Not even a week has passed since my return from Indonesia and I can confidently tell you that the thing I miss most is not the warmth nor the beaches, it’s the food. The flavours and the variety place this cuisine at the top of my list. If you haven’t tried tempeh yet and you are a lover of healthy and tasty food, boy have I got a treat for you. Indonesians enjoy it fried and spicy, and often will add it to dishes such as Gado Gado (see my simplified recipe for Gado Gado Peanut Satay Sauce Recipe) or have it cooked in a spicy sambal served with rice. It is as versatile as tofu, but many prefer the firmer texture of tempeh over its soybean cousin. Here is my play on tempeh, and a good one to get you started on your tempeh journey – Easy Almond Tempeh Vegan Meatballs.
My first introduction to tempeh in 2009 was also in Indonesia, also being the birthplace of this fermented soy dish. It was at a ma n’ pa warang or restaurant on the beach in Kuta, Lombok. It was fried and smothered in the tastiest garlic chilli sauce – traditional Sasak flavours – and served with rice. On my most recent trip back to Indonesia the warang was sadly torn down to make room for new developments and because I knew I could not create a comparable reproduction, I decided to get creative with tempeh instead.
“Tempeh in these vegan meatballs is made from fermented soybeans. The fermentation process increases the digestibility of the soybean as well as increases some nutrient absorption including phytonutrient isoflavones genistein and daidzein.”
Unfortunately, soy has gotten some bad press lately. The demonizing (and glorifying) of foods has been trending in recent years, and soybeans have caught the brunt of it. While highly processed soy isolates may be problematic, even naysayers of soy products can agree that fermented soybeans may offer some health benefits, and that is exactly what tempeh is. Soybeans are known for being exceptionally high in well-studied phytonutrients, and because tempeh contains the whole soybean, it is higher in protein, fibre and vitamins as well.
I choose to have this dish with a seasonal salad (see recipe for Summer Tofu Salad Bowl with Brown Rice and a Savoury Dressing), but it also tastes great with Gado Gado Indonesian Peanut Sauce or in a vegetarian spaghetti bolognese style dish. Any nuts can be used in place of almonds; I tried it with pecans which were just as delicious. This dish is meant to be simple but if you would like to add more depth of flavour, fry the onions and garlic beforehand. Lastly, play around with the ingredients and if you love them, tell your friends! Let’s spread the word about tempeh!
Easy Tempeh Vegan Meatballs
- 1 package (225g) tempeh organic
- 3 green onions greens and whites sliced
- 1 clove garlic roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari organic
- 1-2 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup almonds or any other nut
- 1 tsp fresh herbs of your choice (I used sage)
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
- 1/8 tsp black pepper ground
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil extra-virgin (optional)
- Pasta optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth.
- Next take small amounts of mixture and roll it in your palms to create about 8 golf ball sized tempeh balls.
- Line a baking tray with baking paper, or with 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Space the "meatballs" out evenly on the tray.
- Cook for 20 minutes total, rolling them once halfway through to ensure even browning.
- Once they are finished cooking, serve them with your favourite salad, or with a delicious tomato sauce on pasta!
Add more spice: Use 1 tbsp of curry powder or garam masala in place of fresh herbs
Add more depth of flavour:Fry onion and garlic in 1 tsp of olive oil before adding to the food processor
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.