If anybody can persuade Americans to eat more tempeh, it’s Kim O’Donnel.
Washingtonians may remember her 12 years at washingtonpost.com as a pioneering food blogger with a closetful of vegetarian recipes that appealed to her ominovorous appetite. The 44-year-old food writer lives in Seattle now and has just released “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour” (Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books). It was inspired in part by the Meatless Monday campaign to reduce the nation’s intake of red meat.
O’Donnel shared this recipe in a cooking session last week, hours before she taught a class at the CulinAerie cooking school at Thomas Circle. Tempeh is basically fermented soybean cake, high in protein and low in carbohydrates and sodium. She began cooking with the meat substitute about a decade ago, and now it’s a favorite of hers.
“It has a toothy quality. Its texture is the key,” she says. But even she soft-pedaled its appearance the first time she made it for her 65-year-old steak-loving mom, whom she lovingly calls “Ms. London Broil.”
“Now she’s cooking from the book once a week,” O’Donnel says.
Some people say it tastes like mushrooms, but the touring author disagrees: “If you can get beyond its immediate appearance, you’ll find it’s a flavor chameleon.” She’ll use it as croutons for a crisp romaine salad with cucumber and tomato or as a main component in a Thai red curry. Here, she marinates it in a soy sauce mixture (30 minutes by the book, but 15 works to keep the prep on the short side) and pan-fries it to a salty chewiness.
The tempeh stars in this combo of sandwich classics -- the hoagie and the muffuletta -- close to her heart. Its onion-olive salad, provolone cheese and garlic-rubbed hoagie-roll interior make it a substantial weeknight meal. O’Donnel suggests serving it with baked kale chips – also a recipe from the book – or in a green salad with seasonal fruit such as pears.
Tempeh is available in the refrigerated case in health food stores and some organic markets. It can be frozen for months or refrigerated for up to 1 week.
- 8 ounces soy tempeh (may substitute multigrain or flax tempeh; see headnote)
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce of choice (optional)
- 1/2 lime
- 1/2 medium onion, cut through the root in half, then sliced into half-moons
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 large or 2 small ribs celery
- 1/2 cup good-quality pitted green and/or black olives
- 1/2 to 1 homemade or store-bought roasted red pepper
- Leaves from 1/4 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling the rolls
- Salt (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Four 6-inch hoagie or other soft rolls, for serving
- 2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 to 8 slices smoked Gouda or provolone cheese per sandwich (optional)
- Romaine lettuce leaves or cucumber slices, for garnish (optional)
- 1/4 cup pepperoncini or your favorite pickled pepper
Cut the tempeh into 24 slices about 1/2-inch thick. Crush 1 clove of the garlic.
Use a fork to whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, sesame oil and hot sauce, if desired, in a medium bowl. Squeeze in the juice from the 1/2 lime. Add the crushed garlic, then the tempeh; turn to coat evenly without breaking up any pieces. Marinate at room temperature for about 15 minutes, turning to coat the second side after 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the onion in half through the root end, then slice into thin half-moons; place in a medium bowl. Add the oregano and stir to incorporate. Squeeze the lemon juice over the vegetables and toss to coat; let sit for at least 10 minutes so the onion loses some of its bite.
Cut the celery in half lengthwise, then into narrower lengthwise strips. Cut those crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Coarsely chop the pitted olives and roasted red pepper; finely chop the parsley and add those three ingredients to the celery bowl.
After the onion mixture has marinated for 10 minutes, stir in the celery-olive mixture and olive oil. Season with salt, if needed, and black pepper to taste.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Use a paper towel to pat the tempeh dry.
Line a plate with several layers of paper towels.
Working in batches so you don't crowd the skillet, pan-fry the marinated tempeh pieces for 2 minutes on each side or until they are browned. The pieces will shrink a bit; handle them carefully to keep them from breaking up. Add the remaining oil as needed.
Use tongs to transfer the fried tempeh to the paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Sprinkle immediately with salt.
If necessary, cut the hoagie or other soft rolls almost in half, keeping them attached along one long edge. Toast the rolls cut sides open in a large nonstick skillet, or under a broiler set on low, for a few minutes until slightly crisped.
Cut the remaining garlic clove in half lengthwise, then rub the cut sides over the crisped surfaces of the rolls.
To build each sandwich, line up the rolls on a cutting board, toasted sides up and opened. Drizzle a small amount of the olive oil over them. Add the cheese to taste, if using, followed by equal amounts of the salad, then evenly divide the pieces of the fried tempeh among the sandwiches. Compress slightly, then top with the lettuce or cucumber and peperoncini, if desired. Cut the sandwiches crosswise in half, if desired, and place on individual plates.
Adapted from O'Donnel's "The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook" (2010), excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick and Kim O'Donnel.
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