Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls

Written by Beth - Budget Bytes

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!

Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls

A Sweet and Spicy Tempeh bowl with a ranch drizzle, about to be eaten.

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.

A prepared Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowl with ranch drizzle.
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Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls

Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls are the perfect make-ahead vegetarian meal prep, with a medley of colors, textures, and bold flavors. 
Author: Beth - Budget Bytes
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Servings: 4


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)

Bowl Toppings

  • 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.
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Serving: 1 ServingCalories: 667.15 kcalCarbohydrates: 68.68 gProtein: 25.83 gFat: 34.3 gSodium: 1020.15 mgFiber: 12.1 g
Nutritional values are estimates only. See our full nutrition disclaimer here.

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Meal prepped Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowls in round glass bowls

Step by Step Photos

Tempeh Package

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.

Cut Tempeh into Triangles

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.

Pour Sweet and Spicy Marinade over Tempeh

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.

Sweet and Spicy Tempeh finished

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.

Make Polenta

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.

A prepared Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowl with ranch drizzle.

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. 

A Sweet and Spicy Tempeh Bowl being eaten, front view.

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).