Are you on the tempeh train yet? Maybe you’ve heard about this delicious and nutritious bean cake or seen it on grocery store shelves or on menus. Maybe you already love it. Whether you’re experienced with this trendy fermented patty or not, I hope you will be inspired by my round-up of the best ways to cook tempeh!
What is Tempeh?
Where does tempeh come from? Well, when a mushroom-like fungus and a legume love each other very much, sometimes they produce a yummy, fermented bean cake called tempeh.
Tempeh is a fermented food with a firm, pleasant texture and a subtle nutty flavor. It is high in protein, fiber, and contains active enzymes that aid in digestion, just like other fermented and cultured foods such as yogurt or sauerkraut. The FDA considers tempeh a converted food, meaning that after fermentation the legume and the fungi are no longer recognized, it becomes a new whole food!
Much less processed than tofu and other meat alternatives, tempeh is quickly becoming a trendy and widely available superfood. It can be used in a wide variety of dishes and types of cuisine. Tempeh originated in Indonesia where it is a protein staple, but it is becoming more and more popular in the U.S, with local tempeh shops popping up all over the place. If you’re ever in the Portland or Seattle area, be sure to check out Squirrel and Crow, my favorite local tempeh guy.
How to Cut and Marinate Tempeh
You can slice and dice your plant protein into lots of different shapes, depending on what you want to do with it. Tempeh has a mild flavor and an absorbent texture that will happily take on whatever flavors you put on it. You can find four of my favorite marinade recipes here.
To marinate tempeh, add all ingredients to a small container with a lid. Cut the tempeh into desired pieces or strips and submerge them into the marinade.
Shake gently and turn upside down (with the lid on, obviously) to coat. Store in the fridge to marinate. The longer you marinate it the stronger the flavor. Experiment with the amount of time you like. I usually marinate overnight, but I can get away with just a few hours too. Often I put my protein in marinade right after I bring it home from the grocery store, and let it sit for a day or two marinating in the fridge until I’m ready to eat it.
You don’t need to marinated tempeh for hours ahead of time to make it taste delicious, it works perfectly well to add flavorful sauce during cooking or to marinate it for just a few minutes before cooking.
Steaming Tempeh Before Cooking
Tempeh is very versatile, and lends itself well to a variety of cooking methods, including pan frying, grilling, and baking. But before you do whatever you’re gonna do with it, it’s best to steam it first.
If you’ve tried tempeh before and not liked it, you might have neglected to steam it before cooking. Steaming is a quick and easy step that makes a big difference in removing bitterness and helping the tempeh absorb sauce. Steaming it also helps to make it more meaty and savory tasting.
To steam your tempeh, you can either steam it in a pot in a steamer basket just like vegetables. Or, you can use my favorite combo-method, steaming it first in the same pan you then fry it up in (see below). If you want to use a steamer basket, first cut your plain tempeh into your desired sized pieces and place them in the basket inside a pot with a few cups of water on the bottom. Steam the tempeh with a lid over the pot for about 10 minutes.
After steaming your tempeh, marinate it, pan fry, it, bake it, grill it, or proceed to do whatever you want to do with it. (See all the delicious ideas below)
My Favorite Method for Cooking Tempeh
I like to steam my tempeh briefly first in the same pan that I use to stir-fry it. To do this, place your plain tempeh cubes or pieces in your skillet over medium heat. Into the hot pan, pour a cup of water and immediately place a lid over the skillet. When the water has evaporated (keep an eye on it!) stir or flip the tempeh and add one more cup of water. The idea is to steam it but not to completely submerge it, that’s why I like to do it in two steps.
When the water has evaporated a second time, add a splash of oil to your dry pan and fry up the tempeh until nicely browned. Add your desired sauce or marinades partway through cooking.
16 Delicious Ways to Cook Tempeh
#1: Stir Fried Tempeh
This is what I do with tempeh 80% of the time. When I bring it home from the grocery store, right away I steam it, cover it with sauce or marinade, and stick it into a container in the fridge. Then it’s ready to toss into a pan with some stir fry veggies for a quick weeknight meal.
For an extra fancy stir fry, check out this one with peanut ginger sauce from Jessica in the Kitchen.
#2: Grilled Tempeh Steaks
If you’re headed to a plant-based summer barbecue, don’t forget to bring your tempeh. Tempeh is awesome for grilling, whether you’re making skewers or just straight up steaks. Here’s a mind-blowing grilled tempeh recipe with Filipino barbecue sauce from Astig Vegan.
#3: Baked BBQ Tempeh
If you’re craving some BBQ tempeh action but it’s not grilling season, here’s an easy and tasty method for slathering BBQ sauce on your tempeh and baking it in the oven. Pair it with some summer slaw and vegan potato salad and you’ve got yourself a kick-ass dinner.
#4: Crumbled Tempeh in a Meaty Sauce
The first time someone told me to grate tempeh I was a little confused. But it really does work great! Take your brick of tempeh and just grate it with a big cheese grater, just like with cheese. Sauté those tempeh shreds in a nonstick pan with some oil and seasonings, and treat it like ground meat. I love making this Tempeh Bolognese with fragrant fennel seeds.
#5: Tempeh Crumbles on Creamy Spinach Polenta
In a similar spirit to the tempeh shreds above, you can also crumble your tempeh with your hands and brown it in a pan with some oil and seasonings, just as you would any ground meat. This creamy spinach breakfast polenta makes a perfect base for it.
#6: Tempeh Salads
Tempeh crumbles, slices, or cubes are fabulous additions to any salad. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Warm Kale & Apple Salad w/ Tempeh & Shallots
- Tempeh Reuben Bowl w/ Sauerkraut & Thousand Island
- Tempeh Taco Salad
- Vibrant Summer Salad w/ Mango & Peanut Dressing
#7: Tempeh Sandwiches & Burgers
One of my faaavorite restaurant meals is a big loaded tempeh burger. There are some delicious plant-based burger joints these days doing an amazing job in the tempeh sandwich department. I especially love tempeh reubens. Drool. Here are a couple of my favorite tempeh sammies out there right now:
#8: Tempeh Buddha Bowls
#9: Tempeh Meatballs
Check out these awesome tempeh balls from The Sexy Vegan. Get ready for some bad innuendos but delicious recipes.
#10: Saucy Tempeh on Rice
Of course, as with any slab of plant-based protein, you can always slather delicious sauces on tempeh and dump it over a bed of rice for a solid meal. Check out these delicious saucy tempeh recipes:
#11: Tempeh Wraps
I love cooking up a bunch of tempeh and using them in cold sandwiches and wraps all week. Check out these Korean Barbecue Tempeh Wraps from Connoisseurus Veg, and these Caesar Salad Wraps from the Stingy Vegan.
#12: Tempeh Bacon
Vegans love frying up strips of tempeh bacon and calling it bacon. I admit, it’s not really anything like bacon, but put enough smoky marinade on it and you’ve got a delicious TLT sandwich! Check out this tempeh bacon recipe from Nora Cooks.
#13: Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Who doesn’t love sloppy tomatoey deliciousness exploding out of a bun with a side of fries? Here’s a fabulous recipe for Tempeh Sloppy Joes from LL Balanced.
#14: Tempeh Breakfast Hash
I love tossing my tempeh into a breakfast hash with leftover roasted potatoes and sheet pan veggies. Top it with my favorite Creamy Herb Sauce and you’ll be crushing it at vegan brunch.
#15: Tempeh Tacos
We’ve established that tempeh can do anything that ground meat can do, including making a meaty and delicious taco filling. Check out this Tempeh Taco recipe from Well Plated.
#16: Tempeh Stuffed Peppers
Speaking of stuffing tempeh into things, check out my protein packed recipe for Vegan Tempeh & Quinoa Stuffed Peppers. It’s easy enough for a weeknight with the family, but also classy enough to impress company.
Which do you think is the best way to cook tempeh? Share your favorites in the comments!