Just when you were ready to give up on the drab slab of soy for good, this happens.
Marinated in a base of maple and balsamic and roasted to lip-smacking deliciousness, the depth of flavor and appetizing texture of this plant protein may surprise even the most reluctant. And you don’t have to limit yourself to mock burgers either! You can dress this recipe up to elegance alongside fresh berries, soft feta and seasonal greens or enjoy it as an appetizer with a delightful spring guacamole.
I’m serving it up two ways today but first, a little background.
Are you familiar with tempeh? Like many other ingredients that may not be mainstream in certain parts of the world, lack of familiarity often keeps us away. But don’t let this lesser known soy protein throw you. Tempeh is actually very easy to work with and quite versatile too.
Originating from Indonesia, tempeh is made from whole soybeans (edamame) that have been cultured and fermented into slab/block form. The white threads you see on tempeh (known as mycelia) is a byproduct of the fermentation process that helps bind the beans together. Fermentation is also said to help improve the bioavailability of the food’s nutrients, making it easier for us to digest and absorb. The retention of the full bean along with the unique fermentation process means that tempeh is generally higher in protein and nutrient value than other processed soy foods and meat analogs.
One of the trickiest things about replacing animal proteins with plant foods is ensuring adequate protein levels and naturally occurring fats in the diet. As a meat substitute, tempeh stands up well both structurally and nutritionally.
In terms of composition, the two most common variants are soybeans on their own and soybeans in combination with whole grains. In this recipe, I used two different varieties – one with whole soybean and brown rice and one with a mixture of whole soybean, flaxseed and brown rice (both sold under the label LightLife Organic Tempeh).
Nutrient content will vary according to brands so, as always, it’s important to read labels but generally, tempeh provides an excellent source of plant protein in the range of 15 grams per 3 ounce/84 grams, a good source of fat and fibre and a host of micros including iron, calcium and potassium.
The texture and taste are unique as well. Tempeh has a more resilient, denser quality than tofu with a mild nutty earthen flavor reminiscent of mushroom. For these reasons, many find it more palatable than tofu. When you marinate soy proteins – tofu or tempeh – they absorb liquids beautifully like a sponge and roasting or sautéing them in cubed or sliced form adds another dimension of texture and taste.
Tempeh’s denser texture also means that it has more solidity which works well as a platform for hors-d’oeuvres. These tempeh wedges worked beautifully in the company of a spring pea guacamole with fresh radish and pickled red onion. One of the most nutritious appies you’ll come across and while admittedly these golden beauties may not have the same initial crowd appeal as an ooey-gooey platter of melty cheese and nachos, you may find yourself slow falling for the ripply texture and dimensional flavor offered in these bites. Of course, you can top them however you wish.
I hope you’ve enjoyed discovering a little bit about tempeh and that it feels more approachable to you.
Try it, you might just like it. (really).
- For the Maple Glazed Balsamic Tempeh
- 1 (8 ounce/227 g) package of tempeh (see Notes)
- ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari for gluten-free
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp grainy dijon mustard
- good pinch coarse black pepper
- For the Spring Guacamole
- 2 medium size ripe avocados
- ½ cup fresh or thawed peas
- 1-2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- pinch of sea salt to taste
- Heat oven to 350 F.
- You can cut the tempeh any shape you wish but here is how I went about it for this recipe:
- Begin by cutting the tempeh slab into four roughly equal squares (they will be quite thick about ¾") then reduce the width of each square by cutting them in half horizontally for 8 thinner squares. Now slice each of these squares diagonally to create 16 triangles.
- Place the tempeh triangles in a glass dish large enough to accommodate their size.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, soy or tamari, coconut or olive oil, dijon and pepper.
- Pour the mixture over the tempeh making sure that all the pieces have been coated and cover the dish with wrap. Place in the fridge for at least 1.5 hours or overnight, turning the tempeh over at least once during that time.
- Bake the tempeh in the same dish with the marinade and covered with foil for approximately 15 minutes. Remove the dish from oven and carefully turn the tempeh over. Return the dish to the oven and allow it to bake without the foil for another 15-20 minutes or until the tempeh has absorbed most of the marinade - if you find that the tempeh is getting too dark while this is happening - you can gently tent with foil for the remaining minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow the tempeh to cool before serving with seasonal greens, fresh berries, your choice of nuts/seeds and cheese, as desired. You can drizzle more vinaigrette of choice or use a touch of the marinade for such.
- To assemble the spring pea guacamole, simply combine the avocado, peas, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, cilantro and garlic using a fork to mash or mini blender if preferred (I like to use a fork because it gives me more control over the texture - I prefer lumpy bumpy - and as long as the avocado is ripe, it's easy to break down). Add more lemon juice and salt to consistency and taste.
Balsamic - the color of the roasted tempeh may change depending on the depth of color of your ingredients, notably the vinegar. Different brands may result in a deeper, richer final color.
Vinaigrette - if serving the tempeh as a salad, you can create a simple vinaigrette to go along with the greens or simply reserve a touch of the marinade for drizzling.
Grilling - tempeh's resilient texture works well in pan sautés, oven roasting and grilling, so you can experiment as you wish.
A few other inspirational recipes you might find tempeh-ting: here, here and here.