Add Tempeh To Store-Bought Sauce To Upgrade Your Meatless Monday

Pasta sauce may seem like the perfect pantry staple to reach for when you want a vegetarian meal. However, tomato sauce from the jar plopped on some noodles isn't always the most satiating dinner, especially if you're trying to avoid popular pasta proteins like beef meatballs, grilled chicken, or pancetta. This is where the humble soybean – in the form of tempeh — can step in and save the day.

Savory, umami-loaded tempeh can be cut into strips, finely diced, grated, or crumbled to resemble ground meat. Hailing from Indonesia, where it has been eaten for hundreds of years, this fermented product is most often made with soybeans, though the same traditional method can be used with various legumes or grains as the base. It has tons of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and just a 3-ounce portion contains an impressive 15 grams of protein. It's also commonly sold smoked as a plant-based alternative to bacon.

Tempeh is hearty enough to keep carnivores happy — but not in that slightly off, too soft, faux meat kind of way that can be off-putting to some. Instead, it's nutty, chunky, chewy, and the right level of firm. It's neutral enough to take on the flavors of your favorite store-bought sauce, and bold seasonings make tempeh shine. It brings a delicate mushroomy taste to the party that can stand up to lots of garlic, plenty of herbs, rich tomato paste, a few good glugs of wine, or any number of umami boosters for store-bought tomato sauce.

Preparing tempeh for sauce

When you purchase tempeh, it typically comes in a block or slices. Either way, it can sometimes be a bit dry. The best ways to cook tempeh involve introducing some moisture, even when you're using it to zhuzh up a jar of tomato sauce. One way to do this is by steaming or simmering it in water. To introduce seasoning from the get go, use broth or stock instead, or flavor the water with something punchy and salty like soy sauce, tamari, vegan fish sauce, or coconut aminos. Steaming or simmering first are good methods to consider if you are particularly sensitive to bitterness — just discard the water or broth before proceeding with adding it to your store-bought sauce.

If you are not too worried about somewhat bitter notes (the acidity, sweetness, and salt in tomato sauce will also help to balance bitterness), you can skip right to making tempeh crumbles. Pulse them in a food processor, break them apart by hand, or grate the whole block on the large holes of a box grater.

Tips for making tempeh pasta sauce

To get the most flavor out of your tempeh before adding it to your sauce, you will definitely want to saute it in olive oil first to develop some color and caramelization. Start by cooking some onions and garlic, or keep it simple and go in straight with the crumbles. You can also add whatever stray veggies or herbs you have on hand. Mushrooms would pair really nicely, but carrots, bell peppers, celery, cauliflower, summer squash, parsley, or basil would all be great too.

Once the tempeh crumbles start to get browned and crispy, add in some dry spices like thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, onion powder, garlic powder, or red pepper flakes. Just check the label on any seasoning blends to make sure they don't contain salt since the sauce you add will likely already have enough sodium. Reach into the cupboard for a store-bought pasta sauce celebrity chefs love to use, or go for your personal favorite. All you really need to do is add it to the pan with the tempeh, simmer for a few minutes, and then toss this vegan tomato sauce with your favorite dry or fresh pasta shape: Your Meatless Monday dinner is served!