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I feel like I've been receiving a lot of questions about tempeh lately. Tempeh is a soy product in the same family as tofu with a firm texture and earthy, almost nutty flavor. It is a good source of both protein (31 grams per cup) and fiber (14 grams per cup) and works well as a meat replacement in vegetarian diets.

The problem with tempeh is that most people have no idea what to do with it. It's one of those foods that doesn't add a lot of flavor if you just throw it in with whatever else you're cooking. It can taste plain and feel dry when cooked and a lot of people get turned away from the weird, bumpy texture and even weirder brownish-gray color.

The first few times I made tempeh, I was not a fan. (This seems to be a very common story; I've heard it echoed in many blogs and cookbooks.) I sliced it up, cooked it in a pan with a little bit of oil and a sprinkling of spices, and thought: Oh, blah. The tempeh I made was probably the exact dish hardcore carnivores picture when wondering why anyone would ever give up meat for something so tasteless. 

Then I took a cue from Fried Green Tomatoes and realized that when it comes to tempeh, the secret is in the sauce. Tempeh that is either cooked in the right sauce or marinated in the right marinade tastes unbelievably good. I have a friend who works at a meaty BBQ joint that serves tempeh and he told me, in an almost conspiratorial whisper, "I never would have believed it, but the tempeh is REALLY good."

If you've have bad luck with tempeh or you just don't even know where to start, there is hope. Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare tempeh for the maximum amount of flavor.

 

Make tempeh bacon.

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The tempeh bacon I like most comes from the cookbook More Peas, Thank You. It's not available online, but many others are, like this one from Happy Healthy Life. Tempeh bacon is sweet, savory and crispy. Does it taste anything like "real" bacon? No. Do you really want it to? Tempeh bacon is its own thing. It's perfect as a protein-packed side for breakfast or thrown into a veggie BLT. You can also crumble it up and put it on top of salads a la bacon bits. 

Whole wheat bread + a little vegan mayo + tempeh bacon + sundried tomatoes + kale = my favorite BLT ever.

Whole wheat bread + a little vegan mayo + tempeh bacon + sundried tomatoes + kale = my favorite BLT ever.

Whole wheat English muffin + tofu + tempeh bacon + lettuce + tomato = a yummy breakfast sandwich.  

Whole wheat English muffin + tofu + tempeh bacon + lettuce + tomato = a yummy breakfast sandwich.

 

Make a tempeh marinade.

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I'm in love with the Marinated Balsamic, Maple and Garlic Tempeh recipe from the Oh She Glows cookbook. That recipe is not available online, but here is a similar Balsamic Maple Glazed Tempeh recipe from Meghan Telpher. I'm telling you guys: saucy recipes like these will make a tempeh lover out of anyone. It's delicious in the same way meat is delicious to meat lovers: it just tastes good.

 

Saute tempeh with bold flavors.

 

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The Simple Vegan Caesar Salad recipe from the cookbook Supercharged Foods: Eat Clean, Green and Vegetarian is one of my favorite things on this planet. It includes tempeh that's sauteed with olive oil, soy sauce and garlic, and it is to die for. Once again it seems that particular recipe is not available online, so instead I'll direct you to the Vegan Coach for your choice of gravy, peanut sauce or sesame sauce to saute with your tempeh. The thing about tempeh that I've discovered is that if you cook it plain, it tastes plain. If you toss it with bold flavors, it soaks them up. Tell your tempeh to go bold or go home.

 

Try these five tips for making amazing tempeh dishes. 

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Head over to One Green Planet for the step-by-step lowdown on making perfect tempeh. This includes everything you need to know about removing it from the package (trickier than you might think!), pre-steaming or simmering, choosing a shape, marinades and dry rubs, and cooking times. 

Get outside the tempeh box. 

 

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What else can you do with tempeh? You can do just about ANYTHING with tempeh. You can make tempeh lasagna with cashew cream sauce or kale avocado wraps with spicy miso-dipped tempeh or tempeh picatta. You can make barbeque tempeh sandwiches or General Tso's tempeh or tempeh tacos. You can make teriyaki tempeh or a BBQ tempeh bowl or vegan whole wheat pizza with roasted veggies and tempeh. Make a summer tempeh sammie. Make a blackened tempeh salad. Make a tempeh "bolognaise" spaghetti sauce. Make whatever your little heart desires. Just remember: no matter what you do, make it bold. 

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