If you’ve never tasted a bite of pan-seared tempeh, and exclaimed, “That was so good!”, then try this recipe! Tempeh made tender with a key step, is marinated, seared, and served over slurpable noodles, all tossed with my Vietnamese-flavored green tahini sauce.

plate of noodles with green tahini sauce and seared tempeh.

There’s no doubt I’ve heard from many people that they either don’t know what to do with tempeh, haven’t heard of it, or don’t like it. For some reason, it seems to be a lesser-known and lesser-understood plant protein (I have an idea of why that is, read on!). It’s a shame really, because in a world where many are chasing meals high in plant-based protein, tempeh is king, clocking in at almost 20 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving. It contains twice the amount of protein as the same amount of tofu, and 4 times the amount of fiber (with a similar amount of fat). All that aside, I’ve figured out how to cook tempeh in a way that dials down the robust texture and flavor of this fermented power food and create a recipe for Tempeh Tahini Noodles where the tempeh is tender and delicious, and pairs well with noodles dressed in a tahini sauce bursting with bright Vietnamese flavors.

What is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a plant-based protein made from fermented soybeans. In layman’s terms, soybeans are cooked, inoculated with “good bacteria”, formed into cakes, and fermented for up to two days. The resulting product is not soft like cooked beans. Instead, the tempeh cakes are firm almost with a meaty (but not chewy) texture.

Nutritional Profile of Tempeh

  • Pre/Probiotics – Tempeh is high in both because of the fermentation process.
  • Vitamins/Minerals – High in protein (16 grams in 3 ounces), calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Overall, tempeh is a nutritional powerhouse.
  • Easy to digest – Because soybeans are fermented, the phytic acid in the beans (the acids that make beans hard to digest for some) is broken down, making tempeh easier to digest than the soybean itself.
  • Nutrient Dense – Based on the above I would say without question that it is a superior plant-based protein to reach for, over tofu because of its nutrient density. Tempeh is made from the whole soybean, whereas tofu is made from soy “milk” that is separated from soybeans after cooking. On that point alone, tofu really can’t compete. This is not to say tofu isn’t nutritious, but tempeh has it beat.
  • Fiber – At 7 grams per 3 ounces, you can get almost 25% of your RDA in fiber with a serving of tempeh. What’s not to love?

Cooking with Tempeh

Tempeh can be prepared and eaten in similar ways to tofu and can be substituted for tofu in any tofu recipe. It offers a different taste sensation than tofu as well. Instead of the smooth texture and mild flavor of tofu, tempeh has a firmer texture, with more of a nuttier (derived from the fermentation) flavor. It isn’t salty like miso or other fermented foods, but out of the box, some may say it tastes a little bitter or not quite savory enough to eat on its own. Like tofu, marinating and seasoning are key ways to improve its taste. You can also crumble up the tempeh, and as such it makes a great meat substitute in chilis, tacos, and stews. Different from tofu, I think it makes a great sandwich filling, and eating it in sandwiches was one of the first ways I learned to love tempeh.

How to Make Tempeh that is Tender and Delicious

With all of its superior nutritional attributes and ease of cooking (not to mention the ease of having an unopened package on hand), successful ways to cook tempeh can remain elusive for some, and that is why I want to share how I cook tempeh that it is tender and delicious. The key step is to quickly boil thin tempeh slices before marinating and cooking them. It’s that simple! Because it is made from soaked and only partly cooked soybeans, the tempeh still has some of the bite of an uncooked bean and the boiling process softens and moistens it. After boiling, the softer and less dry tempeh will absorb flavors and liquid from the marinade more easily, making it very tasty. You could steam it but because we are going to cook noodles in the pot of water after we cook the tempeh, boiling makes sense. I also think boiling gives it a chance to gain more water, versus steaming.

Above: 1. Boiled slabs of tempeh being moved from water to marinade. 2. Slabs of tempeh sitting in marinade. 3. Tempeh slabs searing on its second side in cast iron pan (any type works).

Mediterranean Food Pyramid Ingredient Notes

  • Tempeh – if you’ve read this far, you understand that tempeh is a soybean product and as such is one of the foods to eat regularly based on the Mediterranean food pyramid.
  • Noodles – this recipe calls for Soba noodles which are made either from 100% buckwheat or a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour. I chose if for the whole grain ingredient with great flavor and a tender bite.
  • Herby Tahini Sauce – the seared tempeh and noodles are tossed in Sofa Dinners’ tahini sauce full of herbs to the point that it glows a lovely green color :).

Above: 1. Uncooked soba noodles often come in smaller bunches that serve two, so check the package. 2. cooked soba noodles. 3. Ideally drop the cooked noodles directly into the sauce with tongs.

Method + Timing

  • Prepare the tempeh – I recommend mixing the marinade, parboiling the tempeh, and placing it in the marinade first, so it can marinate while you prepare the tahini sauce. Alternatively, parboil the tempeh earlier in the day or a day or two ahead, and let it marinate overnight(s) for even more flavor, and to save time on the day you make the recipe.
  • Make the tahini sauce – After the tempeh is prepared, whiz up the Herby Tahini Sauce with Bright Vietnamese Flavors. Alternatively, this too can be prepared earlier in the day or a day or so ahead to make prep on the day you make the recipe incredibly fast (less than 30 minutes!).
  • Sear the tempeh – this happens in tandem with cooking the noodles. A bit of oil is heated in a saute pan over medium-high heat and the tempeh is laid in the pan and left to cook without disturbing for a couple of minutes, then flipped once you see the underside is golden (the soy in the marinade may even char a bit) for the other side to cook. Meanwhile, the pot of water is on the burner to boil.
  • Boil the noodles – This is the last step. I recommend using tongs to move the cooked noodles from the pot of boiling water directly into a bowl with all the tahini sauce so that a bit of the noodle water ends up in with the noodles and sauce. It just helps create a nice creamy texture.

Above: 1. Gently mix cooked noodles with sauce using tongs. 2. Add most of cooked tempeh (save some to place on top). 3. Toss tempeh slices into noodles and sauce using tongs.

Serving, Reheating, Substitutions

  • Serving – A simple toss and turn of the tempeh, noodles and sauce and this dish is ready to eat. I like to save a few of the tempeh slices to go on top. The herbs/scallions in the sauce add plenty of nutrition but if you want more vegetables, you can add some to stir fry with the tempeh, once it’s been browned. In warmer weather, it works to rinse the noodles under cool water in a colander and toss with the sauce and cooked tempeh for a cold dish.
  • Reheating – I don’t recommend pan frying any leftovers, as the tahini tends to seize up (to many solids in it, so it sticks). A quick microwave or eating leftovers cold both work.
  • Substitutions – you can toss it with any other tahini sauce you prefer. If you don’t have soba, or do not like them, I find 100% whole grain thin spaghetti (I love the Barilla brand) is a great substitute for Asian noodle dishes that is full of nutrition. Using rice or brown rice traditionally used in many Asian dishes is certainly an option as well.
Side view of noodles, tahini sauce and tempeh.

Above: Here I tossed noodles more lightly, and added the rest of the sauce on top of noodles, with tempeh on top of that. Nice way to taste the Herby Tahini Sauce more.

FAQs

How do you make tempeh less bitter?

Boiling or steaming for 5 minutes is the best way to remove any unpleasant taste you typically encounter when eating raw tempeh. See above for details. I parboil it in this recipe.

What’s the best way to eat tempeh?

Similar to tofu it can be sliced, cubed or crumbled depending on what your recipe is. In this recipe I use thin slabs for tender and juicy marinated tempeh. Tempeh will also taste best if marinated and cooked before eating, or crumbled in a stew or soup, it is similar to meat/beans. I have been known to cut a full slab in half, then slice the square in half (like splitting a bagel) and eat as a sandwich filling with veggies and sriracha or curry mayo, without cooking first, though cooking the slap would likely improve its taste, since tempeh is made from only partially cooked soybeans that are fermented but not further cooked before packaging.

How long will my package of tempeh last in the fridge

An unopened package can last awhile in the fridge (check for expiration date, but it will last a few weeks for sure). Once opened, it should be eaten within the week, similar to other fresh items you store in the refrigerator.

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plate of noodles with green tahini sauce and seared tempeh.

Tempeh with Herby Tahini Noodles

Prep Time30 minutes
Make the Herby Tahini Sauce: 10 minutes
Servings4
Calories617
If you’ve never tasted a bite of pan-seared tempeh, and exclaimed, “That was so good!”, then try this recipe! Tempeh made tender with a key step, is marinated, seared, and served over slurpable noodles, all tossed with my Vietnamese-flavored green tahini sauce.
Kitchen Tools
  • 1 3 qt soup pot

Ingredients
 

  • 16 oz. tempeh (2 x 8oz. packages)
  • 8 oz. soba noodles (see notes)
  • 1 recipe tahini sauce (takes less than 10 min) (Herby Tahini Sauce)
Tempeh Marinade
  • 1 tbsp Asian spices (see notes or use >) (Homemade Asian Spice Blend)
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil (plus a tad to sear)
  • 1 lime (juiced-see notes)
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (if not using my Asian Spice Blend)
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos (or low-sodium tamari)

Method:  

Parboil/Marinate Tempeh
  • Bring pot of water to boil. While waiting, slice tempeh into 1/8-1/4" slices, along the short side (in other words: slice the entire long slab into thin slices).
  • Mix marinade ingredients (see notes about Asian spices).
  • Drop tempeh slices into boiling water and cook for 5 min, then remove with slotted spatula/spoon and place in marinade, tossing to coat. Turn off water, but leave to cook noodles after making sauce.
Make the Herby Tahini Sauce
Sear Tempeh + Cook Noodles
  • Bring pot of water back to boil, while heating skillet on medium high with 2 tsp. sesame oil.
  • Lay slabs of tempeh in heated skillet and cook a couple minutes, checking for golden and/or charred doneness on underside. Flip to sear other side. Move to plate.
  • Cook noodles according to package directions.
  • Ideally, drain noodles and place directly into bowl of tahini sauce, or use tongs to move noodles directly into sauce from boiling water.
  • Toss noodles with tahini sauce and slices of tempeh, reserving a few tempeh slices to place on top of dish. Garnish with cilantro and sesame seeds. Consider an extra squirt of lime juice. Start slurping!

Notes

Soba Noodles: made from buckwheat flour, they are nutritious and have a great nutty flavor and tender texture. A great substitute is whole-grain thin spaghetti (I like the Barilla brand). You could use rice noodles or brown rice noodles too. 
Asian Spice Blend: if you don’t have or don’t make my Asian Spice Blend, you can reference my recipe for it and use what you can. The key elements are a bit of sugar to caramelize with the protein, garlic, onion, a bit of spice, and ginger. The mushroom powder adds a great umami flavor but is extra. No stress here. Use what you can.
Lime Juice: I’ve only used fresh lime juice and don’t recommend reconstituted lime juice. Rolling the lime on the counter, pressing firmly with your hand, helps to loosen the fruit inside and release the juice more easily when you cut and squeeze the lime.

Nutrition (an estimate)

Calories: 617kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 37g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 640mg | Potassium: 803mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 0.3g | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 226mg | Iron: 7mg | Magnesium: 186mg | Net Carbohydrates: 62g
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