How to Cook Tempeh

how to cook tempeh

If it weren’t for the fact that two of my offspring are now vegetarians, I probably wouldn’t be talking tempeh. But the truth is, our kids help us learn and grow and evolve, which is why I’m now buying, cooking, and yes, embracing tempeh. Even if my entire crew returned to their carnivorous ways, I’d still include the occasional tempeh in my repertoire. If you are interested in tinkering with this soy-based superfood and want to learn how to cook tempeh, here’s what you need to know:

What is Tempeh?

Tempeh, which originated in Indonesia, is essentially cooked and fermented soybeans. It forms into a solid, firm cake that you can find in shrink-wrapped packages in the refrigerated section of the market, often where other soy products are displayed. Unlike tofu, which is made of soy milk, tempeh is whole soy beans, and therefore is considered less processed than tofu.

What Does Tempeh Taste Like?

Tempeh has an earthy, nutty flavor with a slightly bitter undertone. It has a hearty texture, much firmer than tofu, reminiscent of other beans or legumes.

What is tempeh and how to cook it

Why is Tempeh Good for You?

Tempeh is a fermented food, which means it has the sort of desirable bacteria you’ll find in yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. That said, tempeh is typically pasteurized, which effectively extinguishes any probiotic benefits (as will cooking the tempeh after purchase). The good news is that it’s also rich in pre-biotic fiber, which is also good for your gut. Each 3 ounce serving has roughly 7 grams of fiber and a whopping 17 grams of protein. Buy organic tempeh if you want a guarantee that it’s a non-GMO product.

Tips for How to Cook Tempeh

Tempeh lends itself to numerous applications in the kitchen. Here are a few tips for using tempeh:

  • It’s a good idea to marinate it before roasting or pan frying for flavor, since it doesn’t pack a whole lot of flavor on its own. It works well with soy sauce and other asian sauces, barbecue sauce, curry and coconut-based sauces, and peanut sauce.
  • It’s firm enough to slice into slabs or cut into cubes and can get an appealing crisp in a hot oven or skillet.
  • You can crumble it and use as you might ground meat, such as adding it to tacos or chili.
  • It can help to steam it as a first step in your cooking to make it more tender and less bitter. Alternatively, you can boil it in water or simmer in broth.
  • Lots of seasonings, hot spices, flavorful sauces, and other taste-makers help build flavor.

plates of tempeh meatballs

How to Make Tempeh Less Bitter

There’s no doubt that tempeh can run on the bitter side. To minimize the bitterness, cut it as needed for your recipe, such as sliced, cubed, or crumbled. Put it in a steaming basket or in a pot with about an inch of water and steam it for seven minutes. Remove and continue to cook as you wish. It doesn’t really alter the textures, just improves the flavor.

10 Tempeh Recipes

Once you know how to cook tempeh, here are 10 ways to use it:

  1. Cut into thin slices, marinate, and pan fry as you would bacon (go easy on the oil, since tempeh is like a sponge). Use in sandwiches and salads, such as this recipe from The Kitchn.
  2. Crumble and cook like taco meat for old school tacos  or as a filling for enchiladas.
  3. Use as a filling for potstickers like you might ground pork.
  4. Cube it for a flavorful stir fry
  5. Add it for a boost of texture and protein in a pot of chili
  6. Use as the base for Eggplant Tempeh Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
  7. Steam it, then stir fry it for this Kung Pao Tempeh
  8. Cut it into sticks, pan fry, and enjoy with Turmeric Rice Bowls
  9. Slice it into triangles and roast with a Peanut Marinade
  10. Make Easy Barbecue Tempeh


06.18.2018 at3:40 AM #

Rebecca Bunting

I learned to love tempeh cooked this way from my healer friend Donnie Lance. It’s delicious and satisfying in a salad or sandwich.
Slice tempeh into 1” slices and sauté with some sliced onion, a drizzle of olive oil, freshly crushed coriander seed and salt to taste. Turn tempeh pieces to cook evenly, while stirring onions until they are softened and tempeh is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

06.18.2018 at3:40 AM #

Katie Morford

That sounds delicious…like a good staple to have in the repertoire. Thank you for sharing.

06.18.2018 at2:32 PM #


I make tempeh ruebens. Cut tempeh in half and then slice so pieces are half as thick. Saute in oil, drizzle with tamari. Add a slice of Swiss. Assemble sandwich. Toasted rye, tempeh, sprouts, Russian dressing(mayo and ketchup), onion and saurkraut. There used to be an item called Fakin Bacon which was smoky slices of tempeh. Great for sandwiches, especially vege blt’s. Maybe it’s still around?

06.18.2018 at2:32 PM #

Katie Morford

Yum! I love that ideas. I am going to give it a whirl and see what my girls think.

06.19.2018 at11:36 PM #

Rosemary Mark

I applaud you for embracing tempeh! It’s wonderful how our daughters lead us places. I’m looking forward to your eggplant tempeh meatballs — I’ve not been a fan of tempeh. Yet!

06.19.2018 at11:36 PM #

Katie Morford

Meatball recipe is up! I’d be curious to see what you think.

01.28.2019 at2:02 PM #

Bret Moore

As a baby vegan (I will be approaching the one year mark in a couple of months), I began my journey as more of a tofu girl. In fact, due to some restaurant’s inability to properly prepare tempeh, I even thought I did not like it, which seems to be a common enough response to tempeh. Flash forward to two weeks ago when a close friend shared a recipe with me for tempeh baked in peanut sauce and I was hooked!

I have since done a couple of variations on the recipe and find it basically needs the following ingredients:

peanut butter, acid of some kind (I use lime juice), soy sauce or tamari, sesame oil, and some chili paste or flakes.

After combining these ingredients I put my tempeh (cut into small triangles) into a plastic baggie or tupperware container, and let it marinate for 24 hours. Then I bake at 400 for 15-25 minutes, flipping once halfway through. It is transcendent! I have it atop salads or (if you sliced it bigger) on sandwiches.

01.28.2019 at2:02 PM #

Katie Morford

Wowsa! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your recipe. I will give it whirl.

04.21.2020 at4:09 PM #

rodrigues georgina

can someone give me a recipe for tempeh spare ribs, i had it at a vegan restaurant but they would not tell me how to make it. they were delicious and tasted just like the meat version. thanks

03.08.2023 at6:44 AM #

L Betts

My favorite way to eat tempeh is browning slices in a pan, but I was wondering what happens to the beneficial fermented organisms after cooking? Is it ok to eat out right from the package? And yes I noticed it is more bitter right from the package.

03.08.2023 at6:44 AM #

Katie Morford

All good points and it prompted me to clarify a few things in my post, so thank you. Look to see if your tempeh is pasteurized, which means heat-treated. If so, it should be safe to eat without cooking….though I don’t think it will taste particularly good. Heat does effectively extinguish “good” bacteria, but tempeh is also rich in prebiotic fiber, which is also good for the gut, too. Hope that helps.

11.08.2023 at1:07 PM #

Peggy Bair

After marinating, can I eat tempeh cold without baking or frying.

11.08.2023 at1:07 PM #

Katie Morford

Hi Peggy, commercially produced tempeh is pasteurized and therefore safe to eat raw. That said, I do think it benefits greatly from cooking.

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *