We announced recently that we have begun making our own tempeh for those who want to try and support us in Bangkok. Since tempeh is so new here and many places around the world, we wanted to make sure some of the common questions you may ask about the soy product are answered. One of those is, “Is there a way to tell if my tempeh is still good?”
There are a few factors you should know about to be able to evaluate good tempeh — no matter whether you’re evaluating the freshness before you buy in the store, or after the tempeh has been sitting on your refrigerator shelf.
Look at the list below and keep each of these components in mind so that you can help have the best chances of getting great quality products from good sources.
When you buy your tempeh you should be able to look at it and have an idea of the freshness. The beans in the tempeh should be packed around a firm layer of white mold (called mycelium). As this layer reaches peak, some discoloration may occur where you see some black or gray spots. If the tempeh continues to mature, the mold will become a more yellow color. This is normal and still edible unless the tempeh is wet or consumed by mold of another color.
2) Aroma (Smell)
“Why does my tempeh smell bad?”
How do you judge a fermented product which can already be strong smelling by using your nose? Your tempeh should smell nutty, fermented and earthy, but not overly pungent. If the tempeh can be smelled from a distance, odds are it has likely gone bad. A smell of rot or noticeably strong notes of acetone, alcohol, or ammonium mean you need to dispose of your tempeh. These smells arise as other type of bacteria begin to rapidly grow on your tempeh. Preventing this means keeping your tempeh refrigerated or frozen, and dry, until ready to use.
Your tempeh is made of soybeans enshrined by white mycelium. If properly fermented, this layer of edible mold should grow evenly between the beans. When choosing your tempeh be sure the mold has grown completely without any cracks or areas among the beans where the mold has not grown.
Low Moisture Content (Dryness)
Your block of tempeh should be dry, never slimy or damp. Storing the tempeh with too much moisture can encourage other types of bacteria to grow, making your tempeh go bad more quickly. Tempeh can be frozen safely, but be aware that if not properly defrosted (this can be safely done in the refrigerator), moisture and condensation can start to form on the outside of your tempeh.
When possible buy organic tempeh. The soybeans are easier to soak when making the tempeh, and result in softer and more porous tempeh overall. Since the majority of soybeans are mass produced GMO crops, these can be harder to find, but worth the search. Farmers who do grow soybeans without damaging food and environments with dangerous chemicals also need our support.
Also, look for vendors using natural packaging to ferment their tempeh instead of plastic. The most common material used is banana leaf, which unlike plastic, naturally allows air to circulate, promoting the growth of the mycelium. The result is beautiful tempeh, naturally fermented that doesn’t contribute to environmental degradation.
Tempeh is a great source of plant based protein for everyone. Let’s spread awareness about the need to create diets that are more inclusive or plant centric and environmentally responsible. Courageous Kitchen is doing our part to educate and feed people in need in Bangkok, and your support makes a difference.
During the global Covid-19 pandemic, we have been exploring new ways to engage our supporters, and fundraise for our work. Previously, our in-person classes where our sole method of generating interest in our work. However, like many other businesses, we have been scrambling to do more online and reduce the face to face nature of our interactions. Now we host online classes to help you master Thai food, but have also been making efforts to sell food products locally. The most important of these projects has been the production of plant based protein foods, tofu and tempeh.
Lately when you see the term plant based protein mentioned, the reference is usually to efforts by food scientists to make fake meat. Many of these imitation meats have even become popular globally, attempting to lure both vegans and vegetarians, as well as their healthy eating friends. However, while the popular wisdom is go high tech, we’re going the opposite direction. Instead of helping to create highly processed imitation meat, we’re leaning into the lightly processed Asian traditions of tofu and tempeh. We’re confident these products made with organic soybeans, can encourage people to reduce their meat consumption, which is better for our bodies and the environment.
The gamble we’re taking is hoping our customers will recognize the value and craft necessary to make homemade tofu and tempeh. Often these are products that can be easily misunderstood. Both are soy products, and while tofu is very well known, tempeh is still a new item in many markets. Tofu is the cooked, squeezed, and coagulated soybeans that we press into blocks. Those blocks can be sold and sliced down to be pan fried or used in stir fries and other dishes in place of meat.
While tempeh is made from the same beans and used similarly, the Indonesian creation has many of its own characteristics. For starters, the product requires you to ferment the soybeans before cooking them. Then the beans are dried and packed for a second, but more controlled fermentation. During this process, the bacteria added to the beans grow, attaching and connecting each of the beans. The result is firm patty of edible mold and beans. Despite how that sounds, you might be pleasantly surprised how tasty tempeh can be when properly cooked!
Since tempeh doesn’t enjoy the popularity of tofu, there is a learning curve to cooking it the first time. Tempeh can then be sliced and roasted, chopped, stir fried or stewed. The unique structure of tempeh, helps it to hold its shape when cooking, and gives it a toothsome bite (more similar to a meat product than tofu) when eating. Furthermore, the process of making tempeh, makes the nutrients in the beans more bioavailable, resulting in a healthy, probiotic, and protein rich source of nutrition.
We suggest new customers to slice their tempeh thin, and to start out by substituting it for meat in a few of your most flavor-packed dishes. For example, given the right amount of time to soak up flavor, tempeh makes and excellent substitution in Thailand’s coconut milk curries. Alternatively, you can take sliced tempeh, season it, and oven roast until crispy. The resulting tempeh bites can be eaten as a snack, or added as a crispy ingredient in other dishes (salads, stir fries, and sandwiches for example).
Besides saving you time in the kitchen, our tofu and tempeh products are also made from organic soy beans. Like many places around the world, soy in Thailand is a cash crop, making it difficult to source organic beans. We work with small Thai farms, especially in Northern Thailand, to source the beans, giving us an opportunity to support organic farmers. This is important because these farmers can often be priced out of local markets by the glut of GMO soybeans and mass produced soy products prevalent in most stores.
We hope everyone is striving to eat better during this stressful time. One way is to add tofu or tempeh to your diet, and make an effort to consume less meat. We should also do what we can to support our farmers, and strengthen the food ecosystems feeding our communities during crises.
We’re so proud to be providing these products, so look out for them as options in your CSA boxes from Bolan Restaurant and Farmtastic. Soon you will be able to add them as a vegetarian option to your orders with Sloane’s as well. So please be on the lookout for them!
Today’s recipe is a simple dish called ‘yum pak chii’ which is made with an abundance of cilantro leaves. While not everyone enjoys the taste of cilantro, also known as coriander, even those who do, may not have considered using the distinctive leaf as a salad green.
This recipe is simple and perfect for gardeners who have an abundance of this herb in their garden. Whether you’re a lover, hater, or somewhere in between, we hope this recipe encourages you to rethink how we can better use the herbs and vegetables we have on hand.
Yum Pak Chii Ingredients
2 cups of picked, washed cilantro/coriander leaves 2 tsp of coconut cider vinegar 3-4 hot Thai chilies chopped (adjust to your preference) 1 tbsp palm sugar 1 tbsp of soy sauce 1-2 tbsp lime juice (about half a lime) 2-3 tbsp of peanuts
Yum Pak Chii Ingredients
Wash your leaves and chop from the larger stalk. The smaller branches are easy to eat, but you don’t want to include any thicker stalks.
Set to dry or put in a salad spinner while making your dressing.
Combine palm sugar, chili, soy sauce, and coconut vinegar in a small bowl.
Add 1-2 table spoons of lime to taste.
When ready to serve, pour the dressing over the leaves and mix thoroughly before plating.
Finish plating by scattering the peanuts over the top and serve.
Is it common to make salad with cilantro in Thailand?
No, although Thais love cilantro it is mostly consumed in curry pastes or as a condiment. There are few dishes where the herb is the main ingredient. This recipe was inspired by experiences eating the salad with hill tribe cooks in Northern Thailand.
Although development has been rapid in the past few decades, the culture and the cuisine of the tribes in the North is often a departure from food around the rest of Thailand. The resulting recipes vary, as do the ingredients from in one village to the next. Don’t be surprised to see some recipes including everything from common Thai ingredients like shallots and tamarind juice, to even spicy red chili paste and crispy pork rinds (as in ยำผักชีแคบหมู).
What can I substitute for peanuts?
We realize so many people around the world have an intense allergy to nuts, especially peanuts. One simple solution to add texture and color, would simple be adding half a cup of halved cherry tomatoes. Some versions of this recipe call for the crispiness to come from pork rinds.
Peanuts are not native to Northern Thailand. In fact, the peanuts pictured with the distinctive ’tiger striped’ skin were introduced by the Royal Project Foundation. The cultivar was successful even in areas of high altitude, which helps local farmers earn income and diversify their crops. Now we’re able to purchase these local organic peanuts from farmers in Chiang Mai and similar provinces.
Are there Thais who think coriander leaf tastes like soap?
They may be out there somewhere, but I haven’t met them. Of course there are people who dislike coriander, but we haven’t met many Thais with as strong disdain as the westerners we encounter. If there’s a community of Thai coriander haters somewhere, please correct me. Also, I have lots of questions for them because the ingredient is extremely common in Thai cuisine, with the seeds, leaves, root/stalk all being consumed.
Is there an alternative to coconut cider vinegar?
You can use similar products such as apple cider vinegar, rice wine, or regular cooking vinegar. You can also use tamarind juice which will add more body to the dressing, or even adjust the recipe by increasing the amount of lime used. Since each ingredient is slightly different be sure to taste and adjust.
Whether stir frying or making curry paste, sauces matter when cooking your favorite asian recipes! But what can you substitute for fish sauce and shrimp paste if you’re cooking for someone who can’t have them?
If it’s your first time here, welcome to Courageous Kitchen. In our cooking classes in Bangkok, we specialize in helping guests cook their favorite Thai dishes. One of our biggest duties is helping everyone to work around any dietary restrictions they may have. Here are a few of the questions we hear most often, but if you have more, please let us know.
Does vegan fish sauce exist?
Yes, it’s called soy sauce! Soy sauce is amazing and comes in several brands and varieties. You may need to experiment some to find the ones you enjoy best, and expect brands from different countries to vary widely.
What’s the difference between light and dark soy sauce?
Light soy sauce usually refers to the most common type of soy sauce which has a thin consistency. Dark soy sauce is darker, thicker and pretty much its own beast.
Typically dark soy sauce is cloying and has a bitter after taste. Although we refer to it as ‘soy sauce’ it is mostly made of molasses. Typically to make it thick some sort of wheat flour is added which makes finding a gluten free version tough.
Is there a soy free alternative to soy sauce?
Your best soy free alternative would be using a high quality salt.
We also see coconut aminos recommended, but haven’t found them to be widely available.
Are there gluten free soy sauce options?
We are also starting to see more gluten free version of soy sauce become available. We have spotted Megachef with gluten free packaging in the US, and even in Thailand brands like the Healthy Boy Brand. With all of these purchases, be sure to check the labels. The Megachef brand is gluten free and made from non GMO soy beans. However, the gluten free Healthy Boy Brand sauce does not include wheat flour of course, but MSG (mono sodium glutamate) is included among the ingredients.
Is there a vegan alternative to shrimp paste?
If you’re buying curry paste or making your own, you may often find shrimp paste included as an ingredient. One way to replace that salty and umami taste that shrimp paste adds is to substitute in fermented soy paste or miso.
Also we are starting to see some vegetarian shrimp paste alternatives come to the market, but have not seen them widely available.
What are the best curry pastes for people with dietary restrictions?
There are so many curry pastes available on the market, so this is difficult to make a recommendation. If you can find it, we do recommend the WorldFoods Brand of curry pastes because they’re available around the world and have more than just green and red curry options. They typically meet most dietary restrictions as well, including being MSG-free, gluten free, and certified halal. However, our best suggestion is to always check the ingredients listed on the packet you find.
Of course, making your own curry paste is always the best option if you have time. Not only can you dictate which ingredients to use, we believe you’ll find a noticeable difference in the taste from the fresh spices.
What other vegan seasoning do you recommend?
We love using liquid aminos, liquid smoke, and nutritional yeast to create the meat free variations of our favorite asian and western dishes. If you stir fry often, remember you can create a premade vegan stir fry sauce to cut down on your prep time in the kitchen.
If you cook vegan food often you also always want to have great spices on hand. This means keeping your favorite fragrant dry spices like different types of pepper, star anise, and cinnamon. You’re well served to have fresh herbs like lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and shallots as well.
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Today’s recipe is a favorite, a quick Thai style green curry filled with veggies. The emphasis of this plant based recipe is to use the curry as a vehicle for nutrition. Got certain veggies the kids don’t like? Drop them in green curry paste to help change their mind.
In addition to lots of vegetable, this recipe uses healthier noodles than you typically get in Thai restaurants. We chose brown rice noodles with chia seed, but we’re seeing a great variety of interesting noodles these days in the super markets and encourage you to explore using them when you have the opportunity.
If you have time, making your own curry paste is always best, and we usually teach guests in our Bangkok cooking classes exactly how. However, today’s recipe is aimed at busy people using a curry paste packet. Grab curry packets at your local grocery store, but before you purchase, flip them over and check the ingredient list. Many curries include shrimp paste, or other meat based flavoring. There are lots of choices, but we usually recommend the Kanokwan and WorldFoods brands as good options.
Once you’ve got your curry paste and coconut milk on standby, you’re nearly ready to cook. We use fresh coconut whenever possible, but we tested this recipe with canned coconut milk because we know it is easier to find for readers outside of Thailand. So use quick version of green curry on a busy night, remembering not to stress too much about certain ingredients.
Feel free to mix and match the veggies of your choice in the green curry. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time for more dense veggies, so that everything is tender when you serve. If you already keep lots of veggies prepped in the fridge from salads and other recipes, for example cherry tomatoes, this will decrease the amount of prep time. Finally, check that you have the classic Thai seasoning ingredients such as soy sauce and palm sugar.
Thai Green Curry Recipe
Prep Time: 10-15 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Feeds: 1 – 2 people
Skill Level: Intermediate
Diets: Gluten-free, Halal, Plant Based, Vegetarian, Vegan, Nut-Free and for soy-free replace the soy sauce with salt or liquid aminos.
Green Curry Ingredients
Curry paste 50g
Coconut Milk 1 cup
Rice Noodles 60g
Light Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Miso 1 tsp
Palm sugar (aka coconut sugar) 2 tsp
Thai basil leaves 1 small handful
Green peppercorn 1 branch
Fingerroot 1 tbsp
Large chili – 1 fruit
Kaffir lime leaf – 2 leaves
Cherry tomato 3-4 fruit*
Orinji mushrooms 20g
Green okra 2 pieces
Micro greens 50g (we used a mix of sunflower, radish, and morning glory sprouts)
Moonflower 4 buds
Baby corn 2 cobs
Pea eggplant 5 fruit
Green Curry Instructions
Wash and prep all of your fresh veggies and herbs. You want to cut them so they cook quickly and are easy to eat. Fingerroot is not essential, but if you can find it, cut into small thin strips. Cut your cherry tomatoes in half. Julienne your okra, baby corn, and mushroom.
The protein source in this recipe is tofu. Firm tofu is best, rinse and cut into large squares.
Setup a pot of water to boil. Add your noodles when boiling. All noodles are different, refer to the instructions on the noodles you purchased for cooking time. Set a timer, rice noodles typically take 5-10 minutes once boiling. When finished strain and set aside.
Place your wok over low to medium heat and add your curry paste. Stir until fragrant, add a tablespoon of coconut milk to keep your paste from burning.
When fragrant add your most dense herbs and vegetables so they can begin cooking first. For example, pea eggplant, fingerroot, and kaffir lime leaf.
Next add your tofu, allowing it to mix with the green curry. Add more spoons of coconut milk to be sure nothing is burning, but the goal is to soften the tougher ingredients and bring out the aroma. This means a little bit of char on your tofu or veggies is fine, just be careful not to over do it, or leave your wok unattended.
When everything smells good and begins to soften, begin adding the remainder of your coconut milk, followed by the remaining veggies (except micro greens and basil). You’re in the home stretch with your curry, congrats.
Allow to simmer on medium heat while seasoning with light soy sauce, miso, and palm sugar.
If the soft veggies are suitably cooked, turn your heat off and add the handful of sweet basil and micro greens. In a pinch, Italian basil can be substituted for sweet basil. Both however, take little to no time to cook. Stir the leaves in your hot curry for a few moments until wilted.
You did it! Your nutritious Thai dinner is ready in under an hour. Pat yourself on the back while plating your noodle first, followed by gently ladling your vegetables and curry over the top.
If serving guests who are unfamiliar with the hard aromatics, like kaffir lime leaf and green peppercorn, take the liberty to remove them when plating.