Tempeh (also spelled “tempe”) is a nutrient powerhouse that sometimes gets a bad rap – even I used to hate it! But this soy-based meat alternative is a great protein choice and just needs a good recipe to taste delicious. I’ve done all the legwork for you and found the best tempeh recipes the internet has to offer.
If you’re looking for the most scrumptious tempeh recipes out there, look no further. These masterpieces are destined to be a hit for the whole family! If you haven’t tried tempe yet, or think you’d like to give it another chance (like me!), read on.
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian ingredient made most often from fermented whole soybeans that have been cooked and then shaped into brick or loaf. It has a firm yet chewy texture and a slightly nutty or “earthy” taste.
Typically tempeh is available in most grocery stores near tofu, in the refrigerated section. Nowadays you can find it in many different flavors and even grain variations, including oat, barley and coconut.
How to Choose Tempeh
While there are many brands of tempeh that have begun to enter the retail space. Lightlife and Westsoy are my preferred brands. They also seem to be some of the easiest to find, so bonus!
Feel free to experiment with other brands depending on what you have access to, however, I always recommend purchasing organic soy products because they are typically denser in nutrients and do not contain pesticides, antibiotics, or GMOs.
Tempeh, though fermented, will be found in the refrigerated section of your store. At my local grocery stores, it’s kept near the tofu in the produce section or the organic/healthy food section.
Tempeh should be in a firm, dense, uniform cake holding together the beans. It may have dark spots, which is absolutely fine. I have never had a problem with simply following the date on the package.
Upon opening the tempeh, it should smell pleasant with faint hints of sweetness and mushrooms. If it smells like booze or ammonia, it has turned and you should not eat it. It should also not be slimy at all.
While I didn’t like tempeh when I first tried it, being both a Licensed Nutritionist and a vegan made me strongly consider giving it a second chance. It’s packed with plant-based nutrition.
Here are some of the nutritional highlights of this superfood:
- It’s a great source of plant-based protein. Tempeh can contain over 50% MORE protein than tofu.
- It offers a dairy-free source of calcium
- Since tempeh is fermented, it can help balance the healthy bacteria in our guts
To go more in-depth, a 3-ounce (84-gram) serving contains these nutrients:
- Calories: 162
- Protein: 15 grams
- Carbs: 9 grams
- Total fat: 9 grams
- Iron: 12% of the RDI (recommended daily intake)
- Calcium: 9% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 18% of the RDI
- Niacin: 12% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 18% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 21% of the RDI
- Manganese: 54% of the RDI
*PLEASE NOTE: If you have a soy allergy or certain thyroid issues, it’s best not to partake in tempeh made from soybeans. You can look for a soy-free version of tempeh (such as black bean or chickpea tempeh), though they may be harder to find. Just keep in mind that the following tempeh recipes will make it worth the effort if you can find an alternative.
How to Cook Tempeh
Remember how I said I used to not like tempeh? Turns out, it wasn’t tempeh’s fault! It just takes a bit of preparation and a good recipe to it into a delectable source of plant based protein.
First up, I highly recommend giving your tempeh a steam before doing anything else. While this step is technically optional (and might not be needed in some recipes), I promise that it will improve the flavor by removing some bitterness.
Secondly, add your flair. Much like tofu, tempeh is a flavor sponge. It will chameleon into whatever cuisine you like with a bit of time in a marinade. For best flavor, give your tempeh at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours to soak up whatever yummy flavors you add.
Finally, it’s time to party. Your deliciously flavored tempeh can now be baked, pan-fried air-fried, grilled, or sautéed.
How to Use This Plant-Based Protein
Tempeh is most often used in vegan recipes as a kind of meat substitute. It can be baked, fried, air fried, sautéed, grilled, or used in a stir fry.
Use it whenever you want a “meatier” or chewier consistency than tofu can offer. It’s also the first choice among plant based proteins for grilling, as it is rigid enough to hold up to the heat of the grill.
You also have different “cuts” to consider.
- Slice it into large slabs to replicate a piece of meat.
- Cube it for stir-fries or to grill with veggies on skewers.
- Crumble it to create the consistency of ground meat. Use it as a bacon or chorizo substitute in breakfast, taco fillings, stir-fries, curries, salads, or in a pasta dish.
While tempeh is indigenous to Indonesia, it has its place in many different cuisines. Depending on the marinade, you can use tempeh for everything from barbecue to bacon, teriyaki to tacos.
Is Tempeh Healthier Than Tofu?
Tempeh and tofu both have wonderful nutritional value. It should be noted that tempeh has nearly twice the protein and potassium as tofu, and more than twice as much fiber. Tempeh is also a prebiotic food, meaning it can be beneficial to the health of your gut biome.
On the other hand, tempeh also has more calories and nearly twice as many carbs as tofu. That said, there are some nutritional similarities between these two healthy superfoods.
Both are considered rich in isoflavones, which have been associated with lower incidences of age-related diseases. Tempeh, like tofu, can help prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and the loss of cognitive function.
While tempeh and tofu are both healthy, they are quite different and, as such, have particular preparations that are better suited to each. Feel free to read this post on tofu nutrition for more information on how tofu measures up.
Flavorful Recipes You Have to Try (Especially if you think you hate tempeh!)
If you’re looking for more chili recipes, definitely check out my Jackfruit Chili.
Need more vegan inspiration? Check out these other useful guides:
- 10 Essential Vegan Pantry Staples to keep ready in your kitchen
- Healthy Plant-Based Meal Ideas when you need some inspiration
- Vegan Meal Planning Tips to meal mealtimes easier
- Tasty Vegan Pantry Meals when you can’t make it to the grocery store
Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN is a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist who empowers vegans to feel confident creating sustainable habits that align with their values and health goals. She shares easy plant-powered food to nourish your body + satisfy your tastebuds. Mary Ellen’s recipes and nutrition info has been featured on Yahoo News, Parade, VegNews, LIVESTRONG, Dr. Axe, Greatist, LIVEKINDLY, Brit+Co, Well+Good, and more. She lives in NJ with her husband & two sweet shih tzus, Firenze & Sophie.