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!

Tahini Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (vegan)

(One of the most important aspects of this blog is engaging my community in the discussion of sustainability, pragmatism, and healthy lifestyle on a budget. In order to hear different voices and perspectives I have asked some peers to contribute their thoughts and experiences. Every few weeks I will feature a guest post discussing issues, sharing experiences, and raising questions on the subject. Message me if you're interested in contributing to the discussion.  - Tatyana)

I keep a vegan kitchen, in a practice that is less about not eating animals and more about eating as many plants as possible. When I first began cooking vegan five years ago, I would plan and shop for specific recipes -- a particular curry, stew, or casserole. While I think adhering to recipes was a great way to learn the methodology and staples of vegan cuisine, my cooking has since evolved. I now plan less and just keep fresh, seasonal vegetables around, to be cooked simply and combined with grains and proteins and, most importantly, smothered in sauces. 

Here is a secret of vegan cooking -- everyone finds a pile of unadorned quinoa depressing. Without a sauce to punch up the flavor and add the fat that vegan foods often naturally lack, vegan cooking can be as bad as its detractors claim. I keep a pantry full of ingredients to make a variety of sauces on a whim, and I've shared below my all-time favorite.

Tahini is the base for a number of wonderful vegan sauces. There are two secrets to tahini-based sauces: first, make sure you add something acidic to cut tahini's naturally heavy sesame flavor. I use vinegar below, but lemon juice or mild hot sauce would work as well. Second, tahinis vary widely in texture and thickness. Find a brand that is, for lack of better descriptor, runny. My favorite brand is Ziyad.

If you are looking to incorporate more plant-based meals in the new year, this easy recipe is a great complement to any vegetable. It can be made thick to spread on sandwiches, or thin to drizzle over, well, quinoa. It's creamy and tangy and makes things taste vaguely like pizza.


Tahini Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


  • 3/4 cup tahini
  • 1 roasted red pepper (jarred is great)
  • 2 Tb white balsamic vinegar -- white balsamic is a particularly wonderful addition to the vegan sauce repertoire, but if you don't have it, any light vinegar will do -- just not regular balsamic.
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water (depending on how thick your tahini is)
  • 2 Tb nutritional yeast (optional)

Combine all ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup water, in the blender of a food processor and blend until smooth. Add more water as desired for texture. Drizzle over your favorite dish! 

      Tahini red pepper sauce drizzled over quinoa-white bean-spinach patties. 

      Tahini red pepper sauce drizzled over quinoa-white bean-spinach patties.