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Sunday 22 May 2022
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My Favorite Vegan Tempeh Bacon

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This is my favorite recipe for tempeh “bacon,” a smoky, salty staple in my sandwiches, wraps, salads, breakfast plates, and more. This tempeh is versatile, easy to prepare, and a great source of vegan protein.

Two small baking sheets are lined with parchment paper and strips of vegan tempeh "bacon."

Staple foods and plant-based basics continue!

If you missed this weekend’s weekend reading post, I came down with the flu on Saturday. I’m bouncing back, thanks in part to the Tamiflu that I qualified for when I went in to urgent care. But the first few days were rough, and I wasn’t feeling like myself in the days leading up to getting sick, either.

I was mighty grateful, therefore, to have some of my favorite vegan tempeh bacon in my fridge.

My batch of tempeh bacon made homemade vegan BLTs easy when I didn’t have the energy to make any other lunch. And it was a concentrated source of vegan protein that I could crumble onto homemade soup as I was recovering.

Tempeh bacon is something that I casually reference all the time on this blog. Just made tofu scramble? Add some tempeh bacon. Whipping up some potato or Brussels sprout hash? Tempeh bacon to the rescue. Want to add savoriness and a bolt of flavor to an otherwise simple salad? Tempeh bacon it is.

But I’ve never really shared my go-to recipe or process for making tempeh bacon here. Since I’m turning to this recipe more than ever, I figured it was about time to share.

Green asparagus spears have been topped with a plant-based, crumbled tempeh "bacon."

What is tempeh bacon?

Good question. Tempeh bacon is sort of like “nooch” or cashew cheese insofar as it’s a food that longtime vegan eaters sometimes refer to without thinking.

People who are new to plant-based eating, on the other hand, may be baffled when they hear about it.

Tempeh “bacon” is a tempeh preparation that evokes bacon in its salty, smoky flavor profile. It can be used in recipes similarly to regular bacon: crumbled, chopped, or in strips.

What is tempeh?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, tempeh is a vegan protein made from soybeans.

Unlike tofu, which is also made from soybeans, tempeh is dense and has some texture. You’ll be able to tell that it’s made from a cake of whole beans. On the other hand, tofu is made from beans that have been crushed, boiled, turned into a soy “milk,” and then coagulated.

Tempeh has an earthy flavor. It can be on the bitter side, which is an effect that’s lessened if you steam it it before marinating and cooking it.

These days, I almost always steam my tempeh before cooking it. However, I don’t find steaming to be a necessary step in making tempeh bacon. The tempeh is sliced so thin and marinated with so much flavor here that you won’t catch any bitter flavor in the finished strips.

Tempeh health benefits

Tempeh is one of the most nutritionally rich plant-based ingredients to work with. First and foremost, it’s a great source of plant protein.

A 3-oz serving of tempeh has about 17 grams of protein. As a registered dietitian, I advise many of my nutrition clients to aim for about 20 grams of protein per meal (a recommendation that can go up or down with a person’s unique needs). 17 grams is a significant contribution to the protein content of any plate!

Tempeh is also a good source of dietary fiber, which may be beneficial for heart and digestive health. And it’s got a small amount of zinc, which is associated with strong immune function.

Tempeh is low in sodium and saturated fat, and it’s free of cholesterol. This makes it a great protein source for those who are managing cardiac concerns or high blood lipids.

A glass mason jar has been filled with a dark brown marinade.

How to make tempeh bacon

Fortunately, the process of making tempeh bacon is simple.

You’ll begin by mixing a 5-ingredient marinade together. Next, you’ll slice your block of tempeh into strips.

Tempeh can come in different shapes, depending on where you purchase it. In the US, it’s usually sold in 7.5- or 8-oz rectangular blocks.

I like to slice my tempeh width-wise along these blocks, into short strips. If you prefer, you can also slice it lengthwise.

Either way, I recommend strips that are about 1/4-inch thick.

A close-up image of a plant-based protein, which is being marinated in a deep amber colored sauce.

Once your tempeh is sliced, you’ll need to submerge it in the marinade.

I usually marinate my tempeh in a glass storage container with a tight-fitting lid. I end up storing the tempeh in the fridge while it marinates, anyway, and the tight lid of this container makes it easy for me to shake the tempeh gently to disperse the marinade.

However, it’s also fine to marinate the tempeh in a shallow, rectangular or square baking dish, then cover it with cloth, aluminum foil or plastic wrap while it marinates.

Strips of a vegan protein are lined up in a baking dish, marinating in a deep amber marinade. The dish rests on a white surface.

The covered tempeh can marinate for as little as 2 hours or up to 48 hours in the fridge. I almost always let it marinate overnight, as the tempeh soaks up the most flavor this way. If two hours is the time that you have, though, 2 hours will be fine.

Next, you’ll bake the tempeh bacon in a 400°F oven for about 20-25 minutes, flipping the strips once halfway through the baking time.

A sheet of white parchment paper has been used for baking dark brown slices of vegan tempeh "bacon."

When the tempeh bacon emerges from the oven, it ought to be browning, crisp along the edges, and ready for all of your bacon-worthy vegan recipes.

How to serve tempeh bacon

What might some of those recipes be?

I feel as though I use my tempeh bacon in and on just about everything. It frequently appears in my sandwiches and wraps at lunchtime. It’s great crumbled over soup or a vegan salad.

Tempeh bacon is the idea accompaniment to tofu scramble, of course, and it works well with so many other breakfast dishes. I like to put it onto avocado or hummus toast in particular.

Here’s are some other recipes that your tempeh bacon might like to live in or on:

Salads

  • Farro breakfast salad
  • Crispy broccoli Caesar
  • Radicchio Brussels sprout salad
  • Protein-packed bean & quinoa salad

Soups

  • Split pea soup
  • Creamy vegan potato leek soup
  • Cream of broccoli quinoa soup
  • Cauliflower corn or potato corn chowder
  • Mushroom bulgur bean chili

Breakfasts

  • Butternut squash hash with tofu
  • Chickpea scramble
  • Tofu scramble
  • Black bean & scrambled tofu enchiladas

Pastas

  • Avocado macaroni salad
  • Creamy zucchini corn pasta
  • Carrot mac n’ cheese
  • Caramelized cabbage & onion pasta

Sandwiches & wraps

  • Lentil tahini wraps
  • Green goddess club sandwich
  • Vegan grilled cheese
  • Vegan chickpea Caesar wraps

Of course, this is just what comes to my mind. There are so many other possibilities for the tempeh bacon.

Remember also that, rather than using it in a proper recipe, you can simply add the tempeh bacon to any food or meal that could use a little boost of plant protein.

As you can see below, I really like to crumble it over steamed, roasted, or freshly sautéed green vegetables. This could be broccoli or broccolini, garlicky chard or spinach, steamed asparagus spears, sautéed zucchini, or massaged kale salad.

A round, white plate holds freshly cooked asparagus spears. It rests on a white surface.

How to store tempeh bacon

Tempeh bacon can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, or you can freeze it for up to six weeks. It keeps very well!

To reheat, you can warm the tempeh bacon strips up over low heat in a nonstick frying pan. You can alsoheat them in your air fryer or oven at 350 for about 5 minutes.

Celebrating tempeh

Over time, tempeh has become my favorite plant protein of all. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy it, and I’ll continue to share my experiments here.

In the meantime, some of my other favorite, simple tempeh preparations:

  • Lemon pepper baked tempeh cubes
  • Tempeh meatballs
  • Chili lime tempeh tacos
  • Sheet pan tempeh & broccoli
  • Tempeh vegetable pasta bowls
  • Balsamic mustard baked tempeh
  • 15-minute tempeh lunch salad
  • Grits with tempeh sausage and Brussels sprouts
  • Mashed potato holiday bowls

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons Bragg Liquid Aminos, soy sauce, or tamari (90mL)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (60mL)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 8 ounces tempeh, sliced crosswise into thin (1/4-inch) strips (225g)

Instructions

  • Arrange the tempeh strips in a rectangular dish or storage container. It's fine if they need to overlap a bit.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the tamari, vinegar, oil, maple syrup, and paprika. Pour this marinade over the tempeh strips. Tilt the container around in order to coat all of the strips in the marinade. Cover the container and transfer it to the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 48 hours.
  • Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the tempeh strips from their marinade and arrange them on the baking sheet. 
  • Bake the tempeh strips for 10 minutes, then flip them over and bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until browning and crisp along the edges. Use in recipes or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 6 days. 

I finished the last of my batch of tempeh bacon a few days ago, but I already have plans to start marinating another this weekend (hopefully as I whip up some tofu or chickpea scramble). It’s one of those foods that I make nearly every week, with no plans to stop anytime soon.

Maybe it’ll become a staple protein for you, too—something that you can turn to when you need quick, flavorful nutrition. I hope so!




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