It may not get the attention that tofu does but tempeh is a food not to be passed over. I had never even heard of it until I was vegan and when I bought some, I had no clue what to do with it. You can probably identify with that. You may even have a block or two of tempeh in the back of your fridge but you’re not sure what to do with it. Maybe you’re not even sure what tempeh actually is. I feel you, that was me too. My first attempts at cooking tempeh were less than successful but with a little practice and a lot of determination, I figured it out. Now tempeh is always on my shopping list.
So dig it out from the back of your fridge or go buy a few new blocks of tempeh because I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about this healthy and delicious food you’re probably not eating but should be.
1. What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is an Indonesian soy product that is made by a fermentation process that binds soybeans into the block that you see in the store. The soybeans are soaked, de-hulled, and partially cooked. Tempeh has more fiber and vitamins than other more processed soy products. Tempeh is eaten worldwide as a meat substitute or just because it is so healthy and delicious.
2. Health Benefits
Tempeh is considered a superfood because it is fermented and boosts immunity. The probiotics help our digestive systems as well as fight chronic inflammation. Tempeh is a great way to make sure you get the protein you need. Each 1-cup serving of tempeh contains 31 grams of protein, which is 55 percent of the recommended daily intake for men and 67 percent for women, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Tempeh is also high in copper, manganese, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, and lots of vitamins. Adding this food to your diet has been shown to help with cholesterol levels, bone density, menopausal symptoms, diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and cancer. There’s no good reason not to eat tempeh!
3. Prepping Tempeh
Now that you know how good tempeh is for you, let’s get cooking. First, however, you need to get it out of the package. It’s wrapped pretty tightly. I use a paring knife to slice it open. Once you get the block out of the package, you may want to steam or simmer it first. Sometimes tempeh can be a little bitter and steaming it helps remove that taste. It also makes the tempeh softer and easier to work with as well as helping it absorb the marinades and seasonings you will use to flavor it.
To steam tempeh: set up a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and place the tempeh in the basket. Cover it and let it steam for 10-15 minutes.
To simmer tempeh: fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water and bring it to a boil. Place the tempeh in the saucepan, cover the pot, reduce the heat and let the tempeh simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the tempeh from the water and pat it dry. Let it cool so you can handle it. Note: fresh tempeh is not pre-cooked and needs to be cooked before using, either by steaming or simmering it for about 25 minutes.
4. Get in Shape
When it comes to shapes, tempeh gives you a lot more options than it looks like it can. Depending on what you want to make, you can slice it, chop it, cube it, make pretty triangles, shred it, or crumble it.
Shredding or crumbling the tempeh into the shape of pebbles gives it the texture of ground meat. You can also pulse it in a food processor. This shape works well in chilis, soups, sauces, tacos, sloppy joes, burgers, veggie meatballs, or to make tempeh bacon bits. Cubes work well in salads and stir-fries. Slicing the tempeh into long strips works well for making barbecued tempeh, “fish” sticks, or slices for salads and sandwiches. Cutting the tempeh into thin rectangles is also good for sandwiches and for making cutlet shapes. Triangles are the shape of choice in this Ginger Tempeh Poke Bowl while these Tahini Glazed Tempeh Nuggets are made with bite-sized cubes.
5. Fill It with Flavor
On its own, tempeh has a mild, nutty flavor. However, just like you would prepare any type of meat, tofu, or seitan, liberal seasoning is a must. Tempeh is porous and that means you can get lots of flavor into it through marinades and dry rubs. You can even simmer the tempeh in a marinade and get two steps done at once.
Make a tasty marinade by combining your favorite ingredients such as tamari or soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, ginger, and spices. The marinade you use depends on the flavor profile you are going for. Place the chopped, crumbled, or sliced tempeh in a baking dish and pour the marinade over the tempeh so that it covers it. Cover the dish and let the tempeh marinate for at least half an hour and up to overnight, if possible. Drain off the marinade and pat the tempeh dry before cooking it. Get tips and recipes in The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes. Try it when you make this Marinated Tempeh Salad.
A dry spice rub or a paste can be used instead of or in addition to a marinade. Prepare your spice blend or paste, lay the tempeh on a plate (or bowl if it’s crumbled) and coat the tempeh well. Let the tempeh sit for a few minutes to absorb the spices. For ideas, check out The Ultimate Spice Guide for Vegan Cooking and How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and Curry Pastes. These Tempeh Kebab Rolls have a bold and flavorful spice rub. Now we can move on to the actual cooking and see all the things we can do with tempeh.
6. Grind It
Well, technically, you could just crumble the tempeh. Or add it to a food processor and pulse it until you have pebble-like pieces. You could even grate the block. You can add this ground tempeh to sauces, curries, stews, and chilis. Treat it as you would ground meat by making meatballs, burgers, sloppy joes, meatloaf, and shepherd’s pies.
Use your ground tempeh to make these Tempeh and Black Bean Burgers, Tempeh Steak Patties, and Tempeh Hash. The next time you serve spaghetti, add some Tempeh Meatballs on top or make these Buffalo Tempeh Meatballs for your next party. You’ll also love these Mini Tempeh Meatloaves, Tempeh Shepherd’s Pie, and these Sloppy Joes.
Who doesn’t love barbecue with sauces that are sweet, spicy or smoky? No one I know. Tempeh is a great vehicle for barbecue sauce because it’s porous and soaks up the flavor. You can barbecue tempeh indoors or out. Learn How to Make Amazing BBQ Sauces with 7 Ingredients or Less and slather them all over the tempeh.
If you love ribs, you’ll go crazy for these Balsamic BBQ Tempeh Ribs and these Sticky Baked BBQ Tempeh Strips. Want a barbecue sandwich? Go for this Grilled Barbecue Tempeh Slider with Kale Slaw, BBQ Tempeh Ranch Sandwich, and this BBQ Tempeh and Coleslaw Sandwich. This BBQ Tempeh with Collard Green Hash and Horseradish Coleslaw is a Southern feast but you can also go global with this Korean BBQ Tempeh Sandwich with Kale Slaw and this Grilled Tempeh with Filipino BBQ Sauce.
8. Better with Bac’n
You bet everything’s better with bacon … tempeh bacon, that is. Who needs meat when you can make crispy, chewy, smoky bacon out of tempeh! The tempeh will soak up the marinade to become something you’ll want to put on every burger and sandwich.
Absolutely delicious, smoky, and crisp, this Tempeh Bacon is a cinch to prepare. This Tempeh Bacon Salad with Marinated Mushrooms is not only stunning but so delicious. Dig into this Tempeh Bacon Bowl, or feast on this Spicy Tempeh Bacon Sweet Potato Hash. The “B” is this Maple Sriracha Tempeh Bacon BLT with Creamy Dill Mayo stands for “better” because like we said at the beginning, everything is better with tempeh bacon.
9. Go Fish
Whenever I want to make vegan seafood dishes, tempeh is my first choice. To me, it gives that flaky texture to emulate many fish dishes. Slices of tempeh can turn into “fish” fillets or sticks. Crumbled tempeh is perfect for vegan crab cakes or making plant-based tuna. To learn how to make vegan seafood dishes, see You Don’t Need Fish to Make Delicious Seafood Dishes: Use These Tips Instead.
Once you’re stocked up on the flavor triad of lemon, Old Bay, and seaweed, try making my Tempeh “Fish” and Chips with Tartar Sauce and my Tempeh Crab Cakes with Horseradish-Dill Mayo. This Tempeh ‘Tuna’ Salad will bring back your favorite sandwich in a whole new way. Tempeh is also perfect for sushi. Try this Veggie Sushi With Smoked Tempeh and Avocado and Tempeh Maki Rolls.
10. More Recipes
There are so many things you can make with tempeh that I couldn’t possibly fit them all in one article. You should definitely scroll through the amazing recipes in 25 Super Rad Recipes to Make with Tempeh and 26 Tempting Tempeh Recipes You’ll Love.
A few of my favorite tempeh recipes include this Tempeh Piccata, Tempeh and Mushroom Bourguignon, Buffalo Tempeh Burger, General Tso’s Tempeh, Savory Herb-Baked Tempeh and Quinoa, Korean Tempeh Steaks, and this Buffalo Tempeh Quinoa Salad.
Once you start trying tempeh out in the kitchen, you will never look at this soy product the same way again!
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Lead image source: Grilled Tempeh with Filipino BBQ Sauce