Have you ever wondered how to cook tempeh, or stared at a brick of the funky fermented soybeans and wondered what the heck it is and what the heck to do with it? Well wonder no more!
In this post, we'll break down everything you need to know about How to Cook Tempeh, including steaming, marinating, baking, frying, and grilling. We've also included several links to delicious tempeh recipes for each technique, and if you're looking for more, check out these Tempeh Recipes you can try.
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is fermented soy food originally from Indonesia.
Whole soybeans are fermented with the mold Rhizopus oligosporus in a process similar to cheese making. The fermentation process makes digestion easier and nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron are more bioavailable than in non-fermented soy products like tofu.
Tempeh is a great source of plant-based protein. Also, because the soy beans in tempeh are still in their whole form, all of the dietary fiber is still intact.
Tempeh vs Tofu
If you've been wondering about the difference between tempeh and tofu, you're not alone! Tempeh and tofu are both made from soybeans, and they're both great sources of plant-based protein.
While tempeh is made with whole soybeans that are pressed together into a cake and then fermented, tofu is made from soy milk that is then coagulated to separate the curds and then pressed into blocks.
Since tempeh is both fermented and contains whole soybeans, it brings more nutrients to the table. Additionally, tempeh doesn't require any fussy pressing or anything before you use it - you just chop or crumble, and you're good to go!
Tempeh has a nutty flavor that's richer and more complex than tofu thanks to the fermentation process. It's a great vehicle for soaking up all kinds of sauces and seasonings, so use your imagination with your ingredients!
If you want to do a deep dive into tempeh including how to make your own tempeh at home, check out Everything You Need to Know About Tempeh from Connoisseurus Veg. I’m pretty sure it’s the most comprehensive post about tempeh on the web!
Tempeh can be baked, fried, grilled, used in stir fries… you name it. But there are a few steps you can take before you start cooking to ensure your tempeh will have the best results.
Some people find that tempeh has a slightly bitter flavour. The good news is that this can easily be removed by gently steaming your tempeh. Steaming has the added benefit of allowing the tempeh to better absorb the flavours of any marinades or sauces you are using.
To steam your tempeh: Bring an inch or two pot of water to a boil. Place tempeh slices into a steamer basket, and steam, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Drain the tempeh, pat it dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, and proceed to use it in your recipe.
Note - I personally never bother with steaming my tempeh. I either don't notice or am not bothered by the bitter flavour. But many people swear by steaming and never skip this step!
Tempeh is super thirsty and loves a good marinade. You can use a variety of marinades, like my homemade Vegan Teriyaki Sauce for example. Simmer together with the marinade for a few minutes, or simply pour it over top.
I recommend marinating tempeh for a minimum of 30 minutes, but you can leave it for as long as overnight. This is what I prefer to do when I'm making a really flavourful recipe like my Tempeh Bacon recipe.
I also really love adding a marinade or sauce to my tempeh AFTER it has been baked or fried. I find the crisp edges are great for a sauce to cling to and are perfect for sucking up flavour.
Five Ways to Cook Tempeh
We're going to cover a variety of techniques for how to cook tempeh, including baking, grilling, air frying, and more!
Baking tempeh is a great way to get a nice crisp exterior and a chewy texture.
You can bake either marinated tempeh, or plain tempeh that has been brushed with oil. I find lining the baking sheets with parchment paper is essential to prevent sticking.
The advantages of baked tempeh are that it uses less oil than frying, and you don't need to babysit it as much. It typically takes only around 20 minutes for perfectly crisp, golden brown baked tempeh.
Fried tempeh is great because it's quick, easy, and flavourful. It's as simple as heating some oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet and frying the tempeh until browned and crispy on all sides. Be warned though, tempeh tends to suck up a LOT of oil - not just a tablespoon or two - when you pan fry it.
My favourite way to make fried tempeh is to pan fry it unseasoned, and then add the sauce and seasoning AFTER it has been fried. I find that this allows more of the sauce (and therefore flavour) to cling to the surface of the tempeh.
I use this technique in my Tempeh Teriyaki recipe, but it's also delicious with peanut sauce or your favourite sauce.
Since tempeh is made of whole soybeans that have been pressed together, you can crumble a block of tempeh apart with your hands to replicate the "meaty" texture of ground beef.
Just crumble the tempeh with your hands, add to a hot frying pan with a touch of oil, and proceed with your recipe once the tempeh is browned.
Since tempeh is nice and firm, it holds up well on the grill and does not fall apart. I also find that it doesn't stick to the grill the same way as tofu tends to.
I love to grill marinated tempeh for about five minutes on each side, which leaves nice grill marks and is long enough to heat the tempeh through (depending on thickness). Medium heat is typically perfect for this. You can even grill an entire block of tempeh, and then slice it up later.
BBQ tempeh is great to use in burgers, sliced up in salads, or as part of a meal bowl over rice.
Air Fryer Tempeh
If you have an Air Fryer, it's a fantastic tool for making crisp, delicious tempeh in record time.
I keep my Air Fryer Tempeh recipe pretty basic, because I find that it does such a great job of soaking up a sauce or marinade after it has been air fried and the edges are crisp. Just a little bit of oil, salt, and pepper, and about 10 minutes in the Air Fryer is all you need.
Make sure your tempeh pieces or strips are in a single layer in your air fryer basket for optimal crispness.
Tempeh is usually purchased in a cake-like form and can be sliced or crumbled, and is often steamed, seared, or stir-fried. Look for tempeh that is covered with a thin whitish bloom.
Sometimes it has a few black or grayish spots, which is totally normal, but it should have no evidence of pink, yellow, or blue colouration – a sign that it has become overly fermented.
Look for fresh tempeh in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store. It’s usually together with the tofu and meat-replacement products. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry tempeh, try a natural foods store instead.
You may also find tempeh in the freezer section. I like to bulk-buy tempeh when it’s on sale and toss it right into the freezer, where it’ll keep for about six months.
Since tempeh is a fermented food, it’s been sitting around in warm temperatures growing bacterial culture for a few days, so there’s a chance it could’ve grown some harmful bacteria spores in addition to the Rhizopus oligosporus.
Cooking the tempeh makes it perfectly safe to eat, but don’t be tempted to taste-test an uncooked tempeh mix unless you know for sure that your tempeh has been pasteurized.
Some people find that steaming tempeh for a few minutes prior to cooking will remove a bitter flavor. I personally never steam my tempeh, so I think it's a matter of personal preference.
It sure is! In addition to being a great source of plant-based protein, tempeh provides nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron - which are more bioavailable than in non-fermented soy products like tofu. Because the soy beans in tempeh are still in their whole form, all of the dietary fiber is still intact.
Easy Baked Tempeh Recipe
- 8 ounces tempeh cubed
- 2 teaspoons avocado oil or other neutral oil
- salt and pepper
- Pre-heat your oven to 400°F /200°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cube the tempeh and toss with the avocado oil. Season with salt and pepper.8 ounces tempeh, 2 teaspoons avocado oil, salt and pepper
- Arrange the tempeh cubes on the baking sheet in a single layer, ensuring that the cubes are not touching.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and carefully turn the tempeh cubes. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until crisp and golden.
- Add sauce or marinade to the baked tempeh if desired and let it sit for 5 minutes to soak it up.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only.
- Note - you can add the sauce either before or after the tempeh is baked, but I find it soaks up better after the tempeh has been baked.
- If you want to marinate the tempeh before baking, let it soak in the marinade for at least 10 minutes but up to overnight.
This post was first published on January 8, 2021. It was most recently edited and updated with useful content on July 22, 2023.