The Secret to Cooking Tempeh

Tempeh is delicious — but only if it’s prepared right. Knowing how to marinate tempeh and how to make tempeh less bitter go a long way toward making it taste great. Here we’ll share 3 tips for cooking tempeh that comes out just right, every time.

  • By Jess Dang
  • August 31, 2021

Tempeh is an awesome plant-based protein — but it can be a bit of an acquired taste. It has a nutty, almost mushroomy flavor that can be overpowering or even bitter if it’s not prepared well. Done right, though? You’ll bring out the natural flavors and add to them with complementary flavors that will make for a delicious, unique meal.

Like tofu, tempeh is a soy-based product. Unlike tofu, though, it’s made from whole soybeans, meaning it’s less processed than tofu. It’s also fermented, which is what gives it its unique flavor. 

Tempeh is often a favorite of vegetarians because it functions as a meat substitute — in fact, it packs 22 grams of protein in just half a cup! But it’s not just for those avoiding meat. When prepared well, it’s a delicious food in its own right. It’s also full of health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and helping stabilize blood sugar.

If you’ve never tried cooking tempeh — or if you have but weren’t crazy about the results — know that you’re not alone. That’s why we wanted to share these 3 tips for cooking tempeh that make it taste fantastic.

How to Make Tempeh Taste Good

1. Reduce bitterness by microwaving or boiling in water for 5 minutes

Start by chopping your tempeh into slices or cubes. This will increase the surface area for everything that comes next — meaning that when you flavor the tempeh, it will get flavored evenly and you won’t have any bites that lack flavor.

Then cover the tempeh in water, and either simmer it in boiling water for 5 minutes, or microwave it for 5 minutes. This step helps to bring out the natural nuttiness of tempeh while dialing down the stronger flavors that some people find objectionable. 

Drain the tempeh in a sieve or colander at the end of the boiling time.

2. Marinate it (and add salt)

Treat tempeh like it’s meat! You wouldn’t cook meat without marinating if you wanted it to taste its best, so don’t cook tempeh without this step either. Use any marinade you like, and be sure to add some salt as well. 

Marinades are typically made up of 3 components: acid, oil, and additional flavors. Acids, such as vinegar or citrus juice, begin to break down the proteins so they’re tender and absorb more flavor. Oil keeps the protein — in this case, tempeh — moist. And including herbs, spices, or other flavors in a marinade allows those flavors to penetrate the food more fully before cooking. To learn more about marinades and get some great marinade recipes, check out our Marinade Times and Tips article.

¼ to ½ cup of marinade is enough for about 8 ounces of tempeh. Pour the marinade over your tempeh, cover, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 day.

3. Sauté or roast with lots of spices

Shake on some chili powder, paprika, or any other spices you enjoy. Then heat a pan over medium-high heat, add some cooking oil, and sauté your tempeh without crowding the pan until it’s golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Alternately, cook your tempeh in the air fryer for crispier edges. Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees F, and cook the tempeh for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tasty Tempeh Recipes

You can enjoy this fiber-filled plant-based protein in tacos, grain bowls, stir-fries, salads, soups, and stews. But if you’d like more great dinner ideas with tempeh and to see the method described above in action, check out these meals:

Sweet Soy Tempeh Hawaiian Salad

This is such a delicious way to prepare tempeh! This salad uses tempeh that’s steamed before being simmered in a sweet and savory vinaigrette. Sweet, tart pineapple, buttery cashews, creamy avocado, and crisp red bell pepper round out the meal. 

Savory Tempeh Breakfast Burrito

In this breakfast-for-dinner recipe, tempeh gets steamed, then marinated with soy sauce and spices and seared in a pan until golden brown. It’s used alongside eggs, veggies, and cheese in breakfast burritos, which are served with a side of roasted honey-chipotle carrot “fries.”

Buffalo Tempeh Salad

The vegetarian version of our Buffalo Chicken Salad uses tempeh to soak up the bright, zesty buffalo sauce. You’ll again use the method of steaming tempeh before cooking, then brown the tempeh in a pan before adding the sauce and continuing to cook. The salads are assembled with cucumber, carrot, and celery and drizzled with a homemade blue cheese dressing.

Leave us a comment below to let us know your favorite way to use tempeh — or if you’ve never made it before, what are you most excited to try? And if you know someone who might enjoy trying out these tips for making tempeh taste great, send them this article to help them out.

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