Intro to Tempeh + Korean BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches

Sandwiches are pretty much the most important food of all time. I like my (vegan) sandwiches saucy, hearty, and flavorful, and for my money, there's no greater staple for my sandwich needs than tempeh. 

Because "fermented soy bean patty" sounds like it would be more at home on a chemical weapons treaty than your dinner table, allow me to explain the wonders of tempeh. It has a subtle nutty flavor and a delicate, crumbly texture that is perfect for soaking up marinade. It's chock full of protein and provides the numerous health benefits of unprocessed fermented foods. At about $3 for an 8-ounce package, it's an affordable, versatile protein choice.

Tempeh has become my protein of choice, and not just for sandwiches. Unlike tofu, it doesn't require the extra step of pressing the water out to ensure a toothsome texture, so I can get it on the dinner table in a variety of dishes with minimal prep time. Some people find tempeh bitter-- I think it's genetic, like aversion to that soap-leaf people put on Mexican food to make it gross. This problem is very easily remedied by steaming the tempeh in a steamer for 10 minutes before marinating. Here are some way I use tempeh: 

  • Cut into strips and put in a simple marinade of soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic powder, then pan-fried. These strips are great in pasta, wraps, rice bowls, you name it. 

  • Crumbled, steamed, then pan-fried with fennel, paprika, soy sauce, and lemon juice to make "sausage" crumbles. These are great in soup and really take advantage of tempeh's crumbly texture. 

  • Cut into strips and put in a smoky-sweet marinade, then pan-fried or broiled. These are amazing in vegan BLT's.

And now back to our regularly scheduled sandwich. These sandwiches are a fun, flavorful way to try out tempeh, with a satisfying mix of textures and flavors. This recipe makes four smaller, slider-like sandwiches, so if you want more sandwich (which you do), this recipe easily doubles. This recipe is adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's fantastic book Isa Does It, and her blog Post Punk Kitchen, which I cannot recommend enough for people who want to try out creative weeknight (read: not three hours of peeling and chopping) vegan recipes.

Korean BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches


For the marinade: 

  • 1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. liquid smoke
  • 2 tps. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup water

For the sandwiches:

  • 1 8-ounce package tempeh (any variety is fine, I prefer "original")
  • 1 tbsp. high-heat oil
  • 4 buns (you'll need something hearty to stand up to the sauciness)
  • 1 cup kimchi
  • 1 cup Mayo (vegan if you prefer)
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  1. Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a shallow pan or bowl. 
  2. Cut the tempeh in half width-wise and then and then cut each block along the narrowest side (to open like a clam). 
  3. Set the tempeh in a single layer to marinate for for at least 30 min.
  4. Preheat the broiler and oil a 9x13 in. pan.
  5. Transfer the tempeh from the marinade pan, reserving the marinade, and broil for 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned.
  6. Pour all marinade back into the pan and broil for 10-12 minutes, until the sauce looks thick and, well, like barbeque sauce. 
  7. Remove the tempeh from heat, spread mayo on buns, arrange tempeh, add kimchi, and spoon some extra barbeque sauce on the sandwich. Grab some extra napkins and dig in!