How Do I Cook with Tempeh?
What is tempeh anyways?
You’ve probably heard of tofu, and maybe even seitan before, but how about tempeh? It may seem foreign and overly processed at first glance, after all it does originate from Indonesia and it does undergo a process. However, unlike most foods, this process actually adds nutrients and makes it more digestible. Similar to the popular kombucha drink, tempeh is the nutrient dense result of fermentation and so has abundant benefits. Hopefully upon learning more, you’ll be tempted to give it a try, if you haven’t already, and the recipes included at the end can help you get started!
Tempeh originates from Indonesia and is made from fermented beans, most commonly soybeans, and is also sometimes mixed with grains like wheat or rice. The natural culturing process involved in making tempeh binds the soybeans into a cake-like block. The fermentation allows for the phytic acid in the beans to be broken down so the starches become easier to digest and even more nutrients get packed in! These days it can be found in most grocery stores, not just health food stores, either uncooked and unseasoned in the fridge or freezer section, or fully prepped, often seasoned with soy sauce, and ready to eat. There are versions with grains/gluten incorporated or ones with just plain soy. If opting for plain soy tempeh, be sure to choose a tightly packed one with a whitish bloom (avoid pink, yellow, or blue hues as it indicates over-fermentation) and a dry surface. High quality tempeh will also have an earthy aroma, similar to mushrooms.
What Are the Benefits of Tempeh and How to Cook with It?
- A complete source of protein- tempeh contains all nine essential amino acids and 1 cup contains a total of 31 grams of protein. The fermentation process makes this protein more digestible by breaking it down into smaller fragments (called peptides) which also serve as antioxidants and aid in immune function. Use tempeh just like you would use any protein source. You can top your salads with it, put it in a sandwich, make a burger, have it as a main with veggies and more. Just because it is vegan does not mean you need to treat it any differently from your normal go to protein sources.
- Rich in prebiotics- a type of fiber that benefits the gut biome by reducing inflammation and improving bowel movements.
- Great source of vitamins and minerals- 1 cup has 33% daily values of Magnesium, 25% Iron, 20% Vitamin B-6, 19% potassium, and 18% calcium.
- Anti-hypertensive properties- the fermentation process allows for more flavor, due to the creation of free amino acids, without the need to add sodium which reduces the impact to blood pressure.
- Anti-diabetic properties- studies have shown that fermented foods contain phenolic compounds and antioxidants which allow for anti-diabetic activities and a low glycemic index (9 out of 250, so no spikes in blood sugar).
- Contains phytochemicals- known to aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancers, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. Tempeh and soybeans specifically have isoflavones, genistein, and daidzein.
Although it can be eaten cold, steaming or sauteing tempeh will allow for a better infusion of flavors as well as make it softer to chew. It can be sliced or crumbled/grated, steamed, sauteed, grilled or baked. It’s slightly dry, firm and chewy texture makes it popular for using as a healthier alternative to bacon, but unseasoned it will have a slightly nutty flavor.
What Are Good Tempeh Recipes?
Tempeh makes a great protein addition to any dish, with healthy fats and nutrients as opposed to the harmful fats and sodium in most animal proteins. I love adding tempeh bacon to my sandwiches or even just eating it as a snack. Like tofu, it can take on any flavor it is seasoned with, making it very versatile. Here’s how to make your own Tempeh Bacon at home:
(2) 8-ounce packages of plain tempeh
½ cup of low sodium soy/tamari sauce
½ cup of apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp of pure maple syrup
½ tsp of smoked paprika
½ tsp of garlic powder
3 tsp of liquid smoke
- Make the marinade by combining soy/tamari sauce, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, paprika, garlic powder and liquid smoke in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Slice tempeh into ¼ inch slices and place strips into a 13×9 inch shallow container.
- Pour in the marinade, covering the strips well, and marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prep a large baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.
- Place tempeh strips on pan and bake for 30 minutes total, flipping them halfway through.
- Serve in a BLT sandwich, sprinkle over a salad or pizza, end enjoy! (It will stay fresh in the fridge for 3-4 days).
Nutrition: 1 serving- 2 strips, 135 Calories, 10g Carbs, 11g Protein, 6g Fat
(1)8-ounce block of plain tempeh
1 small red bell pepper
1 small sweet yellow onion
½ cup of tomato paste
½ tsp of Chili powder
1 tsp of Paprika
½ tsp of Cumin
½ tsp of Garlic powder
½ tsp of Coriander
½ tsp of Salt
¼ tsp of Black pepper
Taco toppings of choice: Shredded lettuce, red cabbage, avocado, cilantro, lime juice
- Crumble the tempeh with your hands or by using a grater.
- Place a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and while it heats up, chop the bell pepper and onion and set aside.
- Combine all the seasonings in a small bowl, including the tomato paste.
- Once the pan is ready, add in the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened (a couple minutes). Then add in the tempeh and cook an additional 2 minutes.
- Finally, add the seasonings to the pan, stirring well to coat the tempeh. If too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water, and cook for 1 minute more, then take off the heat.
- Heat the tortillas in a pan until crispy/toasty, then take off heat and top with tempeh “meat” and toppings of choice. We like shredded lettuce and red cabbage, avocado, cilantro and fresh lime juice. (Keeps fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days).
Nutrition (includes toppings): Makes about 6 tacos, 1 serving= 3 tacos
450 Calories, 42g Carbs, 29g Protein, 15g Fat
Cooking with tempeh is quite quick and easy, and putting it in your meal adds plenty of protein and nutrients to your diet. Hopefully this has answered most, if not all, of your tempeh questions and you are now feeling brave enough to give it a try! If you do, let us know how it goes!
Author: Carla and Armando Castro