This fried tempeh is marinated to perfection, crunchy and crispy. It has a savory, umami flavor and can be pan-fried or made in the air fryer. Packed with protein, this tempeh recipe makes an amazing dinner served with coconut lime rice and your favorite veggies!
Why You’ll Love This Fried Tempeh
While this recipe is new on the blog, it’s definitely not a new recipe for me. This is my go-to tempeh recipe. If you’re plant-based and you’ve been sleeping on tempeh, take this as a sign to try it. To be honest, I think I prefer tempeh over tofu- mostly because it’s easier to prepare and it has more protein.
Today, I’ll show you how to make tempeh with instructions for how to make it in the air fryer or on the stovetop. Here are just a few reasons why this dish will quickly become a go-to in your home:
- First Time Friendly – Never cooked tempeh before? No worries! This recipe provides the best way to get you started with cooking tempeh. It’s simple and easy, yet delivers on flavor.
- Versatility – This flavorful fried tempeh would make an amazing main ingredient in so many dishes from a tempeh stir fry to tempeh tacos!
- Umami Flavors – This recipe infuses the tempeh with a savory sauce, creating a beautiful, complex flavor that’s so delicious.
- Perfect Texture – No plain tempeh here. Marinating and cooking it either in a pan or an air fryer makes it crunchy and golden brown on the outside and tender on the inside – an addictive combination!
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is made by fermenting whole soybeans. The fermentation process binds the soybeans into a cake-like form, giving tempeh a firm, chewy texture. Its taste is distinctively nutty and savory, with a slightly earthy flavor that comes from the fermentation process.
Compared to tofu, tempeh is easier to prepare, with no need to press out excess water. Straight from the package, tempeh is ready for cooking, making it a great time-saver in the kitchen.
One traditional tempeh dish is called Tempeh Goreng. It’s a popular Indonesian dish that has so many diverse flavors of the region. It involves deep-frying marinated tempeh, usually a mix of rich mix of Indonesian spices including lemongrass, galangal, and Kaffir lime leaves. The tempeh is then served with rice and sambal, a spicy chili sauce.
One of the many reasons I love tempeh is its protein content! It contains about 8-10 grams of protein per ounce, compared to tofu, which has around 2-3 grams per ounce. That makes tempeh a protein-dense choice for those of you who are looking to increase your plant-based protein intake.
This tempeh recipe is pretty straightforward. Most of the ingredients are for the marinade, and hopefully, you can find most of them at your local grocery stores! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Tempeh – We’re using an 8 oz block of tempeh. Brands I use are Lightlife or Trader Joe’s. This protein-packed ingredient is the star of the dish, and we’ll be cutting it into smaller pieces to help it soak up the marinade.
- Neutral Oil – Vegetable or Canola oil are great options here. These oils help achieve that golden, crispy texture without overshadowing the flavors of the marinade.
For the Marinade & Sauce:
- Low Sodium Soy Sauce or Tamari – This is key for adding that umami taste and serving as the base of the marinade.
- Minced Ginger and Garlic – These infuse the marinade with lots of aromatic flavor that seeps deep into the tempeh.
- Toasted Sesame Oil – It adds a nutty, toasty flavor.
- Rice Vinegar – This provides a nice acidity that brightens everything up.
- Sambal Oelek or Sriracha – Choose your heat level! These both bring a pleasant spiciness to the marinade.
- Brown Sugar, Coconut Sugar, or Palm Sugar – Sweetness to balance the savory and spicy notes of the marinade.
- Cornstarch – This will help thicken our sauce, making it cling to every piece of tempeh.
- Green Onions and White Sesame Seeds – These add a touch of freshness and a bit of crunch as a garnish.
- Coconut Lime Rice and your Favorite Veggies – Serve the tempeh on a bed of coconut lime rice, yellow jasmine rice, or even with some peanut noodles. Pair it with your choice of veggies.
If some ingredients aren’t readily available in your pantry, no worries! Here are a few quick swaps you can make:
- Low Sodium Soy Sauce or Tamari – You can interchange these. You could use coconut aminos or a sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) instead. Or you could even add in a dash of liquid smoke for a deep, smokey flavor.
- Brown Sugar, Coconut Sugar, or Palm Sugar – Feel free to swap between these sweeteners. You could also use maple syrup, agave nectar, or one of these coconut sugar substitutes.
- Sambal Oelek or Sriracha – You can use either based on what’s available or your preferred heat level.
Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:
- A Good Knife: For cutting the tempeh block.
- Shallow Container or Bowl: For marinating. A shallow container allows the tempeh to be fully submerged.
- Large Skillet: This will be used for pan frying the tempeh. Look for a non-stick skillet for best results.
- Air Fryer + Air Fryer Basket: For air fried tempeh. It will give your tempeh that crunchy exterior with less oil.
Step By Step Instructions
Exact quantities are in the recipe card below!
Prepare the Tempeh:
STEP 1: Slice the block of tempeh in half, then slice each half into ½” by 3” pieces. This size is perfect for making sure the marinade gets into the tempeh.
STEP 2: Mix the marinade ingredients (except the cornstarch) together in a shallow container or a shallow bowl.
STEP 3: Add the tempeh to the marinade and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. If you have the time, letting it sit overnight will result in deeper flavor as the tempeh absorbs more of the marinade.
NOTE: if marinating the tempeh overnight, it may absorb all of the marinade. If you want to make sticky sauce for the tempeh, you may need to mix up a new batch of sauce when you’re ready to cook the tempeh.
How to Cook Tempeh
STEP 4: Heat a large skillet with 1 tbsp of neutral oil over medium heat. If you’re opting for air fryer tempeh, preheat your air fryer to 380F.
STEP 5: Add the marinated tempeh to the skillet and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway. For the air fryer, cook for 10-13 minutes, flipping halfway.
STEP 6: Remove the fried tempeh from the pan and set aside. You can place the tempeh slices on paper towels to absorb some of the oil.
STEP 7: To make the sauce, lower the heat to low and add the remaining marinade to the skillet. Once the marinade is simmering slightly, add the cornstarch and mix well. This will thicken your sauce, giving it a beautiful glaze-like consistency.
STEP 8: Cook the sauce for 1-2 minutes until thickened, then remove from the heat. Toss the sauce with the fried tempeh to ensure every piece is well-coated!
Think of this recipe as the base for SO many different dishes. This fried tempeh pairs perfectly with a variety of grains and vegetables. Below are a few ideas:
Grains and Starches
You can pair your tempeh with:
- Coconut Lime Rice: Creamy and zesty, this rice provides flavors that pair well with the savory tempeh.
- Yellow Jasmine Rice: This rice is made with turmeric for a unique flavor.
- Peanut Noodles: For a nutty, hearty, and satisfying meal, pair your tempeh with some flavorful peanut noodles.
- Brown Rice: Another great option for a nutty flavor and a hearty texture!
- Farro or Quinoa: Make a warm grain bowl with root veggies.
- Steamed Bok Choy: This leafy green will add a beautiful crunch and a bit of freshness.
- Broccoli: Steamed or sautéed would be great!
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts: This recipe would go so well alongside this tempeh. I’ve paired these two recipes together many, many times!
- Bell Peppers: Sweet and colorful, these add a vibrant touch.
- Sautéed Spinach: For a quick and healthy addition, lightly sautéed spinach works great.
Finish off your meal with a sprinkle of sliced green onions and white sesame seeds for an extra layer of flavor and texture.
This fried tempeh is best enjoyed immediately to take full advantage of its crispy texture.
However, if you have leftovers, you can store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
To reheat, you can either use a microwave or toss it back into a skillet or air fryer to get back some of its crunch.
- Marination Time: The longer the tempeh marinates, the deeper the flavor will be. I recommend marinating for at least 30 minutes.
- Use the Remaining Marinade as a Sauce: Heat the remaining marinade with a bit of cornstarch to make a salty, sweet, slightly spicy, and sticky sauce that you can toss with the tempeh pieces. Just note, if you marinate the tempeh overnight, it may absorb all the marinade, so you may need to make more!
- Air Fryer vs Pan Fry: Both methods will yield crispy tempeh, but when you air fry tempeh it is a bit less oily. Choose based on your preference.
- Serving Suggestions: Feel free to get creative with your side dishes. The tempeh pairs well with a wide range of veggies and grains. You can make stir fries, grain bowls and more.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It’s a fantastic source of protein and is a popular choice in vegan and vegetarian diets.
This fried tempeh recipe is mild. The heat level of this recipe is adjustable. You can increase or decrease the amount of spicy Sambal Oelek or Sriracha based on your preferred level of spiciness.
Did you make this crispy pan-fried or air fried tempeh recipe?
⭐️ I’d love to know! Leave a star rating and comment below! ⭐️
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