Happy New Year! My 31 Day Vegetarian Challenge officially starts today and I have to say, the first recipe I made for the challenge, Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls, is pretty killer. I chose a bowl meal for my first meal of the month because they’re just so easy and filling, they pack up great for leftovers, and they’re flexible enough to accommodate using leftover refrigerator ingredients. This particular bowl meal features my favorite sweet and spicy spice blend, creamy polenta, black beans, cheddar, avocado, green onion, and a tiny drizzle of tangy ranch dressing. The combo of sweet, spicy, and creamy in this bowl is absolutely to die for!
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is basically a block of fermented soy beans, but you can also find tempeh made with other beans and grains, which is great news for people with soy allergies. When it comes to vegetarian protein sources, tempeh is just as versatile as tofu, but has a much better texture (IMHO). Tempeh has a very slight nutty flavor and readily absorbs the flavors of any sauce or marinade it is cooked with, making it extremely versatile. The texture is similar to firm beans, but because they’re in block form you can slice and cut it into a variety of shapes. Want more info on Tempeh? Thekitchn.com has a great article about tempeh.
Is Tempeh Cost Effective?
At about $3 for this 8oz. block of organic tempeh, it’s about the same price as beef, so I do use it sparingly in my recipes. As with any other expensive ingredient, I’ve paired the tempeh with several other inexpensive and bulky ingredients, like polenta and black beans, to help balance the cost and keep the total price of the recipe down.
Doesn’t the Avocado Turn Black??
Haha, if I only had a dime for every time I get this question. 😂 I often add sliced avocado to my meal prep bowls and while they do turn slightly grey on the edges over the few days that they’re in the refrigerator, they don’t totally turn black. This color change is okay with me, since the avocado still tastes the same. If that does bother you, you can add the avocado fresh to the bowls each day (they hold their color best when not sliced and still attached to the skin and pit), or squeeze some lemon or lime juice over the slices.
Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls
Sweet and Spicy Tempeh
- 8 oz. tempeh ($3.19)
- 1/2 cup water ($0.00)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar ($0.08)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil ($0.16)
- 1 cup cornmeal ($0.24)
- 3 cups water ($0.00)
- 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
- 2 Tbsp butter ($0.12)
- 1 15oz. can black beans, rinsed ($0.49)
- 2 oz. shredded cheddar ($0.44)
- 1 avocado, sliced ($0.49)
- 2 green onions, sliced ($0.20)
- 4 Tbsp ranch dressing ($0.31)
- Cut the block of tempeh into 32 thin triangles. For the block I used, I first cut it into 8 equal-sized squares, then cut each square into two triangles, then cut the thickness of each triangle in half to make the pieces thinner. Add the tempeh triangles to a large non-stick skillet.
- Make the sweet and spicy marinade by combining the water, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt, brown sugar, and olive oil. Pour this mixture over the tempeh in the skillet. Turn the skillet on to medium-high and simmer the tempeh, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates and the tempeh begins to brown just slightly (about 10 minutes). Remove the tempeh from the heat.
- To make the polenta, combine the cornmeal, salt, and water in a medium sauce pot. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring it up to a boil while whisking. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to simmer 2-3 minutes more, or until the polenta has thickened. Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the butter.
- To build the bowls, start with 1 cup of the polenta, add 1/4 of the sweet and spicy tempeh triangles, 1/4 of the rinsed black beans, a pinch or two of shredded cheddar (about 1/2 oz.), 1/4 of the avocado, a sprinkle of green onions, and a light drizzle of ranch. Serve immediately, or refrigerate and reheat later.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
How to Make Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls – Step by Step Photos
If you’re unfamiliar with tempeh, this is what the brand I used looks like. This is the brand that I see most often in stores. It’s usually found in the refrigerated produce section, near tofu and other meat alternatives.
This photo shows the progression of how I cut the tempeh, from left to right. First cut the block in half, then in half again to make four rectangles. Cut the four rectangles in half horizontally to make eight squares, then cut each square diagonally to make two triangles. THEN, the most important part, turn each triangle on its side and slice it into two thinner triangles (that part isn’t shown in the photo above). You should have 32 triangles when finished.
Place the tempeh in a large skillet (you probably want to use non-stick of some sort for this). Combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, and 1 Tbsp olive oil, then pour that mixture over the tempeh.
Place the skillet over medium-high heat and let the tempeh simmer, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has evaporated and the tempeh just begins to brown slightly (about 10 minutes). Remove the tempeh from the heat.
Next, make the polenta. Combine 1 cup cornmeal, 3 cups water, and 1/2 tsp salt in a medium sauce pot. Heat the mixture over medium-high while whisking until it begins to boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook and whisk until it thickens (another 2-3 minutes). Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in 2 Tbsp butter.
And then it’s time to build the bowls! Start with 1 cup cooked polenta, then top with 1/4 of the sweet and spicy tempeh, 1/4 of a sliced avocado, 1/4 of a can of black beans (rinsed), a pinch or two of shredded cheddar (about 1/2 oz.), a few sliced green onions, and a light drizzle of ranch.
Dig in! I am SERIOUSLY looking forward to eating these Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls all week (or at least for the next few days until they’re gone).
Thank you Tiffany! I kept wondering exactly the same especially the polenta. It seemed like it would be too bland and the texture just would not work for me. My silly self was over here wondering if a cheesy grits would work but still that texture would be wrong. I didn’t even think of rice. Rice actually sounds perfect. I’ll just only add the avocado once it’s ready to eat.
But you did mention the entire thing was bland. Does that mean the tempura was also bland?
Despite other reviews, this recipe was not good for meal prep. While the tempeh alone was flavorful (reason for 2 star rating), the polenta and everything else was bland. The polenta did not reheat well it was like a hard pancake and didn’t really make sense with the other ingredients. If I ever made this again I would use rice instead and skip or replace the avocado because that doesn’t obviously reheat well either.
Nearly all of the recipes I’ve made with budget bytes have been great so I was having faith here but my gut feeling was correct.
I’d hoped to like this. I certainly enjoy all the component parts, but mixing them together like this, the flavours and textures just didn’t work. My entire family refused to finish, and although there are leftovers I won’t be eating them.
The tempeh marinade was good though, so I’ll be doing that again, but serving with something else.
I absolutely love this recipe! It’s so delicious!!
I also added corn to the bowl and it was super yummy! Will definitely make this 100 more times.
Yum! I’ve made these twice now as an easy lunch prep. I find split into 4 it’s not quite enough food for me, so I split it into 3 portions instead. The second time I made this I was in a rush and accidentally added the margarine to the polenta before boiling it, but thankfully it turned out just fine. I love this for a quick, easy, and healthy meal, thank you!
I had to come back and say I heated this up for lunch today and tried sriracha mayo instead of ranch as was recommended by a few people. Absolutely delicious! This meal is perfection with sriracha mayo on top.
This was amazing!! First time cooking tempeh and this recipe was such an approachable way to start cooking with it! :) The flavors came together so perfectly. Love this! Thank you for sharing!
This was my first time cooking with tempeh and honestly…I’m shocked. I’ve tried to buy into the hype that tofu can be good if it’s “just cooked properly,” and while I have found a few recipes I like, at the end of the day, it’s still tofu. But this tempeh is a whole different story and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to try it as a meat alternative! The flavor and texture are wonderful.
I haven’t made this full recipe yet (although it looks phenomenal), but the tempeh recipe here has become the go-to tempeh recipe in our household. It is juicy and absolutely delicious! We’ve been cooking with tempeh for years and this is the best tempeh we’ve ever made. Thank you!!
I also couldn’t find tempeh, so sliced cauliflower and used it instead which worked well. Very filling,
This was my first time trying tempeh and this recipe is delicious. I’m already looking forward to eating it again.
This looks delicious, but I’m wondering if it’s possible to sub tofu for the tempeh, and if so, how would I alter the cooking process? I’m the adventurous foodie in my household, and there are only so many newfangled things I can get my housemate to try – tempeh isn’t one of them. Thanks!
I don’t think you could do tofu with this cooking technique because it wouldn’t hold up. You’d need to use a different method to get the spices to stick. I’d probably need to do some experimenting before advising on this one. But we do have plenty of other tofu recipes if you want to check them out!
Thanks so much for your reply, Beth! I’ve got a whole list of your recipes to try – maybe by the time we work our way through some of them, my housemate will feel adventurous enough to try the tempeh!
This looks great, but I’m wondering if it might be possible to substitute tofu for the tempeh, and if so, what alterations should I make to the cooking process? I’m the adventurous foodie in my household, and there are only so many new things I can get my housemate to try – tempeh isn’t one of them!
So many delicious textures and flavors I wouldn’t have thought to put together.
I love this recipe and have made it several times now. It’s so simple and easy and comes together really quickly. I like to roast a ton of veggies and throw those in there too. It ends up being a total explosion of flavor and makes for great left overs! Even my boyfriend loves this one!