I'm wrapping up an accelerated anatomy and physiology (the study of form and function) class and my mind is stupefied by just how miraculous everything is inside of us. Sometimes my teacher will step back from his lecture after explaining some incredibly complex concept like the concentration gradients in the medulla of the kidneys, shrug, and say, "It's a wonder we all don't just go up in smoke."
There's plenty I could say that could make a person impressed to the point of being unnerved with how perfectly delicate our systems are but instead I'll say that most of our mandatory functions boil down to one thing: protein*. Everywhere you turn in physiology, protein seems to be the leading lady -- in everything from the myosin and actin filaments in muscle contractions to ATP synthesis to the whole purpose of DNA. Since it's so important on the molecular level and since we're all in this together, let's celebrate protein in the tangible realm with something for everyone -- vegan, gluten-free or care-free.
(* I also have to say that calcium is incredibly important, too. So is potassium and sodium. Okay, and oxygen and carbon, too.)
Maple and Smoked Chili Braised Tempeh
A lot of people have asked me what to do with or how to make tempeh delicious. Here is the technique I learned from Peggy upon which many liberties with flavors can be taken depending on the palates involved. Tempeh is a flat, fillet-like piece of fermented soybeans and a terrific alternative to the non-fermented but popular tofu, with twice the amount of protein and fiber. It can be found in many health food stores in the refrigerated section.
1 hearty 8oz piece of plain tempeh, sliced (see instructions below)
3 T olive oil (or butter for the non-vegans)
1/2 t sea salt
1 or 2 chipotle peppers, minced
2 T maple syrup
2 T whole grain mustard
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 t sea salt
1 c water
minced purple onion and cilantro, for garnish (optional)
This slicing aspect is simply to increase the surface area for flavor saturation. Cut the tempeh in half. Place it on its cut edge and carefully slice the entire piece lenthwise, as though you're slicing a fillet. Do the same with the other piece. Finally, cut each fillet into 1" or 2" cubes (or whatever shape you want -- I like triangles).
Mix the chipotle pepper, maple syrup, mustard, garlic, 1/2 t salt and water together. Set the mixture aside.
Heat the oil or butter in a skillet over medium high heat and add the tempeh in a single layer (do it in batches if you need to). Sprinkle with 1/2 t sea salt and let fry for a few minutes. When the tempeh has browned on the skillet side, flip the pieces and fry again until browned.
Add the chipotle and maple syrup mixture and reduce the flame to low. Cover the skillet and let the tempeh bathe in the braising liquids for 20 minutes, flipping once. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, add more water.
When the liquid has reduced and is nearly gone, taste a piece of the tempeh and adjust the flavors if you'd like. Remove from heat and serve immediately alongside hot rice or quinoa or let cool and serve atop a tossed salad. Garnish with minced onion and cilantro.
Yields: tempeh for two
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Writing by Adria Lee | Styling and Photography by Amy Pennington