While you can find tofu at just about every grocery store these days, tempeh is a little bit more obscure. I even know long-time vegetarians who have never given it a try. But you really should! And this Kung Pao Tempeh recipe is the perfect way to do it.
Like kimchi, miso, and kombucha, tempeh is a fermented food, so it’s good for gut health. And because it’s a more unprocessed form of soy, it’s less problematic than soy in other forms.
I love tofu, but tempeh is my fave. I like the texture–it’s a little more substantive than tofu–and the mildly nutty flavor. I often use it as an ounce-for-ounce substitute for meat in recipes, which is how this Kung Pao Tempeh came to be.
Instead of chicken, tempeh is the protein in this vegetarian Kung Pao. And then to make the dish even more filling, I added a trio of vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, and red bell peppers. A sweet-and-spicy sauce brings it all together–use a liberal amount of pepper flakes if you like things spicy or go easy on them if you like to keep things on the mild side (that would be me!).
Kung Pao Tempeh
Swapping tempeh and vegetables for the chicken transforms a takeout staple into a delicious vegetarian meal.
- 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce divided
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 7 teaspoons cornstarch divided
- 1 8-ounce package tempeh, cubed
- 1 small zucchini cut into thick half moons
- 1 small eggplant cubed
- 1 red bell pepper cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
- 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil
- 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes more or less, depending on the spice level you like
- 6 green onions sliced, white and green parts separated
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- Cooked quinoa or rice for serving
Whisk together 4 tablespoons of tamari, mirin, and 3 teaspoons of cornstarch in a small bowl. Place the tempeh, zucchini, eggplant, and bell pepper in a large, shallow baking dish and pour the sauce over them. Toss to coat and let the vegetables marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
While the vegetables are marinating, make the sauce. Whisk together the vinegar, hoisin, sesame oil, sugar, and remaining tamari and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat with the oil and add the red pepper flakes to the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until the pepper flakes are beginning to darken, but not burn. Add the tempeh and vegetables to the wok and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the eggplant and zucchini are tender.
Stir in the white parts of the green onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 30 seconds. Pour the sauce into the wok and stir to coat, then add the peanuts and cook for another minute. Remove from heat.
Serve over quinoa or rice and garnish with the remaining green onions.
Photos by Lindsey Johnson