I arrived in Austin, promising myself I would lay low so I could complete a project I’ve been meaning to do for some time. But, I guess my curiosity for vegan artisans runs too deep. I was at the natural foods store, filling up my basket with ingredients for a recipe I was creating and I could not help but notice, in the chilled foods section, a local Texan company making Tempeh. After a brief search on the internet I find it is made by The Hearty Vegan, and run by a mom and daughter team, right here in Austin. With numbers of people adopting a plant based diet increasing steadily year on year, and the increasing population highlighting issues of landmass, meat alternatives are becoming ever more popular (and innovative with flavours and their uses), I’m all for spreading the word. So,I wanted to meet them. I sent a message and asked if they would like to get together. Thankfully, they replied that they would.
We arranged to meet in the cafe I ended up frequenting the most whilst I stayed in Austin, Counter Culture. It is a homey, vegan cafe. The painted bright turquoise interior is as bright as it’s servers. The owner, Sue, is a fellow world traveller who has put down her backpack and tied on her apron to share her love of food. I was sitting watching the world go by and sipping on hot tea when Beth and Becky breezed in, armed with a box of their tempeh goodies for me to try. They had that typical Austin warmth and easiness about them as I probed them with a million questions about their mutual tempeh obsession.
For those that don’t know. Tempeh was first made in Indonesia as a food protein, made from fermented beans. High in fibre, low in saturated fat and zero cholesterol, Tempeh is now becoming more and more popular as people seek tasty meat alternatives. It is incredibly versatile, ‘meaty’, with a firm texture that absorbs flavours well. Many prefer it over tofu for it’s firmer, more substantial texture. If you’ve not yet tried tempeh ‘bacon’ then do. You’ve got a treat in store.
The Hearty Vegan
Beth, the mom, told me how she turned vegetarian in college after choosing a topic to debate in class. She had to convince her classmates that being vegetarian was not only beneficial to health but morally responsible. She researched this subject that she had previously known nothing about, and formed her argument so well that she ended up convincing herself and became a vegetarian. Taking up many causes to help educate others to the vegetarian lifestyle. It really opened her eyes and made her live far more consciously. When Becky was born, she fed her a vegetarian, then vegan diet. She also decided to ‘un-school’ her for the majority of her education. Becky is a breath of fresh air. Her confident, passionate nature is obvious and infectious. My reserved British counterparts could benefit from her outlook and worldliness. Un-schooling obviously did her no harm, or judging by her sparky exuberance, neither does her being vegan.
Beth had been making tempeh for 25 years for herself and her family, and generously giving it to friends. Just over three years ago in 2010, she and Becky began forming a dream of selling their tempeh and their business becoming part of the local economy. So they founded The Hearty Vegan which is steadily growing as word spreads. They sell in many of Austin’s vegetarian friendly and vegan restaurants, food trucks, natural markets, local CSA’s and Whole Foods. Perhaps one day the big red heart logo of The Hearty Vegan’s Texas Tempeh will be as synonymous a lighted sign as that big old M used to be. It doesn’t take too much of a paradigm shift to see this as a possibility. The Beth & Becky team obviously is working. The girls have their own personal strengths that they bring to the company, and they clearly have a relationship that many mothers and daughters might wish they could have.
Over the years that awesome ‘at home’ baking and cooking has created a long list of recipes loved by many. Beth and Becky decided it was time to share them, and so put together the Vegan Duet cookbook. This news is fresh off the press, so I promise I will let you know when you can go buy the book for yourself. I think you will want to, with recipes like Asian Meatballs, Spanakopita, Southern Fried Tempeh, Blackened Burgers and Beth famous and delicious Dill Tempeh (‘Tuna’) Salad. They pride themselves on keeping it simple but delivering flavour with few ingredients. Tuna salad and meatballs are Beth’s particular pride and joy. I tried the salad and I’d have to concur it is pretty darned good!
They believe in offering people more choices. Alternatives to meat. They promise that they are never putting any weird stuff in their food and keep as close to the original Indonesian methods as practically possible. Their beans are non GMO, gluten free and 100% organic. I wondered what made their tempeh so delicious Becky told me,
‘We don’t pasteurise our tempeh. Instead, we sell it frozen. Freezing doesn’t kill this amazingly healthy fungus and so our tempeh is still alive. Our tempeh is white because it’s completely covered with mycelium. Beans are delicious by themselves, but the mycelium adds a a layer of rich, complex flavour that puts tempeh in a class by itself’.
After exhausting the girls with my barrage of questions it was time for us to part ways and for us to go back about our business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is heartening to me when I see that businesses can be ethical, profitable, employment generating models, that can be a touchstone for all. I’m sure you will agree that’s happy making. The Hearty Vegan are one of several local food artisans I came across in Austin that are run by families, couples and friends. Their food served up with the characteristic joy and pride, bordering on obsession that food artisans usually embody.
I used the garbanzo tempeh for my original vegan and gluten free Haggis Neeps & Tatties recipe.
Their spicy sausage tempeh was turned into sausage crunches and topped my vegan breakfast tacos (I will share this recipe soon!)
Do I really believe that tempeh can be the high protein choice of many that can eventually overtake consumption of animal products? After tasting the likes of tempeh ‘bacon’, chewing down on a BBQ ‘rib’ made from The Hearty Vegan Garbanzo Tempeh, and my recipes of my own of Haggis, and Breakfast Taco’s with Sausage Crunchies, among others (not to mention the health benefits of plant based eating)…I’d have to shout out a whole hearted..’you bet ya’. And, I am sure Beth & Becky will be doing their darndest to make it happen.