Interest in eating plant-based diets is at an all-time high. Eating a plant-based diet is healthy for you and the planet. However, people raised on meat and potatoes often struggle to adapt to a completely different type of diet and cooking.

Tempeh is a healthy, high-protein addition to a plant-based, vegan, or vegetarian diet. Admittedly, it looks and tastes quite unappetizing straight out of the package; however, if cooked correctly, it is delicious. Here are some tips about how to prepare delicious dishes with this high-protein food.

What is tempeh?

First, let’s talk about what this product is and how it is made. Like tofu, it is made out of soybeans. However, unlike tofu, the entire soybean is incorporated into the final product. The soybeans are soaked in water and then partially cooked. Then, they are mixed with spores from a mold, Rhizopus oligosporus, or Rhizopus oryzae. A mild acid like vinegar is added to prevent the growth of other organisms during the fermentation process. The beans are then incubated at 86 degrees F for 48 hours. The mold grows into the soybeans and binds them together into a solid, creamy block.

The final product is perishable and can only be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days. However, it freezes well and can be kept frozen for up to six months.

This substance is very nutritious. Each 100 gram (3.5 ounces) serving provides:

  • 192 kcal
  • 20.29 g of protein
  • 10.80 g of fat
  • 7.64 g of carbohydrates
  • 3.5 g of fiber

It is a rich source of B vitamins and contains important minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc. Unlike most plant-based protein sources, the protein in this fermented product is considered to be complete since it contains sufficient quantities of all of the essential amino acids.

How to cook tempeh

Hack #1: Steam it to get rid of the bitterness

Many people dislike the bitter flavor of the raw product. Before doing anything else with it, you can remove the bitterness by steaming. Steam the entire block for about 10 minutes, flipping it over at the five-minute timepoint.

Alternatively, try soaking it in brine or vinegar for about half an hour.

Hack #2: Make tempeh tacos

Cut your block into small cubes and then crumble it up until it has the texture of ground beef; it can also be crumbled using a cheese grater or a food processor. When used in strongly flavored dishes that traditionally contain ground beef, it can fool people into thinking it is ground beef, since it has a very similar texture. Go ahead and use your crumbles in red pasta sauces or vegetarian chili, or add traditional taco spices and serve it in tacos. You need to use it in strongly flavored dishes to mask its strong, natural flavor.

One delicious recipe is to season the crumbles, so they taste like Italian sausage and then add them to a red sauce along with onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach. This can be served over pasta or zucchini noodles.

This makes for one pound:

  • One tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Italian sausage seasoning to taste
  • One teaspoon salt
  • A teaspoon black pepper
  • One teaspoon garlic powder
  • One teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • tiny pinch of oregano
  • tiny pinch of thyme

tempeh tacos for kids

Hack #3: Marinate before cooking

This fermented product absorbs marinades well. Cut it into small cubes and place it in your marinade of choice. Leave it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to overnight. Then, it can be fried, sauteed, or baked along with the rest of your ingredients. These flavored cubes can be used in place of tofu or chicken in any dish. They make a nutritious addition to most Chinese stir-fry dishes and are outstanding when served in rice noodle dishes or used in place of chicken in chicken-fried rice.

One delicious recipe is to marinate it in Thai peanut sauce and then bake it at 375 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes. It will carmelize and turn a golden-brown. This can be added to stir-fries and spring rolls, used as a salad topper or served with rice noodles and sauteed vegetables.

Hack #4: Mix it with whole grains and beans

For an incredible nutritious punch, try cubing it into small pieces and sauteeing it with onions and any seasonings of your choice for about 15 minutes. Then, add it to bean-based or whole-grain based dishes. One excellent, easy dish is to mix it with quinoa, corn, and black beans. Season the dish with lime juice, cumin, and hot red pepper. Garnish with avocados, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes, and enjoy.

Hack #5: Fry it up

One of the most common ways to serve this soybean product in countries where it is a staple food is to fry it. In Indonesia, it is often cut into blocks that are seasoned with garlic, coriander, and salt, and then deep-fried, preferably in coconut oil. Some cooks like to batter it before frying. Then, they serve the fried blocks over noodles or salads or enjoy it as a small meal. Think of this variation as a substitution for chicken nuggets. You can experiment with the seasonings and with the battering to see what you prefer. It can also be marinated before deep-frying.

You can also make it into fries, a great way to boost your protein intake and cut down on carbohydrates. Cut it into fry-sized and shaped pieces. Season with soy sauce and, if desired, hot pepper and garlic, or really, any dry rub seasoning blend you enjoy. Let it sit in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to allow the seasonings to permeate deeply. Deep-fry it and enjoy your fries with any dip you enjoy fries with, like vegan mayonnaise, ketchup, spicy mustard, or barbecue sauce.

Hack #6: Swap for tempeh instead of sausage or bacon

For a great vegan breakfast, turn it into sausage or bacon. For sausage, the night before, crumble it up and add the seasonings of your choice; you can look up home-made sausage recipes for your favorite type of sausage and substitute this soybean product for the meat. With your hands, mix the seasonings in well and then leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, shape the mixture into patties or links and fry it like you’d fry sausage. Serve it with fresh fruit for a delicious, healthy start to the day.

For convenience, freeze the patties of links after you form them. Then, you will have ready-made breakfast ready to pull out of the freezer as needed.

To make it into “bacon,” mix maple syrup, olive oil, soy sauce, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Cut the tempeh into thin strips about the size of a piece of bacon and marinate in the sauce for at least two hours. Then, bake it at 400 degrees F for about half an hour, until crisp. This can be eaten as is, but it also makes a delicious high-protein addition to any sandwich.

Hack #7: Churn tempeh butter

Process it in a food processor until smooth. Then mix it with mayonnaise and a little mustard; if desired, finely chopped pickles, celery, or scallions can also be mixed in. You can also fold in some pureed avocado. Use this mixture as a high-protein, tasty sandwich spread. For extra protein, try frying a battered, seasoned slab of tempeh. Spread the sandwich spread on a toasted bun, then add the fried slab of tempeh, lettuce, and tomato, and now you have a very healthy non-meat “chicken” burger. If you want to be fancy, you can add some “bacon,” see Hack #6.

Hack #8: Grill some kabobs

That’s right. You can also grill tempeh, too. If you have a favorite kabob recipe, substitute chunks of it for the meat you’d normally use. Marinate it and then thread it onto the kabobs along with your favorite kabob vegetables. Then, grill away until you cook the veggies to a pleasing texture.

Hack #9: Make your tempeh in an Instant Pot

Can’t find any of this substance in any of your local stores? No problem, you can make your own at home. Buy some peeled, split dried soybeans. Rinse them and pressure cook them in the Instant pot for 40 minutes. Then, remove as much of the water as possible by letting the partially cooked beans sit on paper towels for about 20 minutes.

Next, toss the soybeans with a tablespoon of vinegar and the tempeh starter. You will probably have to order your starter online and have it delivered because if your local grocery stores don’t sell the finished product, it’s pretty unlikely that they sell its starter.

Pack the beans tightly together in freezer bags. Then, use the Instant pot on Yogurt Mode to ferment the beans. Pour a cup of water into the liner, add the steamer, and place the bagged beans on the steamer such that they aren’t touching the water. Let the Instant pot do its yogurt thing for 16 hours, then turn it off and leave the beans to incubate for a total of 40 hours. When the beans have turned into white loaves, transfer them to the refrigerator or freezer.

tempeh in instant pot
Check out 25 healthy Instant Pot recipes.

Hack #10: Use chickpeas, if you’re intolerant to soy products

People who are allergic to or intolerant of soybeans, or are concerned about their phytoestrogen content, can make their tempeh out of chickpeas by simply substituting chickpeas for soybeans in the recipe given in Hack #9.

chickpeans instead of tempeh

Final thoughts on adding tempeh to your vegan lifestyle

Tempeh is an extremely versatile food. Until you learn these cooking hacks, you will undoubtedly pass up tempeh, due to its raw appearance and taste. However, once you learn to deal with it properly, you will incorporate it into many different recipes. Furthermore, it adds a very nutritious, delicious touch to the dish. Vegans and vegetarians should incorporate this fermented soybean product into their diets, and meat-eaters trying to reduce their meat consumption could also benefit from eating one or two meals based on it per week.