Tempeh is a soy product that like tofu is very versatile in how you can prepare it. It’s also highly nutritious and a great staple for a plant-based diet. Below is an overview of what exactly tempeh is and how to cook tempeh so that you can start incorporating this nutritious protein source into your diet.
What is Tempeh
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia. A fermentation process is used to compress and bind whole soybeans to create a soybean “cake”. Fermentation also helps to make the soybeans in tempeh easier to digest. Tempeh is less processed than tofu and is firmer and chewier.
In the grocery store, you’ll find it in the refrigerator section near the tofu and other meat substitutes. Some brands of tempeh add grains like rice, millet, or barley, or seeds such as flax seeds, but most tempeh is gluten-free.
Blocks of tempeh usually have some brown or black spots on them. They are not a sign that the tempeh has gone bad. These spots develop during the fermentation process and are totally safe to eat.
You can also freeze tempeh. Store an unopened package in the freezer for up to 3 months. To thaw it, put the unopened package in the refrigerator overnight.
Tempeh is an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One serving of tempeh contains the following (this is the nutrition for 3 oz.of Lightlife Organic Soy Tempeh).
Total fat: 4.5g
Total carbohydrate: 10g
Dietary fiber: 7g
Potassium: 280mg (8% of recommended daily intake (RDI))
Calcium: 6% RDI
Iron: 10% RDI
Tempeh is high in some B vitamins including riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and vitamin B6. It’s also a good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
How to Cook Tempeh
Tempeh is my go-to plant-based protein because you can prepare it in so many different ways. I often include it in my meal prep for my work lunches. Due to its firm texture, you can use it cubed, sliced, or crumbled. You can bake it, saute it, grill it, or fry it.
I should mention that some people perceive tempeh as having a slightly bitter taste. To remove any bitterness, you can steam it a few minutes before you cook it. I personally don’t do this step, but it’s an option.
Below are some of the more popular ways that people like to prepare tempeh.
Tempeh is great for marinating. It has a slightly nutty taste on its own, but it’s still good about taking on the flavor of the marinade.
Here’s an easy method to follow for making marinated tempeh.
- Cut a block of tempeh crosswise into ¼-½ inch thick slices.
- Marinate the tempeh slices in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.
Although you can use any marinade (or a sauce like BBQ sauce), I usually make the following when I marinate a package of tempeh.
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil,
- 1 tablespoon of sweetener (maple syrup or honey)
- ginger (fresh minced or powdered)
- garlic (fresh minced or powder)
- Cook the marinated tempeh. There are two ways you can do this.
The first way is to heat up a little oil in a skillet and pan-fry the tempeh slices until they are browned on each side.
The other method is to bake the marinated tempeh slices.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the tempeh slices in a baking dish that has been sprayed with oil.
- Bake for 20 minutes.
Use cooked slices for a sandwich filling (like a tempeh Reuben or vegan BLT) or to add to a grain bowl, stir-fry, or salad.
Cook Tempeh with a Spice Rub
Just as like with marinating, spice rubs work well with tempeh due to its ability to take on the flavor of whatever seasoning you use.
- Cut the tempeh into ¼ – ½ inch slices and then brush with olive oil.
- Coat the tempeh slices with a spice mixture. You can use a prepared spice blend (make sure there isn’t excessive added salt or sugar) or mix together individual spices yourself. Some spice mix ideas that you can assemble yourself include:
- Cajun seasoning (garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt, black pepper, onion powder, and dried oregano)
- Jamaican jerk spice (onion powder, garlic powder, ginger powder, black pepper, dried thyme, smoked paprika, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, and brown sugar)
- Lemon herb mixture (grated lemon peel, garlic powder, dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano, black pepper, and salt)
- Mexican spice (chili powder, cumin, coriander, garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, and salt)
- Then sear the spice coated tempeh slices in a skillet.
Cook with Crumbled Tempeh
Tempeh can easily be used to replace ground meat. Simply crumble a block of it by hand or use a cheese grater to produce even smaller crumbles.
Add the crumbles to soup, stews, stir-frys, or spaghetti sauce for some added protein and heartiness.
Crumbled tempeh can also be used to make vegetarian versions of taco filling, sloppy joes, or pot pie. Try this tempeh burrito bowl.
You can also use the crumbles to replace sausage on a pizza.
Tempeh is an excellent source of plant-based protein that is also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s so versatile that you can use it in place of meat for many dishes. Use some of the ideas above to incorporate it into your meal prep or add it to your next meal.
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