Soy seems to have gotten itself into a sticky situation in recent years. Once a poster child for plant-based protein, it’s now a food that raises red flags, since it tends to get overprocessed into imitation meats, energy bars, cheese substitutes, and even ice cream.
The secret to reaping all the benefits of soy without worrying so much about its sketchy side effects? Eat it in the most unprocessed forms possible, including tofu and its lesser-known cousin tempeh. Cultured and fermented (but in a controlled way) to increase its digestibility and calcium/iron content, tempeh meets this requirement while offering a texture that's meatier, heartier, and chewier than tofu. Effect of controlled lactic acid fermentation on selected bioactive and nutritional parameters of tempeh obtained from unhulled common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) seeds. Starzyńska-Janiszewska A, Stodolak B, Mickowska B. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 2013, Oct.;94(2):1097-0010. And don't worry, it's no longer such an obscure, specialty store-only item. It can be found at pretty much any mainstream supermarket. Pick up a block the next time you’re grocery shopping and experiment with these 19 super tempeh-ting recipes.
Appetizers and Sides
Meaty baby portobellos get even meatier when they’re stuffed with a crumbled tempeh mixture. Nutritional yeast and vegan Parmesan give it that all-important cheesiness that no stuffed mushroom is complete without. There’s no other way to describe the end result than “party in your mouth.”
Tofu plays the starring role in most meatless summer rolls, but this recipe uses tempeh for a fun and clever twist. Its nuttier flavor comes through, and both its texture and taste hold up especially well to the bold red curry marinade.
There are lots of smart swaps happening in this recipe: It trades out chicken wings for tempeh cubes for a snack that suits meat eaters and herbivores alike; the buffalo sauce is made sans butter, so it’s totally dairy-free; and low-sugar ketchup keeps the added sweetener to a minimum.
Despite what their title suggests, there’s no actual frying involved in making these crunchy bites, which could easily substitute for chicken nuggets. There's some marinating, battering, breading, and baking involved, so it might sound like a lot of work. But most of the process is hands-off, so don’t let the multiple stages dissuade you.
These easy but impressive wraps call for just a handful of classic Asian seasonings, but the garlicky, gingery, peanutty results are savory but sweet, crunchy but buttery, hearty but refreshing… you get the point.
A chili and maple-kissed tempeh mixture stands in for ground meat in these loaded nachos, while a cashew-based sauce is a much healthier substitute for processed cheese. Incredibly enough, it takes just four main ingredients and a few basic pantry spices to make.
Sandwiches and Salads
Think vegan meals are wimpy or boring? This sandwich proves otherwise. With layers of avocado, baked sweet potato, and balsamic- and maple-marinated tempeh, it’s right up there with meatball subs and BLTs when it comes to taste and satisfaction. And it scores even higher in terms of nutrition.
Quinoa and tempeh both make appearances in this salad, so it’s a great way to get in some quality, plant-based protein. This is no boring meal: Roasted grapefruit and cabbage add natural sweetness, and a rich but refreshing citrus and tahini dressing provides yet another flavor dimension.
Kale Caesar salads seem to be popping up on every other restaurant menu, but why shell out $15 for one when you can make something more affordable and more nutritious at home? This vegan version has the same classic flavor, thanks to a dressing combo of cashews, Dijon mustard, and nutritional yeast. Throw cooked tempeh on top, so you’re not just eating a pile of greens.
Bursting with fresh corn grilled on the barbecue, sunny yellow zucchini, and sweet English peas, this salad is summer in a bowl. It’s also proof that while tempeh can hold up well to rich ingredients, it also goes perfectly well with lighter ones.
The four-ingredient marinade here couldn’t be simpler, but it provides plenty of flavor for the tempeh to absorb during its overnight soak. Once the tempeh is baked, tuck it between slices of bread (the nuttier and seedier, the better!) along with your favorite sandwich veggies.
The Reuben might be one of the most un-vegan sandwiches out there, so stripping it of dairy and meat might sound like a stretch. This recipe manages to do it justice. It’s hard to explain. Just make it.
Modeled after the turkey, chicken, or egg salads you’d find in a deli, this tempeh mixture was born to be in your regular lunchtime rotation. You’ll find typical ingredients such as celery and carrots in here but also some heart-healthy updates like avocado instead of mayo.
Tempeh + peanut sauce is a match made in foodie heaven, and this stir-fry is one of the easiest ways to get acquainted with it. The key is giving your tempeh enough time to sit in the nutty marinade before cooking—it adds an hour to the prep time, but it’s so worth it.
Want to give your chili a bit more oomph without going the ground beef or turkey route? Look no further than tempeh. It holds its own against the kidney beans and rich pumpkin and tomato gravy, and the liquid smoke makes it taste so meaty, you may have to eat a second bowl to make sure it’s vegetarian.
Tempeh is no stranger to Southeast Asian flavors, so it fits right in with the coconut milk, turmeric, and curry powder in this fragrant dish. With kale also in the mix, it works well as a hearty soup, but it’s ideal ladled over steamed rice.
The stuffing in stuffed peppers is usually some version of ground beef and rice, but this recipe turns tradition on its head in several ways: Tempeh takes the place of the meat, and pulsed cauliflower slashes the carb count. To make it totally dairy-free, top with vegan cheese.
Who needs pancetta and egg yolks when you can make an equally luxurious carbonara with cashew sauce and crisped tempeh? The soy protein is so amazing at mimicking the meat, it may be better than bacon.
When cooler temperatures roll in, this dish is a wholesome and comforting dinner. Simply seasoned mushrooms, tempeh, and butternut squash team up and hang out in the oven until crispy but still tender. It’s the food equivalent of a warm hug.