Tempting Tempeh

UPDATE: While this product line has sadly been discontinued, skip ahead to get the meat bun recipe with an easy adaptation to use any tempeh you like!

Considering how long I’ve been vegan, it’s surprising how rarely tempeh has appeared on my menu. Even more stigmatized by mainstream cooks and eaters than tofu, it hasn’t quite reached universal acceptance as not only a viable but delicious ingredient, and is all too often labeled as a very “crunchy-granola” sort of food. Funny enough, tempeh has much more in common with tofu than meets the eye, and the biggest difference stems from the fact that the soy beans are pureed and filtered to make tofu, whereas with tempeh, you get the whole thing. Thus, these cakes of naturally fermented soy are higher in fiber, in addition to that all-important protein. It’s no beauty to look at though, so the fear of picking up one of these lumpy, brownish-grey blocks or strips is understandable. My own hesitation to incorporate such a nutritious ingredient into my diet is not due to bias or lack of initiative, however, but a lack of imagination. What to do with these firm, somewhat crumbly slabs? How should they be cooked, and where does one start when it comes to adding harmonious, appealing flavors?

For those of you in the same boat, fear not. LightLife has just developed Tempeh-Tations, a new line of pre-seasoned tempeh cubes that provide an easy starting point for any meal, and a painless way to test the waters of cooking with tempeh. Available in three different varieties, they’re found in the refrigerated section, ready to eat, making those little packages especially appealing after a long day at work.

Ripping open the Zesty Lemon flavor, I’ve got to admit, these bumpy brown chunks didn’t immediately get me salivating. Aesthetics aside, it smelled quite promising, and an little pool of extra marinade sitting at the bottom of the package meant that there was plenty to help flavor the rest of the dish these pieces went into as well. Tossing the tempeh into a very quick pasta salad, it was all but an instant meal once the orzo was cooked and drained. Strikingly tangy and perhaps even bordering on sour, the lemon flavor is definitely front and center here. A nice hit of garlic balances things out a bit, and the soft but toothsome texture makes it a very satisfying addition. While it wasn’t my favorite meal in the world, I was thrilled with how convenient and satisfying this product proved to be.

“Planning” a meal around the Ginger Teriyaki flavored Tempeh-Tations meant scrounging through the fridge at the last minute, using up all the veggies I could find to make some simple cabbage wraps. Smelling of the ubiquitous Americanized Chinese Food brown sauce, I didn’t have very high hopes for this one from the get-go. Undeniably sweet, mild in overall flavor, and completely lacking the zing of ginger I had wanted, this sticky marinade didn’t do very much for me. While it was unoffensive and pleasant enough to eat, I don’t know that I would want it again. Nonetheless, it may very well have been tastier had the cubes been sauteed and served warm in a stir-fry instead of eaten cold with raw veggies.

When it came time to try the Classic BBQ, I was trepidation, to say the least. Barbecue sauce is perhaps the last condiment on earth I would want to add to my plate, but shockingly, I found this rendition to be so mild, it was easily the best BBQ-anything I’d had in a long time. Wonderfully smokey with just a vague tang, no spice or heat to speak of, I’m sure it would be a hit with picky kids, too.

Going all-out to dress this one up, I thought it might be fun to make my own “meat” buns, cooking up the tempeh with a mess of vegetables and lentils, and then stuffing it into bread dough. The result was a savory, portable snack or meal, perfect for a packed lunch or easy eats on the go. This formula also opens up the possibility to insert any sort of veggies you have on hand, so don’t let my suggestions limit your creativity.

Yield: Makes 12 Buns

Tempeh Meat Buns

Tempeh Meat Buns

Tempeh makes an hearty, healthy meatless protein for stuffing into tender bread dough. The buns make an excellent portable snack or meal, perfect for a packed lunch or easy eats on the go.

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes



  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Instant Mashed Potato Flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/4 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1 0.6-Ounce Cube Fresh Yeast or 1 (1/4-Ounce) Packet of Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 Cup Warm Water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil


  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Cups Roughly Chopped Cabbage (Pack to Measure)
  • 1 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion (About 1 Medium)
  • 1/2 Cup Diced Zucchini
  • 1 6-Ounce Package BBQ Tempeh-tations*
  • 1 Cup Cooked Black Lentils
  • 1 Cup Chopped Potato (About 2 Small)
  • Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
  • Chili Powder
  • Cayenne
  • Cumin
  • Salt

To Finish:

  • Plain Non-Dairy Milk
  • Sesame Seeds


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, instant mashed potato flakes, sugar, and salt. Crumble the fresh yeast into small pieces with your fingers, and stir to disperse the pieces evenly throughout the dry ingredients.
  2. Separately, combine the water, vinegar, and oil before pouring the whole mixture into your bowl of dry goods. Mix well, and once everything has become incorporated into a loose dough, switch over to using the dough hook for your stand mixer, and allow it to slowly work the dough for about 10 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes before proceeding.
  3. If you don’t have a stand mixer, just skip right to kneading by hand on a lightly floured surface- Take about 15 – 20 minutes on this step if you haven’t work it with the machine, but only 5 – 10 if you have. Once it becomes smooth and elastic, tacky but not sticky to the touch, place it in a greased bowl and cover loosely.
  4. Place it in a warm area and let it rise until doubled in volume, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
  5. While the dough is rising, you can begin to prepare the filling. In a large skillet over moderate heat, begin by heating up the olive oil before tossing in the cabbage, onion, zucchini, and tempeh. Stir frequently, and once the onions are translucent, add in the potato and lentils. Cover and let cook for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Add seasoning to taste (I didn’t measure, but all you need to do is just add spices until it tastes good.) Move the filling into a large bowl and allow it cool.
  6. Once risen, Punch down the dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Gently roll out each piece into a 5-in. circle, or as thin as you can get it. Place around 1/4 cup of filling in the center, and fold dough over that filling to meet in the center; Pinch the edges together to seal, and place each finished bun with the seam side down on a silpat-lined baking sheet.
  7. Repeat for all of the remaining buns, and let rise once more for about 30 minutes. Brush lightly with non-dairy milk to encourage a golden-brown crust, and sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes until nicely browned.


*Tempeh-tations have been discontinued, but fear not! You can use plain tempeh and add 2 tablespoons of your favorite BBQ sauce instead.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 280Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 402mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 5gSugar: 7gProtein: 11g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.


51 thoughts on “Tempting Tempeh

  1. I love the meat bun idea! I’m starting to like tempeh, but I think tempeh surrounded by bread is definitely something I could get behind!

  2. i have tried tempeh before and was not a fan.. i thought it was too rubbery… lol plus i think it was too much soy at the same time for me!
    but these look really tasty.. no denying that!!!! great job!

  3. I love tempeh! It is one of the few faux meat products my hubby actually requests! I have experimented a lot with eating it raw, marinated, and baked, and am always impressed. I’ll have to keep my eyes out for the new line of pre-seasoned packages….those would be great after a long day of work :) Thanks for the ideas!

  4. Your vegan meat buns are adorable Hannah! I’ve been playing with some similar tempeh products from Turtle Island. Pre-seasoned tempeh must be the next new thing.

    You make tempeh look great!

  5. my favorite use of tempeh is to cut it in strips, marinate it and lightly fry it. from there you can do a lot with it. but by cooking it with a bit of the marinade it gets a bit softer and filled with flavor. i haven’t tried the pre-seasoned kind.

    my favorite use for the marinated and fried strips is in a sandwich. but sometimes i’ll have it just with veggies on the side.. or in pasta or rice.

    my marinades vary depending on what i have in the fridge.. but they usually contain soy sauce, water and seasonings.. often lemon pepper and garlic. sometimes ginger, cayenne, or a spicy southwest seansoning. i try to fry it in a bit of the liquid, but you have to be careful, if your marinade is too strong it will end up too flavorful and salty in the end.

  6. The bun idea is very cool. Thanks for the thorough review!

    Oh, and don’t be silly…you had no reason to know about my birthday. Thank you so much for the birthday wishes!

  7. Great and easy way to eat tempeh is to slice it into strips, saute in a bit of oil until golden, then sprinkle with tamari! Yum!! These are a favourite breakfast/brunch treat around here, and are even popular with carnivorous guests!

  8. Tempeh gets no respect! It’s delicious marinated overnight in all kinds of sauces, particularly barbeque, then pan fried or grilled. The whole beans give it a perfect texture to sub for ground beef in shepherd’s pie (or adorable tiny meat buns).

  9. You’re so inventive!! I’ve seen these at the store but I normally away from convenience foods. Maybe I’ll give the BBQ ones a try!

  10. Those “meat” buns look so perfect! I’ve been a vegetarian for years but never had tempeh. I think because I have no idea waht to do with it and I couldn’t find it, but now I can so I must try it soon. =) All of the dishes you created are very inspiring!

  11. I <3 litelife fakin bacon!
    These buns are perfect for a family BBQ, when many gnaw into a lump of red cow’s flesh on puffy white sesame buns, they will suddenly realize the vegan made more creative, interesting and possibly delicious cruelty-free food! Sorry If I’ve offended anyone here, it’s just a future vision :-)

  12. I wish I liked tempeh. I have seen so many tempeh recipes that look good, but I just can’t get past the taste of tempeh. I love the “meat” buns! That was a really good idea.

  13. I’ve been loving tempeh for a couple of years now. Makes great tacos and sloppy joe’s. I agree with Mary that it gets no respect and takes a marinade very well. I haven’t gotten the flavored cubes but I did find marinated strips from Turtle Island. I’m not a huge curry fan but the coconut curry version they do is delicious.

  14. I grew up eating tempeh in Singapore. It’s part of our staple food. We ate it fried dipped in sweet soy sauce as snacks. I also love it in soups, together with tofu. After living 12 years in the US, I was surprised and glad that tempeh had made it here. I ran to my nearest Whole Foods and shocked to see so many different kinds of flavors available. WOW! That’s something new. Who would’ve thought, eh? I haven’t try the flavored ones yet (maybe I should) because I was a bit apprehensive.

  15. I like tempeh, and I’ve seen these at the store, but for some reason they don’t really speak to me. Nice review though Hannah!! Way to keep it honest :)

  16. the stuffed meat buns look mindblowing! and is it risotto or Orzo in the first pic Hannah? It looks PERFECTLY cooked!

  17. I love tempeh! There was the best vegetarian place around here and their BBQ tempeh sandwich was the best thing ever… unfortunately all the good veggie places around here seem to go out of business :( I’ll have to give yours a try for sure!

  18. While I don’t have any problems eating tempeh myself, I think most people are turned off because it’s fermented and it can be on the bland side. It’s all in the cooking. Those meat buns look awesome! :-)

  19. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I’m not much of a cook, but I’m trying to eat better, and the “meat” buns look great :)

  20. The “meat” buns look great! I don’t eat tempeh as often as I would wish, just like you. Whenever I try it, I love it but somehow tempeh never became as popular as tofu in my kitchen. I’d love to try these buns to incorporate tempeh into our diet more. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  21. I love tempeh – tempeh bacon is my favourite treat to make!
    The buns look great – you’re so creative. I like the idea of adding potato to the bread dough – can you describe what difference it makes to the texture? Or should I just try it myself and see?!
    Best wishes, Alice

  22. I loved how you used the tempeh! How cute those buns are! lol
    We are using more tempeh here at home, it takes some time to get used to the taste. Even when you steam it before cooking it, it still has a slight hint of bitterness. I’ve been trying to add more seasoning to it.

  23. Your orso salad looks so fresh! The meat buns reminds me of “roasted pork” buns at the Vegetarian Dim Sum House in China Town in NYC. No meat, all gluten and vegetables served .

  24. I like tempeh deep-fried indonesian style with a side of chili sauce. Never really tried them in anything else. I’ll check out tempeh tations, just for the name alone.

  25. I tried the BBQ tempeh… I thought it was pretty good, needed a bit extra sauce though. Yours looks great, lemon’s on tomorrow’s menu! :-)

  26. It is true that it is hard to find ideas on how to eat unusual foods like tempeh. I find inspiration by joining various online communities like Give it 2 Me Raw and other vegan/vegetarian communities. Members always share great recipes, others give feedback or suggest alternatives, etc…
    So join one of those communities and you’ll feel adventurous and inspired!

  27. Looks great, except that Lightlife is a ConAgra brand. ConAgra is a *huge* player in the meat and dairy industry (not to mention biotech and GE), which makes their “vegan” products not quite so exciting, I think…not that this is anything different from most other mainstream soy/fake meat products (Boca = Kraft; Morningstar Farms = Kellogg; White Wave/Silk = Jimmy Dean).

  28. Hannah,
    I only have packets of yeast — do you think I could get away with just using .5 oz of yeast for the bread? Or would that not allow for enough rising? Anyone an experienced bread maker that can offer some advice?

  29. I’m wondering the SAME thing Liz is — I, too, only have the dry yeast; can I just use those packets? Two to equal .5oz??

  30. Made these tonight, and despite my screwing with the bread part (even though I’m a bread baking virgin and I STILL messed with the dough; I can never JUST make a recipe), and they were DELICIOUS. My rolls, of course, didn’t come out nearly as pretty as YOURS OR as perfectly round, but they RESEMBLED the picture. :D

    I actually wasn’t sure how much I’d like a stuffed roll, but I LOVE how I can just hold my dinner in a neat, EDIBLE little package. Oh my goodness, Hannah, phenomenal. THANK you for sharing this with us. (Coincidentally, this was my FIRST of your recipes that I’ve made so I was a Bittersweet virgin, as well, but what a great recipe to start with!)

    I have a question on how to refrigerate/freeze these as the recipe made a fair amount of food (for just two people). Should I:

    1. Chill/freeze the dough on it’s own after the first rising,
    2. Fill then chill/freeze OR
    3. Fill, let rise, then chill/freeze (probably no on this one, right?)

    Again, SO delicious, and WELL worth the time and effort it takes to complete these, even for a beginner/intermediate cook like myself. So, please, everyone do yourself a favor and MAKE these!!

  31. I ate tempeh for the first (and only) time in my life on a holiday in Singapore. I’m back in India and find myself salivating over the memory of it. I’d like to try and make some at home. Do you know where in Singapore I could find tempeh starter?

      1. It’s definitely a specialty item, so there aren’t many readily available options, and I’ve never seen it in stores anywhere. If there was a local company that made tempeh, however, I’m sure you could ask to purchase a small bit of their starter culture.

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