Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tangy BBQ Tempeh with Apricot Couscous

A partial motivator behind this meal was a recent request for more protein from a resident omnivore who, though very supportive of my meatless mania, needs a little more “umph” to keep up with both weight-lifting and cycling 30-40 miles 3-5 times a week. I consider myself active, but I’ve never had a protein concern on a vegan diet due to my small frame. For someone whose caloric needs are almost 50% more than my own, this was a very polite and respectful request. So as to place more emphasis on the capability of a vegan diet to satisfy even the most extreme of athletes, and to prevent potential carcass from having to be stored in a shared appliance, I’ve been much more conscious of protein’s presence in the general macronutrient distribution on our plates.

On many occasions, I look to tempeh as a tool to both enhance the protein portion in a meal and replace a meat counterpart. A fermented soy bean product, tempeh is thought to have originated in Indonesia on the island of Java. In fact, it was when I was working in an Indonesian restaurant in Madison, WI that I had my first taste. Bandung Restaurant is the only Indonesian restaurant in Wisconsin and makes homemade tempeh from a family recipe. I’ve even requested the shipment of tempeh from my former boss, because there is nothing as good down here in the Southwest. Unlike tofu, which is a coagulated soy product, tempeh is sturdy in texture but soft to the bite. Similar to tofu, it does not have a strong natural taste and therefore holds seasonings and marinades very well. It’s a fantastic replacement for ground beef or other dark meat products. In this case, tempeh stands in for barbecued ribs, a hard thing to replicate as a vegan, not that many vegans want to mimic flesh on bone. But let’s face it - even for the carnivores…it’s all about the sauce.

Which brings me to the key inspiration for this recipe. A dear friend asked a very encouraging question regarding some crazy vegan blogger who listed pomegranate molasses in a recipe she wanted to try. Who has pomegranate molasses and where do you even buy it? You could actually make it at home; it is simply syrup made from pomegranate juice and sugar. A staple in many Middle Eastern dishes, you can find it in any Middle Eastern market or food store. It is the essential ingredient in Muhummara, one of my favorite pita accompaniments. Not wanting to force her to seek out a sticky bottle of obscure molasses for one recipe only, I sought to incorporate it in another tasty recipe.

So to fuse the two inspirational driver – using a lesser known but delicious ingredient in a dish that would satisfy a highly active omnivore male athlete who obliges my plant-based fanaticism – I give you BBQ Tempeh! I hesitate to call them tempeh ribs, because they come from no one’s chest and require no bone-gnawing to enjoy. But they are effortlessly satisfying in a tart, spicy sauce and perfect with a side of veggie-studded couscous. Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients in the sauce. They are all thrown together in a food processor and the measurements are by no means strict. Feel free to add more cumin if that’s your flavor of the month. Give it a taste and if it’s to tangy, add a little more sweet. If you need more heat, add crushed red pepper. Keep on tasting until you end up with something that’s finger-lickin’ good – despite the fact that this vegan dish requires no hands-on contact or tacky bib.

Tangy BBQ Tempeh
Makes 3 servings
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 30 min


1 Package tempeh
6 Dried apricots (Turkish, unsulphured)

1 Medium tomato, chopped
2 Scallions, chopped (white parts only)
1 Large garlic clove, smashed
1/3 c. Organic ketchup
1 T. Olive oil
1 T. Pomegranate molasses
2 tsp Maple Syrup
2 tsp Soy sauce
¼ tsp Onion powder
¼ tsp Cumin, ground
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper
Salt to taste (if needed)


Steam tempeh (or cover with water and simmer) for 10-15 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices, about 12-15 slices.

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

In a small sauce pan, cover apricots with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until apricots are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside reserving cooking liquid.

To make the sauce - combine apricots, ¼ cup of the apricot water and remaining ingredients in a food processor. Puree until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. For a less tart sauce, add more water and/or maple syrup. For more spice, add some crushed red pepper or more cayenne.

Coat an oven-safe dish with cooking spray. Spread tempeh in one layer and coat completely with sauce. Turn over tempeh to coat both sides. Bake in oven for 30 minutes, or until sauce has thickened and tempeh has browned. Remove and serve with couscous.

Apricot Couscous
Makes 3-4 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes


2/3 c. Couscous

½ c. Zucchini, diced
½ c. Carrot, shredded
¼ c. Roasted cashews
2 Scallions, finely sliced (green parts only)
6-8 Dried apricots, diced (Turkish, unsulphured)
1-2 T. Fresh lemon juice, from ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste


Pour 1 ¼ c. boiling water over couscous and let sit until all liquid has absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff couscous and mix in remaining ingredients using as much lemon juice as fits your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.


  1. The barbequed tempeh was great! Next time I'll make a double batch of sauce in order to have more to add after it's cooked. This was quite a summer treat when paired with peach cobbler for dessert. :)

  2. OOoooo can you please send me your recipe for cobbler? Mmmm..

  3. This looks great! Can't wait to try. Any suggestion for replacement for the pomegranite molasses?

    1. Hmmm good question - you could try reducing a tart juice such a s cranberry or using some kind of tart preserves instead :)