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Plan your weeknight meals around this plant

Sep 08, 2023Sep 08, 2023

In the early 2000s and after a three-year, debilitating battle with arthritis, I met a kindred spirit named Melina. She was a talented vegetarian/vegan cook who, along with her husband, had just moved to the states from Germany. She was a classically trained chef, but had suffered several health crises which had led her to re-think pretty much everything she believed about food and eating.


No longer interested in cooking meat or traditional dishes in general, she turned her attention to creating beautiful and delicious plant-based food, the food she believed had played an integral role in helping her regain her health. Her newfound passion took her around the world to train and learn from some of the best in the natural food and wellness game at that time and ultimately resulted in her opening a vegetarian grab-n-go style deli next door to where I worked. We met and hit it off straightaway and before long, I was helping out in the kitchen on the weekends.

She didn't introduce me to tempeh, but she did forever change the way I prepare it. If you've never tried it, you should give it a whirl. Inexpensive, nutrient dense and packed with protein, it is something to add to your weekday line up.

Melina felt very strongly that only organically grown, non-GMO, fermented soy-foods, like tempeh or miso, were safe to consume. She would explain that soy was never intended to be consumed in large quantities, made into a concentrated protein powder or even to be consumed every day. She thought of tempeh and miso as one might coffee or chocolate: Beneficial to most, as long as it's organic and consumed in moderation within the larger scope of a nutrient-dense diet.

There is a lot to unpack about soy and there is plenty of good information available if you choose to take a deep dive into both the potential benefits, as well as the problems with it. One such issue with it is like all beans — including coffee beans, cocoa beans, grains, nuts and seeds — it is high in phytic acid, a naturally occurring acid that inhibits mineral absorption. Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorous in plants, the most concentrated area being in the bran or outer hull of the seed. Thanks to the fermentation process with which tempeh is made, the phytic acid is broken down.

Once upon a time, tempeh could only be found in health food stores, but that's no longer the case. It comes packaged as a thin dense cake and is now in the produce section of most grocery stores. It is generally made of soybeans, but in more recent years, varieties made from different legumes and even grains are increasingly available.

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The fermentation process makes tempeh much easier to digest than other beans, while imparting an earthy, almost nutty flavor as a bonus. Tempeh is easy to prepare and incredibly versatile. It is firm and chewy, holds its shape and is much more satisfying to eat than most other meat substitutes.

Tempeh will take on any flavor you like with a thirty minute marinade. The trick is you must steam or simmer it for about ten minutes beforehand. This pre-cook step takes the strong fermentation flavor away and it prepares the tempeh so that it can soak up the flavors of your marinade. From barbecue to a zingy Italian blend to something more Asian-inspired and gingery, tempeh can take it on.

Tempeh keeps well and is budget-friendly. You can buy it and if you don't get around to using it, you can toss it right in the freezer just as it is — no additional wrapping or bagging needed. Its own vacuum sealed packaging keeps it from getting freezer-burned. I keep it on hand for quick meals that I can serve at a moment's notice.

This tempeh recipe is one of my go-tos when I want something easy and nutritious.


1 bag riced cauliflower and/or precooked rice

1 block tempeh

For the marinade:

1 to 2 tablespoons Tamari, soy sauce or coconut aminos and salt

1 to 2 teaspoons rice vinegar

A drizzle of maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 to 2 cloves minced fresh garlic

1/2 tsp onion powder or 1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh onion

Dash of hot sauce, optional

For the garnish:

Toasted sesame seeds, optional

Toasted black or Nigella seeds, optional

Green onion, chopped, optional


Slice tempeh into bite sized pieces and place in a skillet with a pinch of salt and enough water to almost cover.

Cook 5 to 7 minutes, then flip tempeh pieces over and cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes.

Mix all marinade ingredients together and stir well.

Drain, pat dry and place in a dish and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

In a nonstick skillet, drizzle a bit of oil and stir fry the marinated tempeh pieces for several minutes or place the tempeh on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake until browned in a preheated, 415 degree oven. Spoon additional marinade over the tempeh several times as it bakes.

Once your tempeh is cooked to your liking, add the cauliflower rice and or regular rice to the pan and continue stir frying until all is hot. Add marinade, broth or water if needed to moisten the rice while cooking.

Adjust seasonings and top with toasted sesame seeds and/or toasted black seeds (aka black cumin seeds or Nigella sativa) or chopped green onion.

Cook's Notes


There is nothing sacred about the ingredients I have listed in this recipe. As long as you have a little something salty, a little something acidic and a little something sweet, (and optional: a little something spicy), the sky's the limit. The same holds true with adding additional fresh or dried herbs and seasonings.

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