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No, it’s not the prettiest picture you’ll see on this blog, but it documents my very first foray into making edible tempeh at home. For my first attempt, I decided to use the Hearty Vegan’s recipe for Asian Tempeh Balls. If you are interested in reproducing this recipe yourself, you may find it here.

They look nice, don’t they? In fact, that was one of the first comments my husband had (my kids  wouldn’t touch it, though). The sauce was fantastic too. Now, let’s get into the heart of the matter: the tempeh…

My husband had no qualms with it, and, indeed, they were rather tasty. However, my experience actually cooking them gave me some mixed reactions. First of all, this website seems to assume that one is already experienced in vegan cooking. Although I am not a novice cook by any means, it’s pretty clear that the reason for this challenge is to learn about an ingredient I have virtually no experience cooking with. I think that may have been the bulk of my hurdle.

I followed the recipe exactly, but it was a little bit unclear in places where people experienced with cooking with tempeh probably would not have stumbled. I did simmer the tempeh in the soy sauce broth as indicated, but I was a little bit unsure as to how thick to cut the tempeh before simmering. I took a wild guess, and cut my temp tempeh cakes into quarters, but that may not have been small enough.

I found that after I crumbled the tempeh and added the other meatball ingredients, that it still needed a little bit more soy sauce, so I dashed some in as necessary. I’m going to estimate that it was an extra teaspoon or so. The tempeh balls firmed up quite nicely in the oven and were easy to work with. After taking them out of the oven and tossing them in the sauce, as indicated in the recipe, I found that the tempeh balls had a peculiar aftertaste that was a little bit better, and reminiscent of fish. I’m not terribly fond of fish, so this was a little bit disappointing. The texture I found to be pleasant enough, albeit a little bit beanie.( I tell my friends who have criticisms about vegan proteins that none of it is going to particularly resemble meat, so if you’re going in expecting this you’ll be sorely disappointed. The better way to look at it is that it is a cuisine in and of itself to be appreciated on its own merits.)

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My husband arrived home roughly 45 minutes after I finished making the tempeh balls. Needless to say, the balls had been sitting in the delicious sauce for at least that long. By the time I related them and my husband and I sat down to dinner, a lot of the fishy flavor dissipated, although I could still taste it myself. I tried a leftover ball a little bit later on in the evening, just out of curiosity, and I noticed that the flavors change significantly from when they first came out of the oven. I actually found it a little bit more palatable cold, then hot!

This experience has led me to believe that marinade is everything with tempeh. My next attempt will be to simmer the tempeh in a more flavorful broth, and immediately plunge it into a strong marinade while still hot. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to cut the tempeh pieces smaller before simmering.

As for the bitterness I taste, this may be due to a few issues. The first might be the fact that my tempeh pieces were a little bit too large when they were simmering. The second issue maybe due to the tempeh itself. I noticed after I cut it open that this tempeh was made of mixed grains rather than pure soy bean. Next time, I will use pure, unadulterated tempeh, and see if this makes a difference.

So, the good news is that I’m getting closer! And, as far as this particular recipe goes, I think it was relatively successful. I would certainly make the sauce again for tofu and veggies, even though I may or may not make the tempeh balls again.

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