Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chipotle Maple Grilled Tempeh Tacos

I have a new love. It’s a bit controversial. I kept it quiet at first because people wouldn’t understand. See, me and tempeh? Yeah, we’re kind of a thing.

All joking aside, I am totally loving tempeh at the moment, and it is controversial...at least in my household. I’ve always counted my blessings that Husband likes everything when it comes to food. Everything. There are preparations he doesn’t prefer, but I’ve never come across an ingredient he just doesn't like. He’ll even do tofu if it’s prepared well. But he doesn’t like tempeh. I’ve done a few different cooking methods, vastly different flavor combos, and he hasn't liked any of them. He just won’t eat it. Tragic, right?!

I have a feeling that’s a common problem with tempeh. You either love it or...not so much. While not the case with Husband, I wonder how much of that not-liking is linked to ignorance of what tempeh is. It is not textured vegetable protein. It is not tofu. It is a soy-based vegetarian protein alternative, but you know what? So is edamame. Tempeh is made from soybeans that are fermented into a cake, and the tempeh I am familiar with also has other whole grains added, I believe for textural and flavor purposes - anything from millet, to brown rice, to barley. Yes, it’s true. This is total crunchy granola hippie food. But hippie food has been in forever now, so let’s give peace a chance, k? Anyway, when was the last time you heard about a tempeh recall due to contaminated soybeans?

Tempeh is also crazy kinds of good for you. It’s really high in protein and fiber, which fill you right up, but with much less calories and fat. Win win. It’s also made from fermented soybeans. There’s a lot of controversy out there right now about soy and whether it is ultimately beneficial or harmful to our health. Every study says something different, depending on which industry is behind the funding, but I recently read an article that was very interesting. It separated fermented soy products from non-fermented soy products, saying they most likely affect the body differently. Fermented soy products like tamari, miso, and tempeh are good for you and have all sorts of lovely health benefits having to do, I believe, with the bacteria used to ferment the products. Non-fermented soy products, like tofu and soy milk are actually the leftovers from fermented soy products - the result of an effort to avoid waste - and are supposedly more questionable upon regular consumption. I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s interesting, no?

And most importantly, tempeh is delicious! It has a lot more flavor and texture than tofu - like if a block of tofu and a veggie burger had a love child.  It has a nutty, meaty flavor, and a firm, chewy texture. Chewy like whole grains, not chewy like octopus, just to be clear. I've noticed that each brand of tempeh is a little different. I prefer the Trader Joe’s brand. It has millet and brown rice, and a nice mild flavor that takes on sauces very well. I’ve also seen other brands at Jimbo’s, Sprouts, and Henry's.  They're probably about the same, but I can't say for sure, since I've never tried them.  When it comes to prep, you can treat tempeh just like extra extra firm tofu.  Cut it into slices or cubes, or cut it in half and treat it like a veggie burger.  Marinate some flavor in before, or dunk it in sauce later.

Not helping its image, tempeh is generally sold with the questionable-looking fake meat products like tofurkey and fakin’ bacon. To make matter worse, I’ve actually seen tempeh that has been pre-seasoned to taste like various meat products. Bleck! Make sure what you’re picking up is just regular unflavored tempeh.

Tempeh is a very versatile food. I’ve seared it, drizzled orange-maple sauce, I’ve sauteed it in spicy peanut sauce, and now I’ve grilled it in chipotle maple sauce. It all works...deliciously! I used one of the famous Stonewall Kitchen sauces to add in flavor this time. Since it was a chipotle maple grille sauce, I figured grilling would be the appropriate cooking method. And, man oh man, is grilled tempeh delicious. That smoky charred flavor was totally addictive. I kept eating pieces off the grill, and these yummy tacos almost didn’t happen!

Speaking of yummy tacos, these tacos were...um...yummy! The fixin’s are, of course, optional and up to you, but I like my tacos with cabbage, guacamole, and some fresh pico de gallo. The sauce was a good compliment and the flavor came through really well.  It was sweet, though not cloying, and I actually did get a bit of heat from the chipotle.  I would definitely use this sauce again, I think it may even have been my fav.  With the fresh vegetables and acid from the lime, it ended up being even more delicious than the bits I ate off the grill.  I'm so glad I restrained myself.  Oh, and those tortillas?  Got them at Sprouts.  They contain 4 ingredients: masa, lime, salt, and water.  No icky preservatives or crazy additives.  I love 'em.

I hope whatever preparation you choose to employ, you will give tempeh a chance. It’s entirely possible you won’t like it, as Husband doesn't.  But on the other hand, you may discover a new food that is not only very tasty, but also seriously good for you and economical to boot! Have you ever tried tempeh? On which side do you fall?

Chipotle Maple Grilled Tempeh Tacos

Makes about 8-10 tacos

2 8oz packages of tempeh, cut into 1/2” strips
1 cup Stonewall Kitchen Maple Chipotle Grille Sauce
5-6 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 limes
1/2 head green cabbage, finely shredded
2 ripe avocados
salt and pepper to taste
corn tortillas
  1. In a bowl or tupperware, combine the tempeh and grille sauce, making sure the tempeh is well-covered. Cover the container and let it marinate for at least an hour. When you are ready to grill, let the tempeh come to room temperature. 
  2. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and lube it up with some oil. Add the tempeh in an even layer, and let it cook undisturbed for 3-5 minutes, until it gets some good grill marks. Flip all the pieces over and grill for another 3-5 minutes. Brush some of the leftover marinade sauce on the cooked sides, and flip the pieces over again. Grill for a minute or two to caramelize the sauce a bit. Brush more sauce on the upturned side, and flip one last time to cook for, that’s right, one more minute. Remove the tempeh from the grill and let it cool down while you prepare the rest of your taco components. 
  3. To make the pico de gallo, mix the tomato, onion, and cilantro in a small bowl. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice from a lime over the mixture (if it’s a very juicy lime, you might want to start with just half), and stir to combine everything. Taste the salsa, and adjust the seasoning.  To make the guacamole, scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl, and add the juice from half a lime and a pinch of kosher salt and pepper. Mash the mixture and adjust the seasoning to taste. 
  4. To build the tacos, place a big pinch of cabbage on a tortilla. Add about 3 slices of tempeh, and top with guacamole, pico de gallo, and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!


  1. Yummy! I haven't tried tempeh but I'd love to try some! And that sauce?! I love this combination!

  2. I've never seen Tempeh at the store, but if I did I would buy it! I saw a recipe for tempeh sloppy joes a while back that I am dying to try and these tacos also look great!

  3. Tempeh is definitely one of those products I thought the stores didn't carry until I actually looked for it, and there it was! Keep an eye out, Kelly, and you might be surprised. I hope you find it because it's good stuff. :)

  4. Oh my gosh, great use of tempeh, with the chipotle maple! I LOVE tempeh and have for a long while. Can't wait to try this!