Bubbies Fine Foods is a company that we’ve all seen on the shelves for years. When they contacted me last year and told me about their idea to present a web series titled “Spoiled to Perfection,” I was so excited to see what they would come up with! Beyond their 6 episode (I hear more are coming!) web series about preserving, curing, pickling, distilling, fermentation, etc – they are working with a local social media maven named Emily Somple who I have enjoyed getting to know. Emily fell down the rabbit hole of fermentation fast – she began to learn about – and love all things fermented. One of our conversations led to a question that I am asked by many people: “What do you do with all of this fermented stuff around the house?” “EAT IT!” was my enthusiastic reply. (To which the next question is usually something like “Do you eat Ruebens 3 times a week?”) So Emily and I decided to film some super quick and fun recipes of some of my favorite ways to
sneak incorporate fermented foods into every day dishes. Our videos also include fun things like mixed drinks and face masks because, let’s face it, we’re girls. We like to feel pretty and relax with a drink in our hands!
Stem is the owner of Alive and Healing Tempeh located in Windsor. He has been a part of our event since 2012 – and I wanted to catch up with him to ask him some questions about his incredible product, his company, and what drew him to producing a fermented food.
Q: What was your gateway ferment?
A: Sauerkraut and Kombucha. I first learned the basics of fermentation at the intensive with Sandor Katz in Tennessee, and then experimented on my own when I worked as an intern at RDI in 2009. I was drawn to both sauerkraut and kombucha because of the ease of these processes.
Q: What motivated you to do this professionally?
A: The more I learned about environmental challenges – peak oil, water pollution, top soil loss, etc – I wanted to be a part of the shift. I knew that I loved making things, but I wanted to contribute to the positive changes in our world. Although I was interested in the green building and natural building world, I realized that I didn’t want to document other peoples’ projects or build wealthy people a 3rd home. I looked for jobs in the Bay Area Market, and in the mean time I sold half-gallon jars of finished kombucha and a healthy baby “mother” inside to then reuse for the next batch (with instructions attached). At this time I began making tempeh at home in Oakland and began to really fall in love with it. It’s such a weird food. Think about it. It’s like this moldy bean cake, but it has a sweet, mushroomy flavor and texture. I found it fascinating to ferment a protein instead of a sugar/starch. In 2011 I was introduced to Tierra Vegetables kitchen and I began calling up some local restaurants and asking “Would you be interested in tasting a locally made tempeh?” With the amount that said yes I was motivated to grow this idea. I was encouraged by the niche in this market – nobody else was offering this made locally. I thought, if tempeh could eventually replace even 1% of the meat in California – what a tremendous goal that would be.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about tempeh that you hear?
A: That it is fermented tofu. It is true that both are made from soy beans, but tofu is a coagulated soy curd, and tempeh stands alone as a fermented whole food.
Q: Describe your process:
A: We mill and dehull the soybeans, we cook them and then cool and dry the beans. We acidify them just before we inoculate them with the tempeh culture, which creates the environment that the microorganisms want to thrive in. Once it is inoculated, we put the beans into perforated fermentation bags, which allow the beans to release heat and carbon dioxide. Then, they go through an incubation process at 88º for 30-40 hours. At this point we also replicate Indonesian environmental conditions by carefully humidifying the fermentation room, to further assist in proper fermentation. The tricky part about this is that we start the room at 88º, but once the microorganisms kick off, the heat that’s produced by them makes the entire room temperature go up. So, we have figured out ways to maintain the proper temp as the environment changes. Then when their incubation is done, we cool them down and vacuum seal them, then freeze them to be sold.
Q: What is your favorite way to eat tempeh?
A: I am always in love with a teriyaki marinade. Totally delicious! Pan fried, garnished with green onions, served over a bed of rice. I have been making a deep friend tempeh with peanut sauce that is delicious, as well. Tempeh ruebens are also always a favorite and of course I make tempeh bacon. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t always need to be served hot. It’s great to marinade and bake, then cool down and store it for a quick snack on the go.
Q: What excites you about what you do?
A: Employing people, working with the chefs that are creating incredible things with this tempeh, and you know – there is a certain love that is required for this kind of work. This kind of magic that relies upon microorganisms to do their thing.
Q: What else do people not know about tempeh, and what’s in its future?
A: Our tempeh has as much protein as chicken or beef – 20 g per 4 oz. This product isn’t pasteurized, and freezing doesn’t kill the culture. It’s also highly digestible because of the work that the microorganisms have done. And because it’s unpasteurized, it maintains its moist consistency unlike other tempeh that I have found which can be dry and crumbly. We have been certified organic since 2015 and in the future we have our eyes on making non-soy tempeh, which doesn’t exist on the market shelf yet. We are also dreaming up a whole-food tempeh burger patty to replace the veggie patties made with a variety of processed binders and protein powders.
After chatting with Stem and leaving the Alive and Healing manufacturing space, I took home some tempeh to cook for myself. With Stem’s recommendation I marinated it that night and waited until the next day to cook it up. HOLY DELICIOUSNESS. This tempeh is truly to live for. I can attest to him being right about the teriyaki marinade. Here’s what I did:
2 Tablespoons grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup maple syrup
Sliced thin and marinated for 18 hours in the fridge, it took on the dark color of the marinade and absorbed a lot of the liquid. I removed it from the marinade and lightly pat it dry, then heated a cast iron skillet with an overflowing tablespoon of black sesame oil. I cooked each side on medium/high for 4 minutes (all 4 sides of the long strips) and then took them out of the pan. I added a little bit more tamari and maple syrup, then cooked that alone for a few minutes to reduce it. I cut the thin strips into cubes and tossed them back into the skillet. I served it over a bed of spouted red rice, and was amazed by the texture and incredible nutty flavor that the tempeh had. I can’t wait to discover more marinades and get to work on making some on-the-go snacks for myself.
This tempeh can be purchased online at AliveandHealing.com and can be purchased in Sonoma County at Oliver’s Market, Community Market and Food For Humans.
When I first began my journey with making ferments at home, it was more about flavor for me than health. A few years prior to this I had tried Kombucha made by a neighbor of mine. After hearing from other folks about their “first impression” of kombucha, I realized that many of us (Americans) had a similar reaction. Depending on the level of fermentation in the first sip, one might think that they were offered vinegar to sip on. My very first reaction was, “This is too strong tasting for me – you really actually LIKE the taste of this?” My neighbor assured me that not only did she like it, but she loved it – she craved it – and she made it that sour on purpose.
The next time I tried it, I picked up a commercial bottle of GT Dave’s Synergy brand. I purchased the original, because I didn’t want to taste a flavored variety. This bottle let out a slight CO2 pressure build upon opening – something that I hadn’t experienced in the first home-made sample from my neighbor. The light effervescence along with a milder “vinegar” flavor suddenly grabbed me in a way that the first sample hadn’t. Okay… so maybe I can see why she likes it. I finished that bottle within 30 minutes and can recall the feeling in my digestion tract immediately afterwards. For someone who didn’t eat many fermented foods except the occasional yogurt for breakfast, my body experienced something new. Whether it was the promises on the side of the bottle that made my mind think I was being “healthy,” or truly a whole-body reaction to this fizzy beverage, I felt great. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I truly experienced a little “glow” for the hour after I consumed this new drink. The carbonation didn’t make me feel full like sodas did – it didn’t make me burp or cause any uncomfortable gas. Instead, it felt soothing on my system. It was as though a little magical potion was inside of me, producing energy and relaxation as the same time. I returned to the market the next day to buy 5 bottles.
That was 2009, and I would drink GT’s kombucha on and off after that – even taking care of my neighbor’s brew when she was on vacation and sipping a bit of hers. (After years of learning I now think that she utilized long fermentation cycles resulting in strong acetobacter (vinegar) formation, causing hers to be too sour for my own liking). Depending on the status of my bank account, the bottles might be included in my weekly grocery haul, or I might leave them out. The attraction was there – the addiction wasn’t… yet.
In 2010 I began to teach at a Montessori school and our break room was always filled with fantastic conversation from other teachers. What happened in their class, what was happening in their lives, what plants they started this week, which recipes they’ve perfected. I didn’t yet feel as though I was on the same “level” as many of my peers. I marveled at their stories of cooking entire meals from their backyard. I studied their lunches of quinoa and kale that they had prepped in the morning. I listened as they discussed what NPR segment they found most interesting. One day, another teacher said, “Does anyone know anything about kombucha? I hear you can make it at home…” At that point I chimed in – “Yes! You can! It’s easy! I’ve done it! I know how! I can tell you!” It was as if the universe called me back to kombucha.
I went home that day and headed straight to Craigslist on my computer. “Sonoma County kombucha SCOBY” was my search – and I half-expected to see the name and contact of my previous neighbor. Instead I found one sole match: lucky for me, it was located about 6 miles from where I lived. I sent an email over – heard back within the hour – and was on my way that evening to pick up my new living beast. (or, millions of living beasts)
Over the next few years I brewed kombucha like it was my job. I bottled it to bring to school for other teachers. I bottled it to sell and trade with friends. I consumed it as if it were my life source. I met other people (many on a Facebook group started by the reputable Sandor Katz) that were making it at home and they had other recipes to share. Sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, yogurt… all of the sudden I felt excited about being in my kitchen and learning how to make things that I had never made before! In 2011 I was offered an incredible opportunity to coordinate and produce a small fermentation festival that had started in Sonoma County. The founder was very busy that year and he didn’t see it in his cards to have the time to do it. I gleefully began contacting local vendors who had participated before as well as a few new companies that had popped up with fermented products.
Each year our event has grown and diversified. To anyone who told me that 2011 was just the year of the “fermentation trend,” I’d say our annual event, as well as the grocery cold cases, are proving them incorrect! 2011 may have been the tip of the iceberg for fermented foods to begin their ascent to popularity, but as more folks find them healing as well as delicious, I don’t see this excitement fading anytime soon. I hope that traditional krauts, pickles, fermented fizzy beverages, condiments, and even unpasteurized beers and ciders find a steady place in the American fridge. I know that they’ve found a steady place in my fridge. (Warning: You may yourself buying an entire fridge to keep in the garage just for your home fermentation experiments so that you can still fit fresh vegetables into your kitchen fridge.)