Szechuan Tempeh with Sweet-Spicy Peanut Sauce

[Tempeh Photo 1]After reading my lament on the sponginess of tofu, my sister, who bakes in a vegetarian restaurant and knows much more about vegetarian food than I do, suggested that I try tempeh.  As she put it, “People who don’t like tofu like tempeh.”  This made me a prime candidate (though to be fair, I have had a few decent tofu meals of late).  Tempeh is similar to tofu in that it’s made from soybeans, but it often contains rice or other grains.  The result is a much firmer, tastier product than the flavorless marshmallow-cube that is tofu.  Not only that, but tempeh has more “protein, fiber, and vitamins” than tofu (according to Wikipedia), making it even better for the many vegetarian endurance athletes who are presumably reading this blog!

So Erin and I decided to give tempeh a try, with very high expectations.  And we were not disappointed.  It seems tempeh, when cooked, takes on a flavor and texture not entirely unlike chicken!  Granted, it’s not a Chick-Fil-A 12-pack of nuggets, but it’s the closest vegetarian food has come for me.  This got the hamster wheel spinning in the old noggin-head, and I started excitedly daydreaming about ways to imitate buffalo-style chicken, my favorite food in the whole world, with tempeh.  I may have even drooled a bit.

But lest I get ahead of myself, I’ll just let the buffalo tempeh idea simmer for now.  Today’s meal is called Szechuan Tempeh with Sweet-Spicy Peanut Sauce, my hot-served adaptation of a cold-served Chinese dish I found in a vegetarian cookbook.  You’ll notice that in my recipe I’m suggesting you serve it over brown rice; we used rice noodles and I wasn’t a fan.

Tempeh with Peanut Sauce Recipe

Ingredients (for the tempeh):

  • 8 ounces tempeh, diced into half-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (I used tamari)
  • 4 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 cup brown rice (alternatively, 1 package rice noodles)
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Ingredients (for the peanut sauce):

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste or curry paste

Mix the tempeh, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a medium bowl and let stand for 15 minutes or more.  Cook the brown rice however you like, my favorite is simmering in 2 cups of water with 1/2 tsp salt for 20-30 minutes.  If using rice noodles instead, soak in warm water for 15-20 minutes or until tender.

Whisk together the ingredients for the peanut sauce in a bowl until smooth; set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Add the tempeh and cook until lightly browned, stirring often for 3-5 minutes, then keep warm in a bowl covered with foil.  Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp canola oil in the skillet, add the cucumbers, half the red bell pepper, and half the scallions.  Season with just a pinch of salt and cook the vegetables until barely tender, maybe 2 minutes.

Serve the tempeh and vegetables on top of the rice or noodles, drizzle with sauce, and garnish with remaining (uncooked) bell pepper, scallions, and peanuts.

Makes 4 small servings. (Update: The servings aren’t as small as I thought when I first published this.  I just ate my share of the leftovers and I’m completely full.)

[Tempeh photo 2]We decide to give this meal a strong 3 cows out of 5, but I think using brown rice instead of rice noodles would have elevated it in terms of both taste and nutrition (I haven’t seen brown rice noodles, so if you want rice noodles you’re stuck with the white version).  I think rice noodles would probably taste better with the cleaner flavors of the chilled, raw-vegetable version of the dish.  Make no mistake though, our rating of “3” is no knock on tempeh.  The tempeh was the shining star of this meal for me, and my mind is still racing about possibilities for using tempeh in place of chicken in my favorite chicken dishes.  You can expect to see lots of those in the days ahead.

Yes, buffalo fans, it’s coming.



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  1. Colleen says:

    This looks really tasty…I have never had tempeh but would be willing to try. What are your thoughts about making this with shrimp?

  2. Colleen, I would think shrimp would be good with it, as long as you don’t mind selfishly killing dozens of tiny, innocent creatures just to feed yourself. Just kidding! The only the thing I would say is you could probably halve the amount of tempeh then and be fine. The meals actually aren’t as small as I first thought, since I just ate my part of the leftovers and I’m stuffed! And as long as you’re not using jumbo shrimp (everyone’s favorite hackneyed oxymoron), then probably you could just cook the shrimp in with the tempeh and expect them to be done at the same time. Let me know how it works out if you try it.

  3. christine says:

    I’m glad you dug the tempeh! Hey I was at whole foods and picked up a bottle of Chinese Rice Cooking wine (yu yee brand). Is this the stuff that you used in this meal and the red tofu dish?

    • Hey Chris, the brand I used for Red Cooked Tofu was Shaoxing, borrowed from Dad. For the tempeh recipe I just used dry sherry.
      But I’m sure it’s all the same to you and me.

  4. Chrissy – If that’s what Matt borrowed from me, the brand of “chinese rice cooking wine” is Shaoxing Cooking. Matt picked this up for me along with lots of groceries and veggies from a big Asian Market near his campus.

  5. We like tempeh!! Who knew:) We decided to do 1/2 tempeh and 1/2 shrimp…the shrimp was a tasty alternative but it was not necessary at all. We also tried it with rice noodles but I think I’d prefer rice. Since I was in the mood for all warm food tonight, we quickly cooked all the veggies and it was very tasty. You’ll be happy to know that what I am most excited about is how to use the rest of our tempeh!!

    • Yeah it’s good isn’t it? I’m glad to hear you guys didn’t wimp out and do all shrimp. I’m going to make buffalo-style tempeh later this week; I’ll let you know how it is.

  6. I just made this and it tastes so good. I am not a big fan of Tempeh but I figured I would give it another shot since this recipe calls for marinating the tempeh. I only had a 1/4 of a cucumber so I added the stalks of some rainbow chard I had. It complemented the dish really well. Instead of honey I used agave nectar. This dish came out so good that you restored my feelings about tempeh, of course, I marinated it for a good 20 minutes to let all the flavors absorb. Thanks for the wonderful recipe.

  7. Hi Angie, glad it turned out well. I would have been scared to try the tempeh too if it hadn’t been marinated in all that goodness. Also nice job improvising. I used to be scared to make any substitutions when I cooked, but that’s half the fun!

  8. Thanks for the recipe!
    I made this last night—I let it marinate quite a while. I also added MORE chili paste ( I love hot food!)
    It was probably the best peanut sauce I have ever made.
    Next time, I will throw in more veggies!!
    Rated ***** out of *****!!

  9. Hopefully you don’t know how processed and horrible Canola oil is, and that is why you are using it in your recipes. Please do a quick google search on why canola oil is horrible, and use organic unrefined coconut oil for high heat cooking!

    Amrita, a long time vegetarian.

  10. I regularly use tempeh and find that steaming it for 5-10 minutes prior to using really helps to improve the flavour of the dish and reduce the really strong tempeh flavour. Worked great with this dish.


  11. We just loved this! So easy and flavorful. Had never tried peanut sauce with tempeh. Thank you.

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