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As many people are realizing the health benefits of plant-based diets, plant-rich proteins are becoming more popular. While tofu is more widely known as a meat substitute, tempeh is not far behind.

Tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans. The soybeans are cooked, fermented and then formed into a firm block that resembles a nougat. While tempeh may not sound or look very appetizing, fans of this tofu cousin enjoy it for its versatility and nutrient density.

Tempeh is dry and dense, suitable for slicing into strips or cubes for grilling, roasting or sautéing. It has a mild earthy, nutty, mushroom taste and absorbs flavors of other ingredients well, including marinades. For best results, place tempeh in simmering water for five to 10 minutes. This softens the texture and increases absorption of sauces or marinades. Cook tempeh to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Pan-frying, grilling or roasting will produce crisp edges while remaining soft on the inside. Use tempeh on sandwiches, salads, or stir-fries. Crumble it and sauté in oil to be used in vegetarian chili, tacos, stuffed peppers or sloppy joes.

Just one-half cup of tempeh has 17 grams of protein, and is a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids (a feat hard to come by in the plant world). It’s also a good source of iron. Some packaged tempeh may have a variety of other grains or beans, which will produce different flavors. If you’re feeling adventurous, try tempeh out today!

Marinated Tempeh

2 (8-ounce) packages tempeh

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

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2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lite soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons olive oil

Place tempeh in simmering water for five to 10 minutes. Drain and cool. Cut tempeh into small squares. In a small bowl, stir remaining ingredients together. Stir in tempeh; cover and marinate in fridge 8-24 hours. Once marinated, strain tempeh, saving the liquid. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add tempeh and cook until golden brown on each side, 4-5 minutes per side. Pour the marinade into the pan with the tempeh and simmer until sauce has thickened and reduced, about 5-7 minutes. May serve with rice and steamed vegetables.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 340 calories, 17 grams fat, 290 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 24 grams protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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