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How to Cook Tempeh

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Tempeh is healthier than tofu and makes a great meat substitute for vegans. Its versatile flavor possibilities are endless, depending on the marinade or spices used in preparing it. Here is how to cook tempeh in a variety of ways to incorporate in vegan pasta sauces, bowls and burgers.

Baked Tempeh Triangles on a Plate

What Is Tempeh?

If you’re new to vegetarian cuisine, you may not have been introduced to tempeh before and find yourself wondering what tempeh is, exactly. Good question!

Tempeh is an Indonesian soy food. It’s made from culturing and fermenting soy beans into a cake form and is often used as a meat alternative in vegan and vegetarian dishes. In fact, it’s one of the most protein-dense vegetarian options for your plant-based meals.

Tempeh Bowl with Rice Broccoli and Carrots

Is Tempeh Healthy?

While a lot of soy products these days are highly processed, tempeh is more natural and very healthy for you. The fermented origin of tempeh makes it more easily digestible and healthier than many soy alternatives.

Some studies suggest that tempeh can lower the risk of obesity and help prevent type 2 diabetes. It’s a good source of protein, B vitamins, fiber, and several other nutrients. 

Where To Buy Tempeh?

Tempeh is more readily available these days than it used to be, but it’s still not in every store. However, simply look for it in your local market or Asian store right near the tofu which is most likely by the produce or dairy sections.

Your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s could be a good option to look for tempeh, as they’ll usually have it on hand.

Otherwise, tempeh is always available on Amazon.

What’s The Difference Between Tempeh And Tofu?

Tofu is made from curdled soy milk and its curds are pressed into a bar form after they are drained of their whey. Tofu can vary in density depending upon how well drained it is (silky, firm, etc).

Tofu has a flavor that is rather bland, allowing it to blend with whatever meal you are incorporating it into. It’s a culinary chameleon that works in a variety of dishes and is a popular vegetarian protein source.

Tempeh, on the other hand, has a stronger flavor profile. It’s slightly nuttier with a more earthy flavor. It’s texture is denser and more noticeable, as well. It also takes on the flavor of what you cook it with, however it has it own stronger flavor to begin with.

Because it’s made from fermented soybeans, it holds shape better than tofu and can be easily used to make burgers, vegan ground beef and similar dishes.

Tempeh has a wider nutritious profile than tofu and is generally healthier. It’s a perfect vegan source of protein, prebiotics, vitamis and minerals.

Different Ways To Prepare Tempeh

Tempeh is an incredibly versatile ingredient to include in your recipes, or it can stand alone as the star of your dinner show. 

You can serve it plain and enjoy its mild, nutty flavor or you can infuse it with spices by marinating it, applying a dry rub, or served with your favorite sauce.

It is absolutely delicious when used with my homemade sriracha sauce or drizzled with creamy vegan Buddha bowl dressing. Truly, you can use whatever you fancy and it will come out delicious! And this recipe? Mmmm, so good!

If you’ve never used tempeh before, here are a few tips to get the best results. 

How Do You Remove The Bitterness From Tempeh?

Tempeh has a slightly bitter taste that is easily removed by steaming or simmering it before you cut it and add it to your recipes. The extra time is well worth it.

In the recipe below, you’ll gently steam it for 10 minutes and that will open the tempeh to receive the flavors of your sweet, spicy, tangy marinade and leave no bitter undertones.

How To Cut Tempeh

After steaming or simmering, it’s time to cut your tempeh. To do so, first cut it in half lengthwise, then make a diagonal cut lengthwise and slice it into thin triangles (read more on the various ways to shape your tempeh).

How to Cut Tempeh in Triangles Collage of Four Pictures

How To Cook Tempeh

There are a few different ways to cook tempeh, depending on how you want to incorporate it in your meal. You can bake it, fry it in a pan, slice it or cut it in little triangles, crumble it or make burgers with it.

After you steamed your tempeh, you have a few options of what to do next.

Tempeh Marinade

Thanks to amazing soaking abilities, tempeh is perfect for marinating. Try my go-to foolproof tempeh marinade and feel free to experiment with adding other ingredients like peanut butter, teriyaki or balsamic vinegar.

Marinate tempeh from 20 minutes to 1 hour or more. You can leave it in the fridge to marinate over night.

A Bowl of Smoky Marinade and Marinade Being Poured Over Cut Tempeh Collage

Tempeh Bacon

Once your tempeh is marinated, the best thing to do with it is to make delicious smoky vegan bacon. You can either bake it or fry in a pan.

Keep a few tablespoons of the marinade to drizzle over your vegan bacon after it is cooked.

Enjoy it as a side to any meal, a garnish, or all by itself as a tasty protein-rich snack. It incorporates beautifully into vegan bowls (try this vegan rice bowl with smoky tempeh), salads, stir-fries and sandwiches, like this delicious vegan BLT sandwich.

Smoky Tempeh on a Plate with a Little Bowl of Marinade

Tempeh “Ground Beef”

Tempeh is also great in “crumble-like form”. You can crumble it by hand (my preferred way), grate it with a grater or pulse it in your food processor.

This can become your base for a delicious vegan spaghetti bolognese, vegan taco meat used in my favorite vegan tempeh tacos or vegan sloppy joes. Whenever you need the “meaty” texture of ground beef, use crumbled tempeh for a vegan alternative.

Vegan Tempeh Bolognese Sauce

Tempeh Burgers

You can incorporate tempeh in vegan burgers in a nice way.

Sautée some veggies, add black beans, diced tempeh and toss them in a food processor together with a few add-ons. Form patties and fry them in a pan.

These tempeh and black bean burgers come out soft and moist and are very nutritious and packed with vegan protein.

Smoky Tempeh Black Bean Burgers

Basic Tempeh Recipe

If you are still not sure about how to cook tempeh, here is a basic baked tempeh recipe that brings out maximum flavor. Feel free to use another marinade of your choice like the smoky tempeh marinade mentioned above.

Tempeh Triangle on a Fork and A Plate with Baked Tempeh Collage

Baked Tempeh

Baked tempeh allows you to use less oil (as opposed to pan-fried) and it’s very easy to make. After the tempeh is marinated, arrange it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper in a single layer. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Drizzle with the rest of the marinade and enjoy!

Marinated Tempeh on a Baking Sheet Collage of Four Images

Cook’s Tips

  • Uncooked tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and can be frozen up to 12 months for longer storage. Once thawed in the refrigerator, tempeh is best consumed within 2 days.
  • Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. To reheat the baked tempeh, microwave or bake it in the oven until warm.
  • This recipe works great with batch cooking. The marinade can be kept in the fridge in a closed jar for up to 10 days.
  • Consider marinating tempeh a day ahead. You can marinate it for up to 24 hours.
  • If the marinade is too thick, add a few teaspoons of water, one at a time.
  • Top salads, bowls, or sandwiches with baked tempeh, add it to stir-fries, spring rolls, noodles or to any Asian dishes for a delicious vegan meat substitute.
  • Check these 20 best tempeh recipes for other creative ideas to cook tempeh!

Recipe Variations

  • Avocado oil or other neutral oils can be substituted for olive oil/sesame oil. To make the marinade oil-free, add 2-3 tablespoons of water instead.
  • Use agave syrup, date syrup, molasses or other sweetener of your choice instead of the maple syrup.

Baked Tempeh Drizzled with Marinade on a Baking Sheet

If you enjoyed this recipe and the ultimate guide on how to cook tempeh, I would really appreciate you giving it a 5-star rating! 

 
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4.63 from 8 votes

How to Cook Tempeh

Tempeh is healthier than tofu and makes a great meat substitute for vegans. Its versatile flavor possibilities are endless, depending on the marinade or spices used in preparing it. This baked tempeh recipe is as easy as it is delicious!
Course Main course/starter/side dish
Cuisine American, Asian
Keyword baked tempeh, How to Cook Tempeh, meat analogue
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Marinating time 20 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 6 servings or 2 cups tempeh
Calories 283kcal
$5

Ingredients

Tempeh

Marinade

  • 1/3 cup olive oil/sesame oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce/tamari
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice/lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha/hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  • To remove bitterness from the tempeh and to open its pores to absorb the flavor of the marinade fill a saucepan with an inch or two of boiling water and place the tempeh in the saucepan. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes over medium low heat. Rinse and dry the tempeh with paper towels.
  • Cut tempeh into triangles. To do it, first cut it in half lengthwise, then make a diagonal cut lengthwise and slice it into thin triangles. Set aside.
  • Mix olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice, sriracha, garlic powder, smoked paprika and black pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk until combined. Evenly coat sliced tempeh with the marinade, reserving about 1/3 cup. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven 390 F (200 C) and arrange the tempeh on a baking tray lined with parchment paper in a single layer. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Alternatively, fry it in a pan with a lug of olive oil.
  • Coat with reserved marinade and serve immediately. Top salads, bowls, or sandwiches, add it to stir-fries, spring rolls, noodles or to any Asian dishes for a delicious vegan meat substitute. Enjoy!

Notes

Cook’s Tips

  • Uncooked tempeh can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days and can be frozen up to 12 months for longer storage. Once thawed in the refrigerator, tempeh is best consumed within 2 days.
  • Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. To reheat the baked tempeh, microwave or bake it in the oven until warm.
  • This recipe works great with batch cooking. The marinade can be kept in the fridge in a closed jar for up to 10 days.
  • Consider marinating tempeh a day ahead. You can marinate it for up to 24 hours.
  • If the marinade is too thick, add a few teaspoons of water, one at a time.
  • Top salads, bowls, or sandwiches with baked tempeh, add it to stir-fries, spring rolls, noodles or to any Asian dishes for a delicious vegan meat substitute.
  • Check these 20 best tempeh recipes for other creative ideas to cook tempeh!

Recipe Variations

  • Avocado oil or other neutral oils can be substituted for olive oil/sesame oil. To make the marinade oil-free, add 2-3 tablespoons of water instead.
  • Use agave syrup, date syrup, molasses or other sweetener of your choice instead of the maple syrup.

Equipment

saucepan
medium bowl
chef's knife
whisk
baking tray

Nutrition

Calories: 283kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 663mg | Potassium: 353mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 164IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 90mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Follow @happykitchen.rocks on Instagram and show me the recipes you are making from my blog using the hashtag #happykitchenrocks!

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About Elena Szeliga

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Elena Szeliga is the founder of Happy Kitchen.Rocks, where she shares delicious and healthy vegetarian and vegan food, from weeknight dinners to veganized classics and gourmet appetizers. Her recipes have been featured at Better Homes & Gardens, BuzzFeed, Country Living, The Kitchn and Reader’s Digest. Her mission is to help cook easy vegetarian and vegan meals with simple and fresh ingredients. Read more about Elena.

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