Everyone needs a Bolognese recipe that always tastes great and tempeh Bolognese is that and more. Savory, deep flavor with just a few simple ingredients and simmered, flavorful tempeh crumbles make this much more than just your average red sauce.
Preparing tempeh – my method
If you’ve cooked tempeh with me before, then I can safely tell you that nothing has changed in my approach to cooking tempeh. If you aren’t familiar, this is my tried and true approach and while this is an extra step and involves extra time for preparation, it is worth it.
What is tempeh - the quick version
Tempeh, is a wonderful alternative to tofu or other meat substitutes. It has a stronger flavor (a bit nutty) and firmer texture than tofu. It’s important to note that although tofu and tempeh are both soy based, and both are completely free of animal products, when it comes to preparing and cooking, they behave differently.
The substantive texture of tempeh comes from its main ingredient which is whole soybeans that are soaked, then cooked and slightly fermented and formed into blocks or cakes. Cooking gives it substance; fermenting gives it flavor.
Is tempeh organic?
The short answer to this question is maybe. Like anything, read the label. Ideally, you want tempeh that is made with non-GMO soybeans. You should also be aware that tempeh is not always made with just with soybeans. Sometimes tempeh is made with a combination of soybean and grains including brown rice, barley or millet. Even seeds can be used. And about that soybean part? Turns our that tempeh can be made with any kind of bean such as black beans, black-eyed peas and even chickpeas.
How to prepare tempeh crumbles
When I first tried tempeh, I was less than impressed. I found it to have a strong and bitter taste with an impenetrable texture, resistant to marinades. Refusing to admit defeat, I took tempeh head on and I discovered that simmer tempeh in a simple, flavorful liquid does wonders. First, simmering tempeh for at least 30 minutes softens it so that sauces, seasonings or marinades will hold onto to. Also, the process of simmering, draining and pressing tofu to get the moisture out will release the bitter taste. All this means that your tempeh will be tastier and softer. I hesitate to say more ‘meat like’ because that isn’t always the point. Let’s say the texture will be less chewy and the taste not so bitter.
Tempeh Bolognese – a simple, slow simmer
One thing I love about this recipe is how amazingly simple it is. Once you have your tempeh crumbles ready, the initial cooking process is super-fast. I add ½ cup shredded carrot to the onions, garlic and tomatoes which are the base. Carrots are naturally sweet and give your tempeh Bolognese even more depth. Don’t worry, your carrot-haters won’t know unless you tell them that there are a few carrots hiding amongst the pasta.
Tinned (canned) tomatoes
When I make red sauces, I always try to look for the best canned tomatoes I can find (and afford). I know about all the hype around San Marzano tomatoes and I’ll leave that decision to you.
Quality does matter though and for tomato-based sauces as well as thing like one-pot zucchini chili, I am particularly fond of cherry tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes have a sweeter flavor and you just need to add them to the pan, carefully mush them a bit with a wooden spoon and let them simmer. Look for canned cherry tomatoes that are only tomatoes and preferable, no added salt. Between the carrots and good tomatoes, we’ll just add 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar and that will sweeten up your sauce and bring out the tomato-rosemary flavor which is the tradition for at least my Bolognese sauce.
Simple ingredients, complex flavor
It’s amazing how a few simple ingredients and just one spice, fresh rosemary creates the rich, complex flavor that, after simmering evolves into a rich, tempting tempeh Bolognese. I am a big fan of using fresh rosemary in this recipe, but because I only use 1 teaspoon, I can understand if you decide to use dried. If you take that option, cut the amount to ½ because dried spices are usually more potent than dried.
Add tempeh and simmer
The final step in our sauce process, is simply adding the tempeh. Because you start by crumbling and simmering the tempeh, you’ll start that process in advance – even the day before. I usually get it simmering and then prep the rest of the sauce ingredients and start making the sauce while the tempeh drains and dries a bit. The first time I made tempeh Bolognese, I decided to add the tempeh right at the end, but it ended up tasting more like a filler than a part of the rich sauce. For this reason, I advise that you add your prepared tempeh and simmer it along with the rest of the sauce.
Make your tempeh crumbles early
I’ve had great success preparing tempeh ahead of time and either storing it in the fridge or even freezing it. You can take tempeh to the point of simmering and draining it before adding it to sauces or tempeh stew. I’ve also had great success preparing tempeh and combining it with all the spices and extra ingredients to make tempeh breakfast sausage and then storing it in the fridge until I’m ready to make the patties. Then, all you need to do is preheat the oven, mix the tempeh with seitan, make patties and bake. This is a quick time saver if you are considering a holiday morning of biscuits and gravy.
Back to the slow simmer
No matter how you get there, once you add the tempeh, you’ll want to turn down the heat to very low, cover the pan and simmer your sauce. I suggest 45 minutes as that allows the sauce to reduce while bringing out all the richness of just those few simple ingredients. When it comes to making red sauces, reduction is the key and that takes time. As the sauce reduces, it will get thicker and richer the more that time goes on. You don’t need tomato paste for this one, time will do it.
The simmering time also allows you to cook your spaghetti, tagliatelle or whatever pasta you plan to use. You might use it to toss together a simple salad or bake up some hemp seed parmesan to add to your finished tempeh Bolognese.
Time. We kill it, we save it, we get robbed of it, we lose it and sometimes we have all the time in the world. The one constant about time is that it’s finite. And while the amount of time in a day never changes, our perceptions can. If we’re constantly adding so much to our daily plates that we can’t ever clear them, we can stop feeling any satisfaction of moving forward or a sense of accomplishment and convince ourselves we are stalled. Or worse, we start feeling lost and a bit hopeless.
When time becomes the enemy, the only way to get back on track is to take time back to reassess. To put a finer point on it – if we want to move forward, sometimes we need to step back. Decide what’s important and what is possible and reasonable. It isn’t always about the amount we do, but the quality of doing what we can and knowing that our time goes to something worthy. Peace.Print
Everyone needs a Bolognese sauce that always tastes great and rich and flavorful Tempeh Bolognese is all that wrapped up in a vegan, oil-free, easy recipe.
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 – 8 oz. (250 gm.) block of tempeh
- 4 cups vegetable broth (for 4 cups water plus 2 vegetable stock cubes or the equivalent of granules)
- 1 Tbsp. Tamari or soy sauce
- 1 medium onion, diced
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 – 15 oz. (400 gm.) cans of cherry tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes)
- 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped (or ½ tsp. dried rosemary)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
- 14 oz (400 gm.) dried spaghetti or tagliatelle
- To simmer the tempeh, start by cutting the block into quarters (or eighths) and then crumble into small bite-sized pieces. Add the crumbled tempeh, 4 cups of vegetable broth and 1 Tbsp. tamari to a medium pot.
- Bring the pot to boil and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer the tempeh for at least 20 minutes.
- After the tempeh has simmered, drain it using a colander and press the tempeh against the sides to get as much moisture out as you can. Set it aside.
- In a large skillet or medium pot, sauté the onions and carrots for about 5 minutes until they start to get soft. Add water a tablespoon at-a-time if they start to stick.
- Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to mash them. Do this gently so they don’t explode, and you spend extra time cleaning tomato off the wall.
- Add the veggie broth and stir in the rosemary.
- Add the tempeh and stir everything. Make sure the sauce is at a slow simmer and then cover the pan and allow the tempeh Bolognese to simmer for 45 minutes. Check the sauce periodically to ensure that it hasn’t reduced too much and that it is still at a slow simmer.
- Start the pasta after the sauce has simmered for about 20 minutes. That should give you time to boil the water, cook and drain the pasta so it’s hot to serve.
- The prep time includes the simmering time for the tempeh.
- Nutritional information includes 14 oz. spaghetti.
- You can simmer the tempeh a day or two ahead of time. To do this, just follow the instructions above and after you drain and press it, allow it to cool a bit in the colander and then place it in an air-tight container and store in the fridge.
Keywords: Tempeh Bolognese