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Tips & Hints/ Vegan Recipes/ Vegetarian Recipes

Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes + Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Tempeh

Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes Recipe

Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes
Last week I wrote a post about tofu for tofu haters. Today, I’m going to tackle another tricky vegetarian protein: tempeh.

I promise you, tempeh is not that strange of an ingredient. Really! Even my small town grocery store sells tempeh. Like tofu, tempeh is a starting point, not a finished product–if you buy it, cook it, and eat it as-is, you’re probably going to think, “Ew, I don’t like tempeh.”

Tempeh in Package

What is tempeh?

Tempeh is a slab of fermented soybeans. Because it’s made with whole soybeans, it’s less processed than tofu. It has a mild nutty flavor and a firm texture. If the softness of tofu puts you off, try tempeh.

My tempeh looks moldy!

Black or white mold on tempeh is normal and perfectly fine to eat.

Tempeh Slab

Fermented soybeans? Mold? You want me to eat this?

I know, I know. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it? But so many foods that we eat are fermented or contain (good) mold. Don’t let that scare you away from trying tempeh!

What kind of tempeh should I buy?

You’ll find that there are several different types of tempeh at the store: regular or soy tempeh, tempeh with flax seeds added, multi-grain tempeh, and flavored tempeh. The flavored tempeh is great, but for most recipes, you’ll want to pick one of the first three varieties. They’re pretty much interchangeable, with the difference being that the flax and multi-grain kind have flax and grains added to the soybeans.

Crumbled Tempeh

So I bought it. What do I do with it?

Like tofu, I like to sauce up my tempeh because I’m not crazy about the flavor on its own. Thinly slice it, marinate it in just about any sauce for an hour or two, and then saute it in a skillet with a small amount of oil or cooking spray. I like doing this with barbecue sauce and making barbecue tempeh sandwiches.

My other favorite thing to do with tempeh is to crumble it up and use it as a substitute for ground beef. Those frozen ground beef substitutes are so processed and they don’t taste very good either. Tempeh is a much healthier option. Use your hands to break it up and brown it in a skillet with a little bit of oil, just like you would with ground beef. Add it to jarred pasta sauce for vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese or use it to make tacos–so many possibilities!

Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes in Skillet
These Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes are the perfect example of tempeh being used in place of ground beef. Crumbled tempeh gives the Sloppy Joes a texture similar to ground beef and the sauce obscures any tempeh flavor that picky eaters might not like. I’ve added some fresh summer veggies to up the nutritional value of these sandwiches a little bit too.

Veggie & Tempeh Sloppy Joes

Tempeh and fresh summer vegetables replace ground beef in this easy vegetarian Sloppy Joe recipe. Adapted from Rachael Ray's Super Sloppy Joes.
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 6


  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 16 oz. tempeh crumbled
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper optional
  • 1 small green bell pepper chopped
  • 1 small zucchini quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 ear of corn removed from cob (or 1/2 c. frozen corn)
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 1-15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 rolls sliced in half


  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in crumbled tempeh and cook 2 minutes more. Add sugar, garlic powder, and cayenne and stir for 1 minute.
  • Reduce heat to medium. Add bell pepper, zucchini, corn, red wine vinegar and soy sauce to skillet; cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and cook 3-4 minutes more, until vegetables are softened, continuing to stir constantly. Spoon onto rolls to serve.


Serving: 1g
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  • Reply
    August 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I tried tempeh for the first time a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised. Great post for anyone new to tempeh.

  • Reply
    Ashlae | Oh, Ladycakes
    August 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    I love tempeh so much that I eat it several times a week. I’m not a big fan of tofu, but only because I find tempeh so much more appetizing. Love that you used it in sloppy joes! I haven’t had one of those in ages.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      I made one of your tempeh recipes not too long ago! The Walnut-Encrusted Tempeh. It was so good! In fact, I have a bunch of walnuts in the fridge–I should totally make that again.

  • Reply
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen
    August 30, 2012 at 3:19 am

    An excellent primer on tempeh!

  • Reply
    August 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Yum my husband loves sloppy joes and I love tempeh. I’m going to try this since I hate the prepackaged TVP sloppy joes! I now don’t mind the slightly bitter taste you get from tempeh, but a tip to get rid of it is to cube the tempeh and steam it for a few minutes. It somehow gets rid of that bitter bite, which is great for people who aren’t too keen on the flavor.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of TVP either. I’m going to have to start steaming my tempeh! I don’t notice any of that taste in a recipe like this, but if the tempeh is cut into large chunks, I definitely taste it.

  • Reply
    Daniela @ FoodRecipesHQ
    August 31, 2012 at 11:41 am

    I’ve never tried tempeh, actually never heard about it before this post. I like to experiment new things, so I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

    • Reply
      August 31, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      I hope you like it if you try it!

      • Reply
        Daniela @ food recipes HQ
        September 1, 2012 at 3:21 am

        Yep. I’ve just read few good things about it. Because of the fermentation process tempeh is much more degistible than tofu. Following a good recipe like yours it can’t taste bad.

  • Reply
    Kelly @ Texas Type A Mom
    September 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    This is really interesting – I didn’t know there was mold on tempeh OR that it was safe to eat. I’m not sure how I feel about this. My grandpa cuts mold off cheese and keeps the cheese, this just seems in the same vein.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      Well, it’s kind of like the mold on blue cheese. It’s not the kind that’s bad to eat or that has a moldy flavor to it…

  • Reply
    Rachel @ Rachel's Giveaways
    September 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I tried tempeh once (I’m pretty sure it was the same brand you have pictured) but it was a flavored one maybe. I used it in an eggplant curry recipe that was a flop, so maybe that turned me away from it. Sloppy joes do sound good, maybe I’ll give it another try 🙂

    • Reply
      Rachel @ Rachel's Giveaways
      September 5, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Just realized I used the word ‘maybe’ like 4 times, I blame it on post-night shift coma :p

      • Reply
        September 5, 2012 at 1:09 pm

        Ha! I catch myself leaving comments like that all the time. I type faster than I think. But I think maybe if you try something where the tempeh is broken up, you might like it more. I’m usually not crazy about big hunks of it because they don’t absorb the sauce so well and the center tastes kind of meh.

  • Reply
    Mary @ Fit and Fed
    September 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Kiersten, I used to make tempeh sloppy joes for my kids all the time. Cruised around your blog today looking for dinner inspiration, I think I’ll make a simpler version of this plus some roasted green beans and potatoes and something for dessert with either the strawberries or the blackberries that we have in the fridge. I’m cooking for our exchange student, too, now, trying to not hit him with too many stir fries and too much tofu at once. I think he’ll be able to relate to the ‘burger’ aspect of this one.

    • Reply
      September 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

      I hope it turned out well! How exciting that you’re hosting an exchange student–I’m sure he’ll go home and be asking for tofu and stir fries after you’ve cooked for him!

      • Reply
        Mary @ Fit and Fed
        September 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        Turned out great. And it had been so long since I made them that my own teen didn’t remember ever having or even hearing of a sloppy joe. Our exchange student said that even he had at least heard of a sloppy joe, though this was his first time eating one, and he liked it!

        • Reply
          September 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

          I’m glad it was a success! We just had it again for dinner last night–I froze half a batch of it.

          • Mary @ Fit and Fed
            September 7, 2012 at 11:09 am

            I didn’t realize you could freeze tempeh for later— I’m learning something new here, thanks.

  • Reply
    December 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    Thanks for posting this AWESOME recipe.

    The only changes I made were I cooked the onions in coconut oil (because it smells so darn good), and since its winter I didn’t have corn or zucchini on hand so left those out. Oh, and I added some nutritional yeast which made it a little pastier/nuttier!

    I really enjoyed it, and it indoctrinated me into the world of tempeh (which I’ll admit, I’ve been quite skeptical of in the past).

    • Reply
      December 6, 2012 at 8:27 am

      Woo hoo! I’m glad I could help convert you. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 6, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    How could I incorporate tempeh into a stir fry without it being bland? What sauces/seasonings would be best??

    • Reply
      January 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      There are two things that I’ve found help: 1) Cut the tempeh into small cubes, slices, or even crumble it because this makes it easier for the flavor to soak through, and 2) marinate the tempeh in advance. You can use any sauce or seasoning you like, but I think the reason tempeh often ends up being bland is because only the very outside of the tempeh soaks in the flavor. A lot of stir fry recipes call for large cubes of tempeh and they’re just too big to soak up the sauce.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I used this recipe!! I made a few adjustments but it was very good. I took out the bell peppers because I hate bell peppers, haha, and I added pine nuts. I also used half as much tempeh, though that was an accident because I assumed I’d only need one package. It was very tasty and flavorful though I probably could have used a tad less tomato sauce. Lastly I used 2 1/2 tbsp of both vinegar and soy cause rather than 2.
    I didn’t use it for sloppy joes, though I can see why its a good sloppy joe substitute–I instead used it to fill my Onigiri with. 🙂 Basically in the center of sticky rice triangles seasoned with a bit of salt an pepper. I still have a bunch of left over filling.
    Thanks for the recipe! It was pretty easy to do.

    • Reply
      January 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

      I’m glad it turned out well! I love onigiri. 🙂

  • Reply
    February 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I made these exactly as it’s written with the exception of red bell pepper for green bell pepper, and they were delicious! Never tried tempeh before, but it smelled good while it was cooking. I hardly even noticed it mixed in with everything else. I will definitely make these again. Thank you for the recipe!

    • Reply
      February 4, 2013 at 9:32 am

      Thanks for the comment–I’m so glad you enjoyed them (and tempeh!). 🙂

  • Reply
    May 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    I made these recently and loved them!!! The fresh corn was a great addition. Thank you for this recipe. I like eating tempeh so much more than tofu. I’ll definitely make these again. Do you know if you could freeze this? It makes a lot for one person (unfortunately I haven’t swayed my husband to all of my vegetarian cooking yet)

    • Reply
      May 22, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Me too! I’m a big tempeh fan. 🙂 And yes, the sloppy joe mixture freezes beautifully. You can put it in a freezer bag, press the air out, freeze it flat, and then defrost in the fridge for up to a day before serving.

  • Reply
    Sarah K
    July 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Made this tonight and since we aren’t used to eating Tempeh I used 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 smokey Tempeh. My husband hates zucchini so I only used 1/2 of one and cut it up really small. I also added chilli powder. The husband said it was the best sloppy joes he’s ever had and I can make this all the time 🙂

    • Reply
      July 17, 2013 at 6:32 pm

      That is quite a compliment! 🙂 I’m glad it was a hit!

  • Reply
    August 20, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    I just made these and served them with a vinegar based broccoli-slaw, everything vegan and fresh from the garden! I’m new to tempeh and am not yet used to it’s… unique flavor, but this is delicious and has a wonderful texture. Thanks for the recipe and the lesson on tempeh! Cheers!

    • Reply
      August 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Thank you for your comment! Yup, tempeh definitely has a unique flavor. 😉 Some people like it, but I prefer to mask it with a sauce or other strong flavors and use it more for its texture.

  • Reply
    December 18, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    This sloppy joe creation is unreal! Just wolfed it down for dinner and am SO glad it made enough for leftovers tomorrow night. I like it better without the bun – it’s good as is!

    • Reply
      December 18, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! 😀

      • Reply
        Julie @ WolfItDown
        January 2, 2014 at 2:44 pm

        Speaking of wolfing it down….I just tried this recipe and it is up on my blog already! I found the recipe through Janel’s blog, and I absolutely loved it! Did a tiny bit of tweaking, due to what I had in my cupboards, swapped the red wine vinegar for rice vinegar and used soy beans instead of tempeh, it was delicious!
        I especially loved the sort of hot and sweet combination of the flavours, delicious 😀
        I hope you don’t mind me posting it up on my blog, I added the link to this website at the bottom of course 🙂

        Happy new year, and thanks for a fantastic recipe! x

        • Reply
          January 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm

          I’m glad you enjoyed it! You are definitely welcome to post adapted versions of my recipes on your blog–thanks for the link! 🙂

  • Reply
    August 1, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    This is a great recipe that we’ve made a number of times. It’s filling, satisfying, and really flavorful! It’s also super quick and easy to make. As a lifelong vegetarian, it’s awesome to get to try “meat” dishes that, growing up, I never had a chance to eat.

    • Reply
      Kiersten Frase
      August 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment – I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the recipe! 🙂

  • Reply
    July 9, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    This was such a good recipe. I’ll definitely be making this again with a few tweaks as per my preference. It was a little too sweet for me so I’ll probably only add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar. I’ll also use tomato puree instead of sauce.

    Just to let you know, I didn’t have zuchini on hand, so I used the mushrooms that I did and they worked really well. As a person who ate a lot of sloppy joes with beef growing up in my pre-veg life, this is an excellent version of the recipe. It doesn’t have the oily, distinctive beef flavor, but it does have a hint of a nutty tempeh flavor, which I think is better. I might try adding cashews next time. I think it might come out good.

  • Reply
    Corrine E
    August 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    New to vegan life. Do you marinate tempeh for this recipe? Thanks

    • Reply
      August 25, 2017 at 7:31 am

      No need to marinate it for this recipe – it soaks up the flavors in the sauce as it cooks. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 27, 2017 at 11:45 am

    This looks amazing and I’m so eager to try it for dinner tonight! I’m new to using some of these ingredients, so just a question. Since I don’t have red wine vinegar on hand, could it be substituted with apple cider or white wine vinegar? Thanks!

    • Reply
      August 27, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Hi Christine! Apple cider vinegar should work just fine. I hope you enjoy this!

      • Reply
        Christine Wang
        September 9, 2017 at 12:26 pm

        Thanks, Alissa! I ended up using white wine vinegar and it still came out phenomenal! I’m making it again for lunch this week 🙂

        • Reply
          September 11, 2017 at 7:50 am

          Yay! Glad you enjoyed them!!

  • Reply
    Deborah Smith
    July 23, 2019 at 7:42 am

    Delicious and made a double batch to freeze. Freezes well.

  • Reply
    Diane Arseneault
    January 23, 2020 at 7:51 pm

    I am new to tempeh and found this recipe which sounded quick and easy for a weeknight dinner. I made it tonight with much more cayenne (I love spicy food) and added mushrooms – love them? This was amazing and I will be eating tempeh more often. I didn’t notice the bitter tastes some other posts mentionned. Will ne sharing this recipe with my friends !! Thank you ?

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