Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Tempeh Meatballs

First off, let me thank all of those who offered their congratulations on the birth of Vegan Daughter. Vegan Mom is recovering well (or as well as can be expected) but we both feel like we will never sleep again. I have not been doing any cooking at all since our friends and neighbours have been bringing over meals. I can't say enough about how great that is! But, now that Vegan Sons 1-3 are in bed and Vegan Daughter is snoozing away in her bassinet, I thought I would try to squeak in a quick post.

Back in October of 2008 I posted on Italian Tempeh Meatballs, and more recently I posted a recipe for Maple Garlic Tempeh Balls. Not everyone enjoys tempeh, and tempeh balls can be a bit tricky since they need to have the right taste and texture, and not fall apart in the sauce. After a few readers posted about that very problem, I decided to experiment a bit. Here are my thoughts.

1. You can remove some of the "special taste" from tempeh by boiling it for 10 mins before putting it into a recipe. However, I find that it makes the tempeh rather watery and keeps the balls from remaining cohesive. I would suggest just using the tempeh straight up. Or, if you must boil, use more gluten (see 3).
2. You can season and spice the heck out of these. Don't be afraid to go crazy.
3. How much vital wheat gluten is too much? The gluten really is essential here (sorry to the wheat intolerant), and I have used anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 cup, along with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of instant oatmeal to help bind thing together. While I like the texture of the 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup makes for a very durable ball.
4. Go easy on the liquids. I have the best result when I have a firm yet malleable mixture that I can bring together with wet hands to form the perfect ball.
5. Make sure the balls are well sauteed and have a nice golden brown outside. Most of the cooking is done in this step, so don't skimp out. A well-cooked ball is less likely to fall apart later. See how nice these look?
6. Your sauce must be relatively thick. Too thin a sauce and it will penetrate the ball and result in disaster. In this pic we see a quick and easy sauce: 1 can chopped tomatoes, 1 jar spaghetti sauce, and 1 can tomato paste.
7. If the ball is well-cooked, and the sauce thick enough, you can simmer the balls in the sauce. This completes the cooking and adds flavour.