Meatless Monday: BBQ Tempeh

I’ve got another good reason to play with tempeh, those fermented soybean cakes I’ve been telling you about: It makes great BBQ. Not barbecue, as in slowwwwly cooked and tantalizing morsels of smoked meat (for which this omnivore has an occasional hankering), but Q, as in tangy, spicy, tomato-y sauce that dresses up chicken, pulled pork -- and yes, tempeh -- like nobody’s business.

BBQ'd tempeh sandwich with carrot-cabbage slaw. (Kim O'Donnel)

The revelation is not mine; it’s the fine work of chef Bryant Terry, author of the brand spanking new “Vegan Soul Kitchen.” As a fellow tempeh devotee, I’ve been tinkering with a tempeh sandwich of my own, so naturally I was intrigued when I got wind of his BBQ tempeh sandwich, dolled up with a kicky slaw of cabbage and carrots.

The sauce comes together in about five minutes, whizzed up in a blender or food processor and then poured over tempeh “fingers,” as Terry likes to call them. While the tempeh soaks up the Q sponge in the oven or under a covered grill, you can whip up the slaw, which takes about 15 minutes, and that means dinner is ready in about an hour.

If you’re not up for making Terry’s sauce, use your favorite bottled brand, but I do recommend measuring it out so that the tempeh doesn’t drown, which would keep it from yielding a crispy edge.

You’ll love the fresh crunch of the slaw against the sultry “meaty” nuggets, a combination that is so savory and satisfying that you may just forget that there’s nary a sliver of barbecue in that bun. It’s good eatin’ just the same.

BBQ Tempeh Sandwich with Carrot-Cayenne Coleslaw
Adapted from “Vegan Soul Kitchen” by Bryant Terry; KOD notes in parentheses

Tempeh Sandwich
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice (preferably from fresh fruit)
¾ cup tamari (KOD: I used low-sodium soy sauce as a back up; tamari has a mellower flavor and is a bit thicker than regular soy. It’s also wheat free.)
¼ cup tomato sauce
1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup agave nectar (KOD: honey would work equally well)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons water
1 pound tempeh (2 8-ounce packages), cut into 1/2 –inch-wide fingers
5 4 x4 inch pieces of foccacia (KOD: I used soft hamburger buns)

In a blender, combine vinegar, lime juice, tamari, tomato sauce, chile, olive oil, agave nectar, cumin, cayenne and water to create a marinade. Puree until well combined. Set aside.

In a large baking dish, place tempeh fingers in one snug layer. Pour marinade on top and tightly cover dish with foil. Transfer to a 350-degree oven or to a grill.

If using a grill, roast for 50 minutes, covered, turning tempeh once halfway through. Remove baking dish from grill. With a slotted spoon transfer tempeh fingers to the grill and cook until sizzling and slightly charred, about one minute per side.

If using oven, bake, covered for an hour, turning tempeh after 30 minutes, as necessary. Finish under broiler for one minute.

Meanwhile, make coleslaw.

Carrot-Cayenne Coleslaw
½ small green cabbage head, cored and sliced thinly
2 large carrots, grated
¼ small purple cabbage head, cored and sliced thinly
KOD: I added ½ red bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar or cane sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Place green cabbage and carrots in one bowl and purple cabbage in a separate bowl.

In a small bowl, combine mustard, vinegar, agave nectar, salt and cayenne. Briskly whisk, making sure to dissolve salt. While blending, slowly add olive oil

Add half of dressing to green cabbage/carrots and add remaining dressing to purple cabbage. Massage them both well until wilted, 3-5 minutes each. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight. Remove at least 15 minutes before serving, combine the contents of each bowl, add sesame seeds and mix well.

Construct sandwiches by adding 3-4 tempeh fingers to each piece of bread, topping with coleslaw.

Makes five servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 16, 2009; 7:30 AM ET Meatless Monday
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Hi Kim!
This is the first recipe that uses tempeh that I'm actually tempted to try! Thanks!

I made pizza for the first time on Friday night. I used your recipe and it turned out fabulous! I caramelized a red onion, sliced a green pepper and a tomato thinly, and used up some mozzarella I had in the fridge. Yummy!

We had the leftovers for lunch on Saturday. Thanks to you, I'm no longer intimidated.

Posted by: earlysun | March 16, 2009 8:52 AM

I'll give it a go. Mrs. Blade is a tempeh fan, but we never get around to using it. I'm thinking of using some pomengranate molasses in place of the agave. I think the flavors would fit right in.

Looking forward to trying pizza making. Decided against a yeastless crust in favor of waiting a couple of days.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 16, 2009 10:25 AM

Wow that recipe sounds delicious! I am not a big meat-eater myself so I am always up for trying meatless options. I have never had tempeh but this recipe makes it sound yummy and I am quite tempted to try it sometime soon!

Posted by: collegegirl1 | March 17, 2009 11:17 AM

Barbequed tempeh is a favorite around here for years. I cut the block into rib sized pieces and grill them with lots of sauce. My favorite sauce is to mix ketchup, dijon mustard, barbeque sauce, dried onions,pineapple juice, maple syrup or honey, and then a little soy sauce in a jar and brush it on the tempeh. It is also great in a stir fry of onions, carrots, celery, broccoli, and pineapple infused brown rice. I just went vegetarian and lost nine pounds.

Posted by: Lydiasings | March 19, 2009 10:52 AM

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