Learn how to make a super easy, but ultra flavorful pan-fried tempeh recipe! The quick marinade is made by combining maple syrup, soy sauce, vinegar and some spices, so simple. Bland tempeh turns into a caramelized sweet and savory delicious plant-based protein. Great for meal-prep and to add to salads, pasta, rice or to use in sandwiches.
If you haven't fell in love with tempeh yet, this recipe might be just what you need to understand better why people love it so much!
We pan-fry tempeh often in a pinch for quick meals and it is so easy and delicious that I had to share it here.
Tempeh is chewy, earthy and high in plant-based protein, which makes it a great addition to a vegan lifestyle. But also, this recipe is ultra simple and versatile, you can serve it in so many different ways. Sort of a basic all-purpose marinated tempeh recipe everyone loves.
Use this pan-fried tempeh over noodle bowls or rice dishes and in salads or sandwiches to make your meal much more filling and satisfying. The quick marinade infuses the tempeh with bold flavors and also helps it caramelize as it fries in the pan.
There is a quick extra step when preparing the tempeh that's essential to improve its overall texture and take away most of the bitterness, so be sure not to skip it! But otherwise, this recipe is ultra easy and can be made ahead if you love to meal-prep for lunches.
I hope you guys love it! ❤️
Why you'll love this recipe
- Quick and easy
- Great everyday tempeh recipe
- Versatile flavor that pairs well with many dishes
- Very rich in plant-based protein
- Source of vitamin B12: great if you are 100% vegan
- Amazing for meal-prepping vegan proteins
- Slightly smoky with a nice sweet flavor
- Addictive caramelized edges once the tempeh is pan-fried
- Vegan, dairy-free and use tamari instead of soy sauce for a gluten-free tempeh recipe!
What is tempeh
Similarly to tofu, tempeh is a protein-rich plant-based product made out of soybeans. It originates from Indonesia, but now is widely available in any grocery stores (usually in the fridge section close to the produce).
Instead of crushing/coagulating the soybeans to a paste as seen in the making of tofu, tempeh uses WHOLE soybeans that are packed into a cake and then, fermented using a fungus called Rhizopus oligosporus (tempeh starter).
Tempeh is less processed than tofu and has a rougher texture with a good bite or crunch as you can "feel" the entire soybeans. It is mostly mild and bland in flavor, which makes it great for marinades. We love its nutty and earthy taste that's very satisfying, especially if not eating meat.
The fermentation process adds valuable nutrition to this soybean product by providing gut-loving probiotics. Tempeh also is well-known for being ultra rich in plant-based protein (45 g of protein total for this recipe, crazy!) and packed with healthy fiber + vitamins, such as vitamin B12.
Ingredient list and substitutions
- Tempeh: I used the original tempeh from the brand Lightlife, but any brand will work. You can also make your own tempeh for this recipe if you are up for the challenge!
- Soy sauce: choose low-in-sodium if you want and also, swap for tamari for a gluten-free recipe.
- Maple syrup: adds a great sweet flavor to the marinade. You can also use agave nectar or brown rice syrup.
- White wine vinegar: can also be swapped for red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or even lemon juice. Balances out the sweet and savory flavors with a touch of acidity.
- Garlic powder: you can also use fresh garlic, maybe a small clove, if you prefer.
- Smoked paprika: adds a nice smoky flavor to the marinade. Regular sweet paprika works too if you don't want any smoky flavor.
I often play around with this marinade and add more flavoring ingredients depending of what I have on hand or how I want to serve it. More idea includes: dried herbs such as oregano or basil, liquid smoke (use regular sweet paprika instead of the smoked one in that case), tomato paste (about 1 tablespoon) and dijon mustard.
How to make pan-fried tempeh
This easy recipe is made in 3 steps: boil, marinade and cook.
You can boil ahead of time and then let the tempeh marinade until ready to eat. This will allow the marinating ingredients to really make their way through the tempeh and then all you need to do is roast in the pan once ready to eat.
Boil (or Steam)
Bring a medium pot of water to a bowl.
Meanwhile, start by cutting the tempeh the way you like it. Either cube it for salads or grain bowls, slice it for sandwiches and even crumble the tempeh (still keep it coarse to ease boiling and cooking) if planning on adding it to pasta sauces or rice dishes. I like to simply slice it in small triangles for this recipe (check out my quick video to see how I do this).
Then, once the water is boiling, add the chopped tempeh and let it boil for about 10 minutes. You can alternatively steam the tempeh using a steaming basket as well if that's easier for you.
While the tempeh is boiling, then prepare the marinade.
In a medium size bowl, add the soy sauce, maple syrup, vinegar, garlic powder and paprika. Whisk well to combine and be sure to break all the tiny clumps of garlic powder.
Once the tempeh is done boiling, drain well and add to the marinade while still hot. Stir gently to make sure to cover all the pieces on each side. Let it marinade for at least 15 minutes, but even more if you have time (keep in the fridge if marinating for more than 1 hour). Once in a while, be sure to gently toss or flip the pieces.
When ready to eat, then warm up a large non-stick pan over medium heat with a little oil (optional, I love to use oil spray).
Then, transfer the pieces of marinated tempeh into the pan and fry for about 4-5 minutes on each sides or until done to your liking.
Do NOT pour the whole marinade into the pan or it will burn before the tempeh roasts. Instead, transfer the pieces one-by-one using tongs and brush the tempeh with more marinade once in a while as it fries to keep it moist. It should be ready within about 10 minutes total.
Watch how to make it
- Even though I often make this whole recipe at once, I recommend to marinade the tempeh ahead of time for even better flavor. The longer it marinates, the better the result will be!
- The sweet marinade makes the tempeh easy to burn while roasting. So, check often under the tempeh to be sure it does not cook too fast or burn. Flip often and turn down the heat as needed.
- This recipe makes enough for 2 portions, so don't hesitate to double the recipe if serving more people or if you want leftovers, which should still fit well in one large pan.
Why boiling the tempeh
It might seem like an annoying extra step to pre-boil the tempeh especially if you are in a rush, but try your best not to skip this step. The few times I skipped it, I regretted it! Here is why:
- Boiling the tempeh cooks some of the fungus within the tempeh cake, which will remove a lot of its natural bitterness.
- Tempeh is pretty sturdy and dense. Boiling it first will improve its texture by tenderizing the meaty consistency and thus, be much more pleasant to bite into.
- Tossing tenderized and hot pieces of tempeh into a marinade will help the flavoring ingredients infuse better into the solid piece of tempeh.
One of my favorite part of this pan-fried tempeh is how versatile it is. Not only can you easily tweak the ingredients of the marinade, but also, this all-purpose tempeh recipe goes with just about anything.
Our favorite way to serve it is "over something", if that makes any sense. Either pasta or rice dishes, it adds a flavorful and chewy protein addition to your meal. Try it with turmeric fried rice, vegan cajun pasta, coconut milk brown rice or simply over a peanut butter sauce buddha bowl. I'll often make the marinade extra smoky and pair it with a mac and cheese.
If you want to boost the protein content of your lunches, then make this tempeh ahead of time and top over any salads, but especially this kale salad, carrot cucumber salad or tahini orange rainbow salad. Or pair with Thai brussels sprouts for a perfect combination of flavors!
I think this pan-fried tempeh recipe is best when just made as it is nicely caramelized and a little crunchy with tender middle when freshly prepared. But leftovers are great too and we actually often plan on having leftovers to add on more meals during the week. Our kids love it and it is nice to boost their protein consumption with something they really enjoy.
Keep the leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
It does tend to dry out a little over time, so try to brush extra marinade over just before storing. It is fine if it looks a little moist as you will reheat it later anyway and the tempeh will remain tender.
To reheat, I recommend to pan-fry for 1-2 minutes on each side until warmed up, although be careful not to overcook or burn it. This is the best method to revive some of its crispiness, but feel free to use the microwave if in a pinch as well.
I found conflicting information about this topic. There are some sources that recommend NOT to eat tempeh raw due to the fungi used to ferment the soy beans. A quick boil or roast is enough, so I would recommend to always cook tempeh before eating just to be safe.
I don't recommend it. As explained above, the tempeh tenderizes, is less bitter and absorbs better the marinade after boiled. A quick boil or steam is enough so don't skip!
Yes, absolutely! I have used this marinade for tofu and it worked out great! Use extra firm tofu so it holds well and absorbs the marinade better. Also, you don't need to pre-boil tofu if that's what you are using. Simply drain and pat dry it well, slice or cube and then toss in the marinade.
Looking for more high-protein vegan recipe ideas?
- High-protein overnight oats
- Vegan tofu rice paper rolls
- Chickpea patties
- Bok choy tofu stir fry
- Hoisin tofu
- Vegan egg bites
- TVP bolognese pasta sauce
- Tofu scramble breakfast sandwich
- 3-Ingredient almond flour peanut butter cookies
- Vegan tofu cream cheese
- Thai basil tofu stir fry
More tempeh recipes you might like
I hope you like this pan-fried tempeh recipe as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Easy Pan-Fried Marinated Tempeh
- 1 package of tempeh (8oz, 277g.)
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- ½ tbsp white or red wine vinegar
- ½ tsp smoked or sweet paprika
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile slice the tempeh to a desired shape (cubes, slices, coarse crumbles, etc). When the water is boiling, add the tempeh and let it boil for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the marinade: simply combine the soy sauce, maple syrup, vinegar and spices to a medium bowl. When the tempeh is done boiling, drain well and transfer to the marinade. Toss gently so each sides are covered with the marinade and let it marinate for at least 15 minutes (longer is even better).
- Once ready to cook, warm up a large non-stick pan over medium heat and add a little oil (I like to use oil spray).
- Then, transfer the pieces of tempeh (one-by-one, do not pour the whole marinade or it will burn). Then, fry the tempeh for about 4-5 minutes on each sides. Flip often and watch so it does not burn and brush the tempeh once in a while with more of the marinade as it fries.
- Serve right away while still hot over noodles, rice, salads or in sandwiches.
- I highly recommend to slice, boil and transfer the tempeh to the marinade ahead of time (24-48 hrs) for best flavor.
- Keep leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 3-4 days and reheat using the stove.
- Feel free to adjust the marinade to your taste by adding dried herbs, dijon mustard, tomato paste, etc.