I did a little unplanned experiment recently. Starting talking about my quest to find the best way to cook tempeh. My friends are used to me giving a rundown of what I made last night or what I’m making for the next 3 days. I talk ingredients and method and wait to see if it gets any reaction. When I mentioned that I was working on using tempeh, I got blank stares. No one even knew what it was.
The vegans and vegetarians reading this are giggling to themselves because you all know what happens when you try to explain what tempeh is.
“It’s a block of fermented soybeans. Tofu’s earthy-crunchy cousin.”
The Other White Meat?
I’ve known about tempeh for years but my first several attempts to cook it did not go well. I found it bitter, a little too bland.
You can buy it in most fancy grocery stores now, and it often comes pre-marinated. But I’ve not found the marinade flavors appealing. Barbeque? Smoky maple?
It seems that there is a group of people eating vegetarian or vegan who really wish they could eat meat, so they try to recreate the flavor of meat using tofu or tempeh.
I’ve never really understood that. I have moved toward a mostly plant-based diet out of pure choice and because I like the taste of vegetables and grains. If I want meat, I eat meat. If meat got outlawed and was not available, I’d probably still not try to make my tempeh taste like a hamburger.
I’ll just make the tempeh taste great.
Bad Tempeh Memories
I can get tempeh at my local farmer’s market. A vendor recently started selling it, and like I wrote about in the last post on mushrooms, I avoided it like the plague at first. But I’m committed to using what is fresh and available locally, so I decided that I needed to try again. I bought some.
I then stared at it in the fridge for about 2 weeks and threw it away because all I could remember was the bitter taste.
It bothered me that I let it go to waste. It haunted me. Decided to search YouTube for tempeh recipes. Shocker, about 80% are trying to make it taste like meat.
Maybe that’s the lesson. Tempeh CAN’T taste good so you have to make it taste like meat and the only reason to eat it is if you are truly fundamentally opposed to real meat but crave a hamburger?
I subscribe to the YouTube Channel Pick Up Limes which features all kinds of healthy recipe ideas. Sadia’s been blogging about plant-based eating for a few years. She had a “Golden Tempeh Nourish Bowl” that had a tempeh marinade which looked promising. Decided to go for it.
The marinade was orange juice and tahini based with white miso, sambal olek, ginger and turmeric. I happened to have everything on hand. Except the orange juice.
I’m not much of a fruit person and have never found a liking for orange juice. Needed a substitute. Started searching fridge and pantry.
Don’t freak out here but I subbed orange Gatorade that someone gave me and which I’ll never ever drink. I refused to go to the store just for a splash of orange juice. Considering the results were really good, I imagine it would be even better using actual juice. 😎
I made the marinade, dumped it in a large ziploc, put the tempeh in and left it for 24 hours. Took it out, sliced into 1/2 inch slabs and seared them using coconut oil. I made my own version of a Buddha bowl with a brown rice-lentil blend, mushrooms splashed with tamari, broccolini and avocado. Bonus – The extra marinade can be used as the dressing!
The marinade successfully killed the bitterness that tempeh usually has. It seemed to add a juiciness, and the turmeric gave it a more appealing color. Searing it in the coconut oil (my new obsession for vegetarian cooking) gave it a nice crispy outside plus made it look even tastier. I can say I actually ENJOYED the tempeh. So much that I kept thinking about the nutty goodness the next day and made the same bowl again with the other half of my tempeh block.
Next week at the market I bought some more and told the vendor (Cameron from Crescent City Cultures) about my marinade. I confessed to the Gatorade swap. He sort of choked, and then I think he was wishing he hadn’t sold me any more of the product he worked so hard to make.
I told him I was going to redeem myself. Felt like coconut milk was going to be my base next time.
Got inspired on Sunday morning and made a coconut-miso-lime juice marinade. Tried to keep it light and fresh. I used a toothpick to poke some holes in the block thinking that might help ensure the flavor gets absorbed all the way through.
The results were better than expected. I wanted to focus on the same light, tropical flavors of the marinade in my Buddha bowl. I had some leftover coconut rice, an overripe mango that needed to go, a half of a properly ripe plaintain and avocado. Lucked out at Whole Foods earlier this week and had gorgeous bright-red Fresno chili so I threw some slices on top for color. They are the perfect spicy accent to the earthy tempeh and tropical flavors.
I knew it was going to need a little dressing. Tempeh is dense and needs some sauce. I poured some of the marinade into a small mason jar (through a sieve to get the seasoning seeds out) and added a little tahini – shake shake shake – it was still very thin but the tahini gave it just a little body.
It was not only beautiful, it was really good! I thought the whole thing came together well and I’d totally make the bowl exactly the same next time.
Cameron – I promised you I’d redeem myself. Please don’t stop selling me the tempeh. I’ve got it figured out now! No more Gatorade….
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- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced
- 1 lime, zested
- 1 serrano chile pepper, halved
- 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro, stems included
- 4 pods cardamom, crushed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 block tempeh
- 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed well
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- cooking spray
- 1 ripe plantain, sliced
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 ripe mango, sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1 Fresno or other red hot chile pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp tahini
- 1 handful cilantro, chopped
Make the marinade
- Combine all marinade ingredients (except the tempeh block) in a mixing bowl and whisk well. Use a toothpick to poke holes in your tempeh block (optional). Put the tempeh in a large ziploc and pour in the marinade. Seal and refrigerate 12 to 24 hours.
Make the rice
- Place rinsed basmati rice in a small saucepan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occassionally until starting to toast. Add coconut milk. Once it starts to bubble, cover and reduce heat to med-low. Cook for 15 minutes, turn off heat and leave covered while you prepare the tempeh bowl.
Assemble the bowl
- While rice cooks, preheat oven to 350°. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small ramekin. Add plaintain slices to baking dish, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1/2 the sugar mixture. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip, spray again with cooking spray, sprinkle remaining sugar mixture and continue baking about 7 minutes or until golden and tender.
- Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan. Remove tempeh from marinade (reserve marinade) and slice into 1/2 inch slabs. Once coconut oil is hot, add tempeh slices. Cook until golden, about 4 minutes and flip. Cook another 2-3 minutes until golden on both sides.
- Build your bowl: Fluff the rice and divide between 2 bowl. Add sliced mango, avocado, plaintain and tempeh.
- Strain about half of the marinade into a mason jar. Add 1 tbsp tahini, seal and shake well. Dress the bowl with the tahini marinade. Finish with chopped cilantro.