Weeknight Vegetarian: Tempeh makes a kebab worth grilling


Tempeh Kebabs With Minty Cilantro-Lime Sauce, quickly cooked on the grill or under the broiler. (Deb Lindsey/For the Washington Post)
Joe Yonan
Food and Dining Editor September 3, 2013

A friend invited me to a cookout this summer. Experience had taught me that at his party, vegetables would be few and far between, so if I wanted to eat vegetarian, I’d have to bring my own ingredients and do it myself. So while he pulled chicken thighs out of a marinade and plunked them on one side of the gas grill, I did the same with tempeh I had brought. (The last time I was there, it was a fish fry, and I brought mushrooms for the battering.)

Tempeh’s firm texture makes it perfect for the grill, and its blandness allows it to pick up bold marinade flavors. As a bonus, while my friend had to be careful not to put the chicken back into his marinade, which of course was too dangerous to eat without boiling, I didn’t have any such issues to worry about. A tempeh marinade can become a quick dressing, no further cooking required.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Washington Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Food section's Weeknight Vegetarian column. View Archive

All this was on my mind when I craved grilled tempeh again recently, and spied a way to get my fix in Louisa Shafia’s recent book “The New Persian Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press). Shafia proves my point about that marinade idea, soaking tempeh in a pungent combination of lime, scallions, garlic and turmeric for a day or two before skewering it with cherry tomatoes and grilling it as a vegetarian take on Iran’s beloved street food. A little of the leftover marinade becomes a basting liquid, while most of it combines with mint, cilantro and yogurt for a vibrant green sauce.

I didn’t have access to a grill when I tried it the first time, so I did the next best thing and put it under a hot broiler, basting it every minute or two until the tempeh started to char, just as if charcoal had been involved. I ate it with rice and a little salad, but the next time I make it, pita will be part of the picture.

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