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How to Master Grilled Tempeh

Oh, the love of tempeh. These wholesome, fermented soybean cakes are one of the few soy foods I actually recommend eating. Unlike tofu, which has been linked to dementia, sterility in males and even breast cancer in women, tempeh seems to meet all the positive markers. It's rich in beneficial bacteria and fully digestible B vitamins and proteins, and it actually decreases chances of disease and dementia. I've been cooking tempeh for over ten years now, and I love the stuff.


But for a newbie, or even a well-seasoned vegetarian, mastering tempeh can present a challenge. It's easy to overcook into a mushy, bland crumble... or somehow undercook it and be left with chewy, rubbery cubes. The best way to become acquainted with tempeh is right now, in the summertime, out there on the grill. Step aside, A1 and steaks, mama's got a brand new meat: Tempeh.

The pre-cook

Possibly the most important step in preparing amazing tempeh (and the one step that people don't do) is pre-cooking it. By steaming or blanching your tempeh before cooking it, you soften its chewy texture, making it more palatable for the general consumer. The pre-heating process also opens up the "pores" of the tempeh, which allows your marinade or sauce to penetrate more deeply into the tempeh with yummy flavor. It'll tack on an extra 10 minutes to the cooking process, but it's worth it. Pre-cook your tempeh!

I recommend a quick blanching of the tempeh as your pre-cook. Cut your 8-ounce tempeh log into desired shapes first. To cut tempeh steaks, simply cut the cake in half. To make those into triangles, which are great for the grill, cut each sliced half into two triangles. Submerge the sliced tempeh into a small pot of simmering water; cover and cook gently for 5 to 10 minutes, until tempeh is just softened. Be careful not to boil the water too rapidly or leave the tempeh cooking too long, or you run the risk of overcooking it into soggy, crumbly pieces. Not so good for the grill. Gently remove tempeh from water and set aside to dry.

The marinade

Now that your tempeh is pre-cooked, it's all primed to be doused with your desired marinade. Try your favorite marinade recipe, or use ours below for something new. Coat tempeh in marinade and allow to soak for a few hours (go overnight if you really want that flavor to soak in).

The sauce

If you're using a marinade for your tempeh, chances are you won't have to use a sauce—and vice versa. For a quick-fix grilled tempeh, skip the marinade and use instead a heavy, sloppy sauce, just as you would with ribs, pork or a thick steak. Anything barbeque will be just fine, or try out a maple-miso sauce, thick agave tomato sauce, or whatever sounds good today.

The grilling

Preheat the grill to medium. If you've marinated your tempeh, remove it from the liquid and shake off excess. If you're saucing up dry steamed tempeh, slather it in your chosen sauce just before it hits the grill, and brush it with additional sauce as it cooks on the grill (again, just as with a cut of ribs or steak sauce). Place the tempeh cuts directly on the grill, and cook them, turning over once, until they are browned but not burned, and caramelized but not crispy; depending on the heat of the grill, this can take about 5 to 10 minutes total. Remove and enjoy promptly with a side of summer whole grains, a crisp green salad, and perhaps some other yummy grilled sides.

Summer Tempeh Marinade

Makes about ½ cup

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From the Organic Authority Files

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Sea salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

1) Whisk all ingredients until smooth. Add to one 8-ounce tempeh package, sliced into desired cuts for a few hours to overnight. May reserve excess marinade for drizzling over grilled tempeh.

Image adapted from mache, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

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