the stuff of clouds: ur-tempeh’s baby mycelium after only about 10 hours of fermentation
September 2012 update: from our blog reader pal Amita comes this amazing pic of her amazing red rice tempeh—see her comment about it below. Amazing!!
Delicious TV, a veggie cooking show, recently visited my Bloodroot pals to do a segment on them. It’s not online yet, but you can see their Korova Cookie recipe showcased in this video–it’s a really amazing cookie. (And I haven’t forgotten the cookie recipe I mentioned a while ago, I will post it soon.)
Delicious TV also has a segment on tempeh making, check it out. It was fascinating to me because the tempeh makers apparently don’t cook their beans! It seems that they also don’t try to separate the hulls from the beans, or use vinegar, all of which I do. Wow. The end result looks exactly like my tempeh, but I can’t help thinking that it might be a little hard to digest, even with the fermentation, but who knows. They might ferment theirs a lot longer than mine.
Fermentation is always malleable, which is why my savory chef’s mind (as opposed to a precise pastry chef’s mind) likes fermentation projects so much. Tempeh can be made in a million different styles and with many different techniques and still turn out wonderfully. Adaptation, interpretation and improvisation are essential.
I’ve been doing a fair bit of tempeh improvisation lately. Ever since Sandor Katz told me about some sweet potato/black-eyed pea tempeh he made (!!!!!) I’ve been on a quest to make soy-free tempeh. So far it’s failing. The failures are teaching me so much, though, that I don’t really mind. The farmer who picks up my compost* has been happy to enrich his soils with rotten not-quite-tempeh, and tempeh is so cheap that a failure isn’t a tragedy.
I’ve made tempeh with between 50-80% soybeans and 50%-20% other grains and beans with success, but a recent batch of 100% black bean tempeh sucked it pretty hardcore.
I’m so used to the rhythms of soy tempeh—how long the beans need to cook, how often to skim off the hulls, that I completely forgot that black beans would need about half as much time to cook as soy beans. I pretended to myself that the super mushy beans I had on my hands would be OK if I waited until they were extra dry before mixing them with the spore and packing them into the tempeh forms, but deep down I knew it was probably a doomed experiment.
Here’s what I was pretending I didn’t already know: the big enemy of tempeh is excess moisture—you need non-mushy beans so that the mycelium (which is what makes tempeh tempeh) has space to grow around each bean fragment. I spread the beans out on sheet trays to dry for a few hours, then halfheartedly mixed them and packed them and incubated them. It wasn’t a complete failure, but it was very very loosely bound with the mycelium and never fermented quite as much as it should have.
Next week, Round Two:
No, that’s not frosting. Adzuki bean/amaranth tempeh failure: the mycelium, such as it is, is not threaded throughout the “tempeh” but is just sitting on top of the overly mushy mess, which was too dense to be colonized by the mycelium and turned into real tempeh.
The next week I learned absolutely nothing from the black bean mistake. I tried to make adzuki bean/amaranth tempeh, and in hindsight I see so clearly why it didn’t work: adzuki beans cook in a fraction of the time black beans do, so yet again I overcooked them. In addition, amaranth cooks into a mushy, porridgey mess. Mush is, of course, exactly the opposite of what you want in tempeh.
I probably won’t try this combination again, but if I did I wouldn’t cook the amaranth at all (the fermentation cooks it enough, maybe I would even dry-toast it first!) and I would just barely cook the adzuki beans.
For two weeks after that I made regular 100% soy bean tempeh, and it was flawless. Now, wounds licked, down but not out, I will continue experimenting (I have good feelings about chickpeas mixed with a little short grain brown rice) and will come back triumphantly sooner or later. To be continued…
*I have two packed Earth Machines at the kitchen, and my compost heap at home is a stinky drive away, so thank you, Farmer Dave (not musician Farmer Dave, but thank you also, what the hell), for picking up my compost!
PS: If you’re interested in fermentation, be sure to take a look at the forums at wildfermentation.com!