“We are the nation of Indonesia. Don’t let us become a tempeh nation!” said Indonesia’s first president Sukarno in his famous patriotic speech in the 1960s, referring tempeh as a poor person’s food.
Indonesia has been home to sophisticated soybean food cultures for centuries. However, it has not been long since tempeh regained its former glory. As plant-based eating becomes more mainstream around the world, meat substitutes like tempeh has been getting more spotlight in recent years.
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soybean cake that can be traced back more than 1,000 years to the island of Java. To make Tempeh, soybeans are boiled, hulled, and then mixed with a fungus to ferment them for about four days. Despite concerns of funky scent and taste of fermented food, tempeh has a mild nutty aroma and almost Cambert cheese-like flavor and savory meatiness, making a great versatile ingredient for various cuisines.
On the occasion of Hyundai Card Cooking Library’s “Food Theme 13. Beans” program, the Library organized a tempeh cooking class with Yona, a vegan food specialist, and Hong Seok Jang, CEO of Paap Tempeh, at the Library in the evening of June 16. “Tempeh is fast becoming a popular food of the plant based community,” said Mr Jang. “It works across multiple cuisines, where it is used in salads, tacos, noodles, curry, and burgers. It also works very well with Korean food like in dwenjang jjigae (Korean soybean paste stew) or gimbap (Korean seaweed rice roll).”
The class demonstrated “Sweet and Sour Tempeh,” a recipe for making a la carte dishes such as karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and sweet and sour pork using tempeh instead of meat. Also, utilizing the unique white mold layer of the ingredient, the class practiced making “Tempeh Filling,” using minced tempeh for taco and dumpling stuffing. “You will be amazed at the charm and various uses of tempeh,” said Yona.
A world of soybeans
There are 650 genera and 18,000 seeds belonging to the legume family worldwide, but only a few of them are edible and only about 10 types of beans are cultivated in Korea. Beans have different tastes and names depending on their shape and color. Soybeans used for tempeh and tofu, black kidney beans used as a basic ingredient in Mexican cuisine, pinto beans used in soups or salads, and black beans and green peas for decoration on jjajangmyeon (Chinese black bean noodles). Especially in South East Asia, soybeans are recognized for their taste and nutrition, and have long been loved as a main ingredient in various countries and cultures.
There are several theories about the origin of soybeans, but the dominant theory is that it originated in China and the Korean Peninsula. It is known that soybean cultivation began in earnest in the Bronze Age in Korea, and it is estimated that it was cultivated from 2,000 to 1,500 BC in China. That is why, in Northeast Asia, soybean processing methods are particularly diverse. In China, soybean soup is the most common breakfast menu item, and there are a huge number of types of tofu made from soybeans. Natto and miso, which are representative staples of Japan, are also foods made from soybeans. In addition, soybean dishes developed in various countries, including tempeh from Indonesia, feijoada from Brazil, and “jang (traditional Korean fermented soybean paste) culture” in Korea.
Under this month’s theme “Beans,” Hyundai Card Cooking Library is offering vegan dishes using beans and exhibiting various books and collections about the ingredient and food culture. Every three months, the Library launches different food themes focusing on key ingredients in culinary history such as rice, cheese, coffee, and curry, hosting cooking classes and events based on the topic. Starting from July, the Library will host programs under the theme “Herbs.”
On the first floor of the Library, illustration posters, related books, and various products using soybeans are exhibited, depicting life cycle of a bean plant. Visitors can also enjoy discounts on book purchases with Hyundai Card. On the second floor, there is an exhibition where visitors can learn about tools used for cooking soybeans and various types of beans.