When To Marinate Tempeh And When To Leave It Alone

Just thinking about marinades makes our mouths water. Savory to sweet, umami to spicy, marinating zaps flavor into food. While you might initially picture a slab of steak as the quintessential vehicle for a good marinade, there are also some tasty meatless alternatives. Marinating helps add more robust, complex flavors to all sorts of food, and if you haven't considered marinating tempeh, you're missing out on tons of meatless meal possibilities.

Tempeh is a plant-based protein like tofu but with a firmer texture and nuttier flavor. Predominately made from whole soybeans, tempeh also includes grains, other beans, and flavorings to pack in the protein and give it a sturdy body. And the best part? You can find it at your grocery store.

But even with added spices in the recipe, tempeh often needs an extra punch to really make taste buds sing. This culinary chameleon soaks up flavors well, so marinating is the perfect way to bring tempeh into meals, but, for certain dishes marinating tempeh isn't the best move. So how do you know when to marinate tempeh, and when to let it be? Consider the amount of liquid in your dish. If you're cooking with lots of liquid, skip the tempeh marinade and focus on flavoring your dish as a whole.

Marinate it or leave it alone?

It's simple: Leave tempeh alone for broth-based dishes and marinate it for maximum flavor in skillet dishes. Sliced into slabs and pan-seared, diced and deep fried, or crumbled and spiced, marinate tempeh and watch it adapt to your dinner plans. 

Marinating before cooking allows tempeh to absorb flavors, and counters its naturally bland taste. So if you choose to marinate, it's important to find the right sauce for your meal. To amp up your tempeh, try pantry staples like soy sauce, vinegar, peanut butter, and maple syrup, and for extra tang, tempeh also soaks up fun flavors from coconut milk, citrus juice, and agave nectar.

You can leave tempeh alone when cooking soup, stew, chili, or other broth-based dishes. Tempeh will soak up the flavors of the broth, spices, and sauces, so there's really no need to marinate it beforehand. Just cut or crumble tempeh into your desired size and consistency, and toss it in the mixture. 

Whether choosing your favorite pre-cook marinade or plopping it right in the pot, you can prepare tempeh to suit any of your cooking needs. The real question is: how many recipes will you try?