Tempting Tempeh: An Alternative Protein Source

As plant-based eating patterns have become increasingly popular, interest in alternative, vegetarian protein sources has also increased. Tofu and other soy products are now commonplace in most supermarkets and are great for a quick meatless meal. However, many people might not be aware of an increasingly popular soy protein called tempeh. 

Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans that are pressed together into a solid block or cake. The process begins with whole soy beans, which are softened by a long soaking in water (tempeh can also be made from other beans, grains or a combination) and then de-hulled and partially cooked. Those are mixed with a fermentation culture, pressed into a block and steamed for the finished product. 

At your local grocery store, you’ll usually find tempeh in the produce department or with other fresh soy products such as tofu. 

However, unlike other soy products you’ll see in this area of the store, tempeh is minimally processed and doesn’t contain many other ingredients besides the soy beans themselves. 

Nutritionally speaking, tempeh is high up on the list of healthy lean protein choices. Depending on which brand you buy, tempeh has around 200 calories per 4 ounces and about 21g of protein. In addition, per serving, tempeh has about 20 percent of riboflavin, 70 percent of manganese, 25 percent of phosphorus, 13 percent of potassium, 11 percent of calcium and 14 percent of iron!

Tempeh Cooking Tips

  • Tempeh doesn’t pack a lot of flavor by itself, but fortunately can absorb a good amount of flavor, so try lots of marinades and sauces.
  • It’s great served just pan-seared with a little salt and pepper. Perfect for a lunch meat substitute.
  • Tempeh can be grated and crumbled as well, making it an ideal ground meat substitute. 
  • Try it in sandwiches (check out the reuben recipe below), on top of salads or in soups, stir fries and tacos!  

Tempeh Reubens With Pimento Cheese

Recipe developed by Maria Tadic, RD

Makes 4 servings

1 package plain tempeh, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 cup pimento cheese
1-lb. package of sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
¾ cup low-fat Thousand Island dressing
8 slices rye bread


  1. Preheat skillet over high heat and add tempeh, searing both sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Brush the soy sauce on each side of the tempeh while hot — it’ll absorb quickly and give the tempeh great flavor!
  2. In a medium bowl add the drained and rinsed sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. Mix well and set aside.
  3. To assemble the sandwiches: start with one piece of rye bread. Smear on about 1/4 cup of pimento cheese spread.
  4. Layer on 4-5 slices of the seared tempeh. Top with a few heaping tablespoons of the sauerkraut mixture and top with another piece of rye bread. Assemble four sandwiches.
  5. I used a panini press to toast up these yummy sandwiches. But if you don’t have a panini press, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, spray with nonstick spray and add sandwiches two at a time. Press down with another pan topped with heavy cans to make a “pressed” sandwich.
  6. Cook until golden brown on the bottom and then flip over to brown the topside of the sandwich. When finished, slice in half and serve warm!
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Maria Tadic, RD
Maria Tadic, RD, is a registered dietitian currently working in the field of Bariatric Surgery and Nutrition. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She's a foodie, runner, blogger and self proclaimed home chef! Read more from Maria on her blog, Bean A Foodie, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.