Cooks Class: Tempeh

By Alexandra Caspero on January 18, 2011

If you haven’t tried tempeh before, I don’t blame you. Although it’s becoming a much more popular food item, the un-known of how to prepare it can turn you away. Tempeh, hailing from Indonesia, is a nutrient cake made with fermented soybeans. It has a nutty flavor and nougat like texture. It’s also packed with protein, soy, manganese and riboflavin. But, that’s not the main reason DK loves it so much… it’s also a very inexpensive source of protein with zero cholesterol or saturated fat ($1.99 a lb at my Trader Joe’s in California).

So, onto the main question at hand: how do you cook it? I sometimes forget that while I enjoy quirky ingredients, they are not of mainstream know-how. Today’s post is a back to basics approach in learning how to prepare tempeh for my taco salad recipe.

Tempeh is showing up in more and more grocery stores around the country. Look for it near the refrigerated tofu section. As with all soy products, you should really try to only purchase organic soy. I’m definitely not a stickler on using only organic produce but I am really adamant about organic soy. Non-organic soy is a genetically modified organism (GMO) and as bad for your health as it is for the planet. This now motivates me to write a post on GMO’s but until I explain in more detail, try to only purchase soy items that are organic or specifically say Non-GMO.

I almost always steam my tempeh first before using it. I find that softening it this way allows for better flavor absorption. Set up a steamer like you would for any food item. Cut the 1lb tempeh package in 1/2 and place in steamer basket. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the tempeh from the steam basket and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Depending on what you want to do with it, there are different approaches you can take. I often use tempeh to replace ground meat in dishes like tacos, spaghetti, sloppy joe’s, ect. If you want to use it as crumbles, you can grate it on a wide cheese grater, use a food processor or chop it finely. You can also leave it as steaks, add a sauce or seasoning, then bake or fry.

From here, I added the chopped tempeh to a large frying pan, with a can of pinto beans and taco seasoning. This is a really easy filling and can be used to make burritos, enchiladas, tacos, taquitos, ect. I love to make a salad with this filling plus lettuce, corn, salsa, and my own 1,000 Isle dressing.

What are your favorite ways to prepare tempeh? Let me know when you try this and how you like it!

The Ultimate Plant-Based Protein Cookbook + Course

(Includes 40+ recipes!)


Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

(8 comments) leave a comment

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    1. Maritza
      November 29, 2014 AT 6:44 pm

      Do you know of a good, safe and healthy tempeh brand without any additives? I bought one from Light life but it had a sour taste due to the lactic acid added to it. Thanks!

      1. DK
        December 2, 2014 AT 4:10 pm

        Twin Oaks Organic Tempeh is chemical and preservative free!

    2. betsy shipley
      August 6, 2013 AT 6:30 pm

      I see you enjoy using tempeh in your recipes so I thought you would be interested in our easy method for making tempeh at We produced Betsy’s Tempeh in Mich. for 9 1/2 years and are currently working on a tempeh incubator that would be used in restaurants and small shops making artisan tempeh for the local market. We live in Ventura county so if you are ever in the area stop by for a tempeh panini. Feel free to write with any questions you may have.
      betsy shipley

    3. andrea
      January 29, 2011 AT 8:49 pm

      made tacos with this for dinner tonight. loved it!! thank you 🙂

    4. Barbara
      January 26, 2011 AT 5:59 pm

      I made the taco salad for dinner one night and everyone loved it. I dont think anyone realized it wasnt ground beef and much better for our health. Thanks for the directions on how to cook it, as a neighbor was asking and I forwarded her your website. Great instructions!

    5. DK
      January 25, 2011 AT 12:54 pm

      Aw, I miss The Little Grill! You could prepare tempeh the same way here and then bake it with seasonings/soy sauce to resemble reuben. Hopefully this post will take the scary out of tempeh cooking. Once you’ve mastered it a few times, try subbing it for recipes where you usually use ground beef.

    6. Lauren
      January 24, 2011 AT 7:48 pm

      Thanks Alex for this post! I used to love the “tempeh reuban” at Little Gril, but I’ve never tried cooking with tempeh for the reasons you listed. Next time I’m at TJ I will pick some up 🙂