Topics » In The Kitchen » How to Cook With Tempeh
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Many people have heard of tempeh, but how many actually know what it is? Often it is considered a strange food that may leave you scratching your head trying to figure out what exactly to do with it. These are some great tips for cooking with tempeh.

What Is Tempeh?

Although it may be new to the West, tempeh is a fermented soy food that has been eaten in Asia for hundreds of years and has only recently gained notice and growing popularity in the U.S.

It is made by fermenting cooked soybeans and then forming the mixture into a firm patty or cake. Tempeh can be used as a meat substitute in stir fries and other recipes and has a nutty, mushroomy flavor. It can be steamed, sautéed, or baked, and is often marinated to add even more flavor.

Like tofu, tempeh is usually carried by mainstream grocery stores in the produce section but it can also be found in most Asian markets or health food stores. It is usually in a vacuum-sealed package and is sometimes even pre-marinated with different flavors, such as smoked flavor for making bacon.

Nutrition in Tempeh

A 3 ounce serving of tempeh has a whopping 16 grams of protein and contains about 8% of the recommended daily amount of both calcium and iron.

Because tempeh is fermented, it contains probiotics which are beneficial bacteria found in your gut that can help promote digestive health.

Tempeh picks up flavors well, and marinating it is a very common way to punch up its flavor before cooking.

How to Prepare Tempeh

Most pre-packaged tempeh is ready to be sliced, crumbled, or chopped, and used as a replacement in recipes that call for meat. If you notice black spots on the tempeh or “white stuff,” this is normal. Tempeh is inoculated with edible mold (similar to some cheeses), which is used to ferment and bind the beans together.

Some recipes call for steaming tempeh in hot water for a few minutes to soften it before using another cooking method to finish it. I have personally done this in the past to make sure that the tempeh didn’t have a bitter taste, but now I find that it is not necessary.

Though I no longer steam my tempeh, if you decide you would like to steam yours before using, these are the steps to follow:

Steaming Instructions

  • Remove it from the packaging.
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil or simmer, depending on how soft you want the tempeh to be. Hotter water will result in softer tempeh.
  • Place a steaming basket into the pot, then put the entire block of tempeh in steam basket.
  • Steam it for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Remove the tempeh and pat it dry.
  • Now it is ready to be sliced or crumbled.

Marinating Tempeh

Tempeh picks up flavors well, and marinating it is a very common way to punch up its flavor before cooking. Common marinade ingredients you can use include tamari, soy sauce, liquid smoke, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, minced garlic, and ginger. You can also try a dry rub using any of your favorite spices such as paprika, turmeric, coriander, cumin, oregano, chili powder, etc.

Methods of Cooking Tempeh

Baking – Line a baking sheet with parchment paper to keep it from sticking. Place the tempeh pieces in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and crispy.

Sautéing – In a skillet on the stove, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable broth or marinade. When the pan is good and hot, add the tempeh strips. Cook them on one side for about 3 minutes, until they turn golden brown and crispy, then flip the pieces and cook them on the other side.

Other Great Tempeh Recipes:

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