Cowpea & Sunflower Seed Tempeh

Reading Kirsten and Christopher Shockey’s voluminous book on fermenting grains and beans reminded me that it had been ages since I’d made any tempeh.  Upon making my own once more, I seriously wondered why I’d stopped doing it.  It’s easy and the taste and texture are so much more satisfying than what you get from the freezer section at the grocery.  The rhizopus mold is also a wonderful canvas to bind any number of leguminous and grain-based combinations into unique culinary artistry.  The first one I did was mung dal and hemp seed which was great.  But this cowpea and sunflower tempeh is pure magic.

If you will be making this, keep in mind I assume that you’ve made tempeh successfully at least once before and know what you’re doing.  If you’re not, read through my tempeh tutorial here first.

Yield: 4 blocs of wonderfully fresh tempeh

What you need:

  • 2 cups dried cowpeas (the little brown ones)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds, no need to be to precise about it
  • a few dashes of liquid smoke (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • tempeh spores to make a batch (Cultures for Health has them in individual-sized packets, good to go – and no, they didn’t pay me to post their name up, there just aren’t a ton of spore-carriers out there)

What you do:

  1. Soak the cowpeas overnight, or up to 24 hours, in plenty of fresh water to cover.
  2. Roughly chop the toasted sunflower seeds.  Set aside.
  3. Drain the cowpeas and transfer them to a food processor.  Pulse a few times.  The beans should be broken into a couple of pieces each, some might be a bit more broken and there may be a few whole ones in there – no worries; just don’t overprocess them.
  4. Transfer the broken up beans to a heavy-bottomed pot.  Anything between 3 and 5 quarts should be fine size-wise.  Cover generously with fresh water.
  5. Bring to a boil.  Hard-boil your beans about 5 minutes.  Long enough for them to release their loose hulls and scum which you’ll be skimming off the top.  Don’t overcook the beans.  They won’t be done from a digestion point of view, you want them al dente.
  6. Drain when done and scum-skimmed and transfer to a glass baking dish or large bowl.                                                                                                                                    IMG_4934
  7. Dry the beans using your preferred method, I’m partial to the blow-dryer while stirring technique.  They’re close to ready when the remaining hulls start flying across the kitchen under the blow-dryer.
  8. When dry, add the sunflower seeds and mix to distribute evenly.
  9. Add the apple cider vinegar and liquid smoke, if using.  Mix to distribute evenly.
  10. Add the spores.  Guess what?  Mix to ditribute evenly again.
  11. Transfer the inoculated beans and seeds to your incubation vessel: pan or silicone mould if you’ve got a water chamber; ventilated bag otherwise.
  12. Place the bagged or panned beans to your incubation set-up.                                  IMG_4935
  13. Incubate at 30 degrees Celsius until the mycelium firmly binds everything into a white and fuzzy cake that smells like tempeh, about 36 – 48 hours.  That means heating the space until the beans/mold start generating their own heat about 12 hours into the process – and then keeping them from overheating until the rhizopus is rocking it.                                                                                                                            IMG_4947
  14. Cut the finished tempeh into 4 cakes and cook it up any way you want.  Anything you won’t use within 4 or 5 days (stored in the fridge), freeze for the future.


  • Abhoring the use of plastic, I’m currently in the process of building a water incubator so that pan-cubation becomes our family norm.  There are some awesome instructions for that here

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