Fermented power

What do yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh all have in common? They're all fermented, which means they're all awesome for your immune and digestive health. Why? Because, when properly prepared, they contain loads of friendly bacteria that help you to digest your food better and protect your body against illness and disease. One key component of fermented milk products, particularly whey and yogurt, is that it will help you to digest pasteurized milk (unnecessary if you drink unpasteurized or raw milk). This is good news for the millions of people who have a dairy sensitivity. The probiotics found in good yogurt (like lactobacillus acidophilus) can not only aid digestion but can also fend off allergies, in adults and children alike. This is why many people who are lactose-intolerant are able to consume some yogurts and kefirs without any symptoms - the friendly bacteria they contain provide the enzyme known as lactase, which breaks down lactose proteins in your digestive tract.

It certainly makes sense to add some fermented foods into your diet if you are having trouble digesting certain ingredients. It doesn't have to be dairy either. Soy is another common food sensitivity - especially when consumed in the forms of soy sauce, soy milk, or tofu. But fermented soy products, such as miso and tempeh, are far gentler on the system because of their friendly bacteria! As a result, I have been experimenting with my own diet, enjoying the occasional miso soup or baked tempeh meal, with no side effects or symptoms that I used to have when eating soy. This comes after 7 years without knowingly consuming any soy, but is real proof that you can heal your body yourself, rather than with pills, tests, or expensive doctor visits. A restricted diet supplemented with some fermented foods can help to heal your digestion more quickly and allow you to feel better faster.

I recently made some sauerkraut after purchasing a specially-designed crock from Germany. Most recipes I found required whey to start the lacto-fermentation process, but you can also simply make it with just cabbage and sea salt. If you'd like to experiment more with lacto-fermented foods, I'd highly recommend Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions which explores all manner of pickled and fermented goodies and how they are beneficial to your health. All in all, you'll find that they're simple to make, require only 2 or 3 ingredients, and last for months. I've got 3 jars of sauerkraut that will happily sit in my fridge for the next couple of months. Not sure it'll last though as I've been enjoying a spoonful on my daily lunch!

Back to soy. Plenty of us simply don't have the time or patience to make our own sauerkraut and would rather get the good stuff right away. Tempeh is the answer. It's made from fermented soybeans and acts as a delicious meat-free component to your evening meal.

After a few dinners using tempeh, we've found that a marinated and baked version is the best. We've also tried stir-frying it so that it goes crispy, almost like crumbled sausage (but tastier). This is great too, but having a simply baked tempeh dish really makes the stuff shine. If you have the time, marinating the tempeh overnight makes it much more juicy and "meaty" - but at least an hour will make all the difference.

We like ours alongside some stir-fried greens and vegetables. The type of tempeh I can find in my local health food store is sold in a cylindrical tube, but you can also buy it as a block, sort of like tofu. Either way, this recipe is a great starting point and will convince you to try out the fermented goodness for yourself.

Spicy Marinated Tempeh Patties

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Serves 2-3

The particulars:

  • 200g tempeh, sliced into patties or rectangles
  • 3 tbsp liquid aminos or tamari
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup vegetable stock
  1. Place all ingredients in a baking dish, cover with foil, and leave to marinate for at least one hour, overnight if possible.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  3. Bake the tempeh for 40 minutes, turning the pan around half-way through.
  4. Serve with stir-fried greens.