What is Tempeh + Best Tempeh Recipes
Learn all about tempeh. What tempeh is, how to cook it, and the best super delicious tempeh recipes.
Tempeh is one food that confused me for a long time, but has now become a staple that I adore. It’s a quick and easy nutritious way to add protein to your diet. A few years ago while perusing Trader Joe’s I noticed packages of tempeh next to the tofu. Tempeh, I thought, “what is tempeh?” The first couple of times I made tempeh I did not like it at all, but thankfully I kept trying it prepared differently and now I absolutely love it. Though it may seem strange at first, tempeh is actually easy too cook and a fantastic high protein addition to many recipes.
The first tempeh dish I tried and loved happened to be at the Whole Foods deli counter, where they were selling spicy BBQ sauce covered tempeh. My daughter and I bought a few slices and loved it. After that I started making my own Easy BBQ Tempeh at home. Then, about a year ago while trying SunBasket, I discovered another favorite tempeh recipe: Vegan Caesar Salad with Tempeh Croutons. Oh my goodness was that delicious! I even made a coypcat Vegan Caesar Dressing for your based on that dish.
What is Tempeh?
Pronounced “tem-pay”, tempeh is an ancient food that, like other foods we’ve covered such as Tofu, Lentils, Chickpeas, and Quinoa, is high in plant-based protein. In fact, a 3 oz. serving of tempeh contains 16 grams of protein, and, unlike meat, also has a good amount of fiber (7 grams). Tempeh is a fermented soybean product of Asian origins.
Though tempeh may be relatively new to you and me, it’s been used as a staple protein in Indonesia (especially Java) for, according to Wikipedia, a few centuries to over a thousand years. The tempeh found in Western markets today are often made with soybeans and grains and seeds like brown rice, millet, and flax. Tempeh is also a great value for the money, at around $2 per package at Trader Joe’s and $3.50 elsewhere.
How to Cook Tempeh
Cooking tempeh is so much easier than meat! It comes packaged ready to eat, but tastes best either baked or cooked on the stove. Here’s the basic method for cooking tempeh.
Tempeh usually comes packaged in two layers of plastic. Remove and discard both. Next, cut the tempeh. I like to cut into the smallest pieces possible to add the maximum amount of flavor. Here are some good options:
- cut into strips or triangles (perfect for grilling, sandwiches, and stir fry)
- crumbled (perfect for tacos)
- grated (great for bolognese)
I’ve come across tempeh with varying degrees of bitterness. Though I usually skip this step, if your tempeh is bitter or you’d like to soften it (take a little nibble), steam it for 5 minutes. When simmering on the stove in soy sauce, tomato sauce, or as taco crumbles, I never steam as the tempeh softens and mellows with the sauce.
You may want to marinate your tempeh for grilling, frying, or baking. Teriyaki sauce, BBQ sauce, and tamari are all great options. The ginger sesame glaze from this tofu recipe would be delicious too. I find that no marinating is necessary when making simple tempeh on the stove as seen in the video, but is a good idea when grilling on a BBQ or roasting in the oven.
- Saute: My everyday quick and easy method of cooking tempeh. Coat a skillet with a splash of coconut oil, add the tempeh and a couple tablespoons of soy sauce/coconut aminos, and cook until golden brown.
- Bake: Pop marinated tempeh with plenty of sauce in the oven at 375 until caramelized, about 20 minutes.
- Grill: A great meat alternative for BBQs, pop marinated tempeh on the grill.
Tempeh Common Questions
Is tempeh gluten free?
The ingredients in tempeh are soybeans and grains (usually brown rice), so many brands are gluten free. It’s important, however to double check for other ingredients and cross contamination if you have an allergy.
Where can I buy Tempeh?
Tempeh is readily available in most grocery stores (in the US at least) these days. I most often buy it at Trader Joe’s which is the best price I’ve found. I also get tempeh at Whole Foods and Sprouts, which have a larger selection and different varieties.
Is tempeh healthy?
Unless you have a soy allergy, tempeh is very healthy. It’s a great source of plant-based protein and iron, and is naturally low-sodium. Tempeh has about 16 grams of protein per3 oz. serving.
What does tempeh taste like?
Tempeh has a nutty flavor that is sometimes slightly bitter. It has a meaty texture that takes on other flavors and sauces well. It can take some getting used to new flavors, but give it a chance.
Tempeh vs tofu?
Tempeh is similar to tofu in that both are made with soybeans, but different in that tempeh is less processed and is fermented. The texture and flavor between the two is also quite different. Tofu is soft and mostly flavorless, but tempeh is firm and nutty.
How long does tempeh last in the fridge?
Tempeh lasts 5-7 days in the refrigerator after opening. You can also freeze tempeh for up to 9 months.
Is it okay to eat tempeh with black spots?
Sometimes tempeh looks like it’s gone bad because of discolorations. This is normal. Remember, this is a fermented product.
Can you eat tempeh raw?
Yes, store-bought tempeh is ready to eat, but I don’t advise it! It’s much tastier cooked.
Tempeh is versatile and works well in all cuisines, from American BBQ, to Mexican tacos, to Asian sesame stir fry. With permission from the authors, I’ve rounded up over 20 of the tastiest tempeh recipes around. Enjoy!
- 1 tsp. coconut oil
- 1 (8 oz.) package organic tempeh
- 2 tablespoons coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
- Remove all plastic packaging from the tempeh. Cut into 1/4" thick slices crosswise, or 1/2" to 1" cubes.
- Melt the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh slices and coconut aminos to the pan and saute until browned, about 3 minutes per side.
- Add teriyaki or BBQ sauce to coat, if desired, or enjoy as is.
If you would like to soften the tempeh and remove any bitterness, add the tempeh and 2 cups of water to a skillet and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Drain. This step is optional and I skip it when using flavorful sauces or simmering in liquid.
Tempeh recipe ideas:
Add sliced tempeh to "BLT" style sandwiches with toasted bread, tomato, lettuce, and avocado.
Add tempeh cubes to salads and grain bowls.
Crumble unseasoned tempeh and simmer with your favorite spaghetti sauce.
Crumble and saute with a splash of veggie broth and taco seasoning for tempeh "taco meat"
Once opened, keep tempeh in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days. I recommend cooking the entire package for meal prep and using during the week.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 2.5 Serving Size: 3 oz.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 140Total Fat: 4.5gCholesterol: 0mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 7gProtein: 16g