Tempeh “tuna” salad … an easy vegan lunch to make!
Growing up, one of my favorite lunches was tuna fish salad served with crispy lettuce on rye bread or a bagel, with a side of potato chips! I’ve come a long way since then, not to say I don’t crave tuna fish or potato chips every now & then!
Along comes tempeh …
and tempeh “tuna” salad!
When I was a culinary student at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, I learned more healthful and creative ways of cooking vegan and I was introduced to tempeh. It has become one of favorite protein sources to use for vegan recipes because it is incredibly versatile and it has a unique texture and taste.
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is made from combining whole soybeans with a “tempeh starter.” The starter is a culture called “Rhizopus” mold spores. As with most fermentation processes, it sounds pretty gross, but it’s perfectly safe and actually very healthy. This culture binds with the soybeans to create the loaf of tempeh.
Unlike tofu, tempeh is fermented which makes it a great source of probiotics and an easier protein to digest. It has a very distinctive nutty taste and nougat-like texture. The firmness makes it great to be marinated in slices or chunks and then grilled, baked or sauteed. With a cheese grater or food processor, it can be crumbled and added to stews or sauces creating a similar texture to ground meat. And, as with tempeh “tuna” salad, it is even great uncooked for use in salads. It is similar to tofu in that it will take on the flavor of whatever ingredients you are using.
What’s better – Tempeh vs. Tofu?
Tofu is processed first by soaking the soybeans and extracting the milk. A coagulant in then added to the unfermented soy milk that forms soy curds and then is processed into solid custard-like blocks.
Tempeh is made by cooking and dehulling soybeans, then inoculating them with a culturing agent to ferment and then be molded into firm loaf. The process is much shorter than making tofu, taking anywhere from 36-48 hours to ferment.
Both tempeh and tofu can be made at home, but I recommend store bought if you are just starting out or simply do not have the time. There are many organic brands available in most markets now.
Tempeh possesses more protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins compared to tofu, as well as a firmer texture and stronger flavor. It is an excellent source of protein (about 31 grams of protein per 1 cup serving) for a vegan or vegetarian. It is made more digestible because of the fermentation process which converts some of the proteins into amino acids and saves your digestive system from having to do all the work. Another benefit of the fermentation is it neutralizes the phytic acid that beans are known to contain. Lower phytates = better absorption of the minerals.
So overall, I would say Tempeh is the winner! Tempeh beats in versatility, taste and health benefits!
Where can I buy Tempeh?
Tempeh is sold in most markets in the refrigerated section and usually near the tofu. I have been buying a particular brand for years called Lightlife and it comes in many varieties that may include other grains such as brown rice, millet and other seeds, but many brands are gluten-free and some (are pasteurized. My favorite is the Three Grain because the different grains add such a nice flavoring to the tempeh without changing too much of the texture or color of the basic tempeh.
Tip: Buy organic tempeh when possible since soybeans are heavily sprayed with pesticides
How do I store tempeh?
Store bought tempeh will keep well in the freezer indefinitely but I recommend using it within a year. For refrigeration, check the expiration date on the package. I almost always have a back-up package in my refrigerator to use since the expiration date can be months away. Once opened, use within 5 – 7 days.
To know if tempeh has “gone bad,” there are a few rules of thumb to follow. First if it feels slimy to touch, secondly if it has a strong ammonia odor or generally smells weird use your common sense. When in doubt throw it out.! Black spots and black patches may be present on the tempeh so don’t be alarmed by that.
Most commercial brands of tempeh are pasteurized and therefore don’t pose any risk from bacteria if eating uncooked. If you’re consuming a brand other than Lightlife, Trader Joe’s, etc, make sure it has been pasteurized before consuming without cooking.
TIP: Just steam or blanch for a few minutes before using, if you have any doubts.
Is too much soy bad for you?
This is a tough one and very controversial ….
Like all soy products, tempeh contains plant hormones known as phytoestrogens, specifically called isoflavones. Isoflavones are able to mimic some effects of estrogen in your body. The most powerful isoflavone in tempeh is genistein, which is structurally similar to human estrogen but a weaker form. It has been shown that eating tempeh may be beneficial for symptoms of menopause, but women who have been diagnosed with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer should be cautious with their soy intake. Consult with your doctor about the pros and cons of adding tempeh to your diet
As a general rule, I recommend limiting your intake of soy by reading product labels. I have been surprised at how often I find it hidden in many processed products. So be conscious of where your intake is coming from. It is important to choose organic only and the least processed forms of soy. And, keep on top of the latest medical literature studying the effects of soy on your body.
Most importantly, enjoy this wonderful plant-based protein alternative knowing that you are doing something good for our planet by eating less meat!!Print
A vegan “no-tuna” salad made with tempeh
1 package of tempeh
1 small shallot or 1/2 onion
2 small carrots
1 celery stick
2 tbsp vegan mayo – Veganaise
1 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp mirin rice cooking wine
fresh dill & parsley to taste
salt & pepper
- Blanch tempeh & cool a few minutes
- Add carrots, celery & onion to a food processor & pulse until chopped fine
- Break tempeh into quarters and pulse in food processor until crumbled
- Pulse in remaining ingredients until blended
Keywords: Tempeh Salad, Tempeh “tuna” salad