leftover” pulp (okara) to make oncom… (tempeh made with ground pulp instead of whole soybeans) Just make sure to squeeze out as much moisture from the pulp as you can, and sometimes i even spread it out on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to make sure it’s not too wet. (It shouldn’t clump together when you squeeze it, but not be powdery dry either.) You only need add half the vinegar, then proceed as for tempeh, mixing really well. In Indonesia they let it ferment until it starts to sporulate and have either black or orange versions depending on the starter. ( I usually stop once it holds together firmly and barely starts looking grayish or spotty… just because! lol) Have fun, I sure do!
I’m DEFINITELY going to try your dehulling advice next time. It’s the part I hate most. And when my starter runs out, I’ll try your idea! I love tempeh as-is, so I’m going to stick with soybeans. 🙂
Can you add flavoring and or spices?