Ninik Billington of Fresno grew up in Jakarta eating a fermented soy bean product called tempeh. The tofu-like food is packed with protein and fiber and used as an everyday item in her native Indonesia.
Now, Billington hopes to convince health-conscious and adventurous consumers to buy tempeh from her recently launched company: Tempeh Factory (www.tempehfactory.com).
Using a commercial kitchen, Billington make batches of tempeh using cracked and cooked soybeans and a beneficial bacterial. The fermentation process takes 30 hours and binds the soybeans into a cake form. The result is nutrient-rich food that has a slightly nutty flavor and a chewy, meat-like consistency. Billington's tempeh is sold at several Fresno-area farmers markets and at Peeves Local Market on the Fulton Mall.
Tempeh can be used as an ingredient in many dishes, including salads, stir fry or as a topping over rice. Like tofu, it takes on the flavors of the seasonings you use, such as soy sauce or liquid hickory smoke.
Billington makes several products including fresh tempeh that is sold in an 8-ounce plastic pouch and Tempeh Crunch, a granola-like snack she created mixing roasted tempeh, raisins, honey, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, coconut chips and ground cinnamon. Both products are made with organic soybeans.
She also adds her own mix of spices to make Tempeh Curry and Indonesian Tempeh Yellow Curry. Both items can be added to any dish as a spicy, flavorful ingredient.
"What I am trying to do is help educate people about how healthy tempeh is and how good it tastes," Billington says.
At the Market on Kern, Billington offers plenty of samples to customers, most who have never heard of tempeh, let alone tasted it.
"Once people try the Tempeh Crunch, they come back for more and then they start asking questions about the fresh tempeh and how to cook it," Billington says.
Among the tempeh converts is Cynthia Gomez of Fresno. Gomez sampled tempeh crunch at the Market on Kern and was hooked.
"Honestly, I couldn't wait till next week to buy some more," Gomez says.
Gomez bought several small bags of the crunch for her son and husband as a healthy snack. Tempeh Crunch has 13 grams of protein and is high in calcium and iron.
Fellow Indonesian native Ketut Sutama, owner of Umi Sushi in downtown Fresno, is one of Billington's regular customers. He buys the tempeh for himself and uses it as a meat substitute.
"It can be used so many different ways, and prepared either by slicing it or just crumbling it up," Sutama says.
David Cooley, a certified health coach, said he expects tempeh to gain a greater following once people realize its nutritional benefits.
"Because it is fermented, it has a healthy bacteria that makes it easier to digest," Cooley says. "And if you are a heavy meat eater and you want to reduce your meat consumption, then this could be a good protein option."
You can find Billington at these farmers markets:
-- River Park Farmers Market: Tuesday, 5-9 p.m.
-- Park Place Farmers Market (Palm and Nees): Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
-- Montecito Plaza (Willow and Nees): Wednesday, 5-9 p.m.
Tempeh Crunch salad with peanut dressing
2 ounces Tempeh Crunch
For the salad:
1/2 head romaine lettuce, shredded
1 ear of corn (boil and remove kernels from cob)
1 small cucumber, sliced
1/4 cup of freshly chopped cilantro
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
I teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tablespoons honey
The juice of 1 lime
Whisk all dressing ingredients together. Combine all salad ingredients. Pour the dressing over the top. Sprinkle the Tempeh Crunch over the salad.
1 block fresh tempeh (1/2 pound)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon rice flour
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
1 green onion (sliced finely)
11/4 cups water
11/2 cups oil for frying
Cut tempeh into 2-inch squares. Mix garlic, coriander powder, salt and turmeric with 1/2 cup of water in a bowl. Add tempeh to bowl, marinate for about 10 minutes.
Take out all tempeh from the bowl and put in a separate container. Add flour, rice flour, green onion and 3/4 cup water into bowl, stir to mix. Dip tempeh in batter one by one. Deep fry tempeh in small batches over medium heat until golden brown.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, email@example.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter. Ninik Billington Ninik Billington