How-To: Cooking With Tempeh

Before I even begin this How-To discussion on tempeh, I want you to make me a promise! Yes promise me… over the internet… that you will read this whole post before making an “official decision” on tempeh. It might sound a little funky and strange and maybe a tad bit scary. But trust me as a serious food lover, I wouldn’t steer you down the path of bland, not so tasty, scary food items. Come on guys, you know I live to eat! And like I tell my younger clients – my tasting rule is “you can’t say ‘ew’ or ‘yuck’ before you’ve tried it.” Or in this case, no ew or yuck before you’ve read it! Same thing… sorta.

OK so now onto tempeh (pronounced temp -pay). Yes it is a vegetarian food item and yes it is a distant cousin of tofu. But unlike tofu, tempeh, in my opinion, has better flavor, texture, visual appeal and more easily fits into everyday recipes. Basically, tempeh is fermented soy beans squished together to make a solid block or cake. The earliest records of tempeh production date back before the 16th century in Indonesia (see picture above from early 1900′s). The process begins with whole soy beans which are softened by a long soaking in water. (It can also be made from other beans, wheat, other whole grains or a combination.) The softened soy beans are then de-hulled and only partially cooked. An acid and fermentation culture are added to the mixture and it is allowed to sit for a day or so until it is pressed into a solid block and steamed.

At your local grocery store, you’ll usually find tempeh in 1″ thick blocks that are a little longer than a checkbook. And generally its hiding out in the produce department of your grocery store with the other fresh soy products. However, unlike the other soy products you’ll see in this area of the store, tempeh is minimally processed and doesn’t contain many other ingredients besides the soy beans themselves. It fits quite nicely into my “5 ingredient or less” rule (if you pick up a product or package that lists more than 5 ingredients and especially ingredients you cannot pronounce – put it back on the shelf).

Nutritionally speaking tempeh is high up on the list of healthy food choices. Depending on which brand you buy, tempeh has around 200 calories/4 ounces and 21g of high quality and complete protein. And because its vegetable based, tempeh is 100% cholesterol free. But, the high protein and low calories aren’t even the best part! Check out these stats: Per 4 oz/1 serving: 20% of vitamin B2, 70% of manganese, 25% of phosphorus, 13% of potassium, 11% of calcium and 14% of iron, not to much a ton of other minerals (%’s listed are of daily values)!

Now, I’m sure I’ve sold you on the nutritional benefits on tempeh. All that’s left is a few cooking tips and delicious recipes to get you started. Tips:

Tempeh doesn’t pack a lot of flavor by itself, especially cold – so don’t go and eat it plain.

Tempeh has the magical ability to absorb a good amount of flavor, so try lots of marinades and sauces.

It’s also superb after a short pan fry or good sear – that’s how I always start my tempeh recipes.

Tempeh can be grated as well – use the big holes on your box grater and add to sauces, rice, or soups.


Tempeh and Wild Mushroom Fricassee from

Tempeh Greek Salad Wraps from

Tempeh Fajitas (recipe below)

Tempeh Fajitas:


1 package tempeh, cut into 1/4″ strips

1/3 cup chipotle marinade (or other favorite marinade)

1/2 yellow pepper

1/2 green pepper

1/2 medium onion

6 corn tortillas

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp both salt and pepper

1 cup shredded romaine lettuce (optional)

1/2 slice avocado (optional)

1/2 cup shredded cheese (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm.

Place the cut up tempeh and marinade in a large bowl, making sure that each piece of tempeh is coated in the marinade. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil, peppers, onions and salt and pepper. Saute until browned and vegetables are just soft.

Set aside pepper and onion mixture. Wipe out saute pan and then reheat over medium high heat with remaining tbsp of olive oil.

Add tempeh to pan ensuring that there isn’t too much extra marinade left on the tempeh – otherwise it might burn in the pan.

Sear tempeh on all sides until evenly golden brown. Set aside.

Place onion and pepper mixture, tempeh and toppings in separate bowls for family style fajitas at the table. Enjoy!

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