Tempeh has a bit of a hard to place flavor. It’s nutty, bitter, earthy, even musty some say. Some people love it while others can’t stand it. With these Thai spiced tempeh cakes I do my best to try to win over the doubters.
I do this because tempeh is a very healthy food. So going the extra mile and finding ways to make it more palatable is well worth our time.
What Makes Tempeh So Healthy
Tempeh is a fermented food made from soy beans that has had a culture added to it. It contains all the essential amino acids making it a complete protein. That means it has all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs to build healthy bones and muscles. Individual complete protein foods are rare in the plant-based kitchen. In most cases we need to combine various plant foods over the course of a few days to get all those essential amino acids – rice and beans is a good example of a complete protein dish. But tempeh, and other fermented soy foods like miso paste, contain all the essential amino acids and are therefore considered complete proteins. This makes tempeh an excellent food to add to any plant-focused diet.
And then there is the fermentation. Fermented foods are exceptionally good for us. This is because fermented foods, like tempeh, sauerkraut, yoghurt, and sourdough breads, are super-foods for our microbiome. And our microbiome – all those friendly bacteria living in our intestines – are hugely important for our overall health. If it is not properly balanced we increase our risk of disease. From the common cold to mental illness and many other ailments in between. So getting to know tempeh, and more importantly how to prepare it so you won’t wrinkle your nose, is a good endeavor.
Using classic Thai flavors to disguise that somewhat strange natural tempeh flavor makes it more than just palatable, it makes it simply lovely. Those strong, in-your-face flavors blends just beautifully with the nutty flavor of tempeh.
Kaffir lime leaves are essential to Thai cuisine and there really is no real substitute.My best suggestion for an alternative would be to try lime zest. But the flavor will be different. The same is the case with lemongrass. If you cannot find it the flavor of these Thai spiced tempeh cakes will be quite different. You can, however, use dried lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Just keep in mind that the dried versions are not quite as strongly flavored.
And last but not least, if you are not 100% plant-based feel free to use fish sauce instead of the soy sauce.
Thai Spiced Tempeh Cakes
- A food processor is not essential but it does make the process easier
- 1 stalk lemongrass chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
- 2 green onions roughly chopped
- 1 small red onion peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 large red chili deseeded and chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 kaffir lime leaf thinly shredded
- 2 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro)
- 150 grams tempeh
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 to 2 tablespoons brown rice or whole spelt flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- A little extra virgin olive oil to sauté
- Start by steaming the tempeh. This removes a lot of the bitterness associated with tempeh. I do this in a pot with a little water in the bottom and a steamer basket inserted. Steam for 15 minutes.
- While the tempeh is steaming place the lemongrass, garlic, green onions, red onion, chili, ginger, kaffir lime leaf, and fresh coriander in a food processor (alternatively use a mortar and pestle) and process until finely chopped.
- Add the pre-steamed tempeh, the lime juice, and then soy sauce and process once more until mixed well. Transfer to a bowl and add the flour little by little until you get a consistence which easily holds the shape when shaped into cakes. Cover and refrigerate for 1/2 hour for the flavors to develop.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Shape the tempeh mixture into patties and sauté until nicely browned on both sides. Serve hot or at room temperature.