It’s been a while since I made a tempeh recipe! These tangy vegan chili lime tempeh tacos are a great way to showcase one of my favorite plant proteins. They’re also fast and don’t require a lot of cooking—a priority in these hot and humid NYC summer days.
One of the things I often read about tofu is that it absorbs the flavor of any marinade you give it. This isn’t true of tempeh, which has an earthy flavor all of its own. Some people like it, some people don’t. I happen to be someone who loves the way that tempeh tastes. Even so, I usually make it with bold marinades (my lemon pepper tempeh and balsamic mustard baked tempeh are good examples). This helps to offset any earthiness or bitterness from the tempeh itself, and it also adds flavor to a finished recipe.
Chili lime tempeh tips
One of the ways to make tempeh more user friendly is to steam it before marinading or cooking it. I do this sometimes, and I do think it makes a difference. But it’s another step, and I don’t always want or remember to do it ahead of time.
When I made this chili lime tempeh, I soaked the tempeh in a warm marinade. I brought vegetable broth, lime juice, and tamari to a boil before pouring it over crumbled tempeh pieces. It was sort of like marinating and steaming at the same time. I was impressed by how nicely the tempeh absorbed the marinade; it’s one of the more flavorful batches of tempeh that I’ve made, with no hint of bitterness. Only lots and lots of tanginess from the lime juice.
You could cut your tempeh into small cubes for the vegan chili tempeh tacos instead of crumbling it. I like the way the crumbles brown quickly when you cook them, and I they’re a little more reminiscent of meat that way. But it’s up to you!
Building a satisfying vegan taco
I always include some sort of protein in my vegan tacos. In these tacos, it’s the chili lime tempeh, of course. Sometimes it’s beans or lentils, sometimes refried beans. If I want something extra satisfying, I’ll add rice or roasted sweet potato cubes.
I also like to add some source of healthful fat to my tacos. It’s the macronutrient balance idea that I’m always talking about, and which I wrote about in Power Plates. That can be as simple as some sliced or cubed avocado or as fancy as some homemade cashew cheese. A lot of times, it’s cashew queso or yum sauce.
For these tempeh tacos, I used a sauce that I hadn’t made in a while, which is the creamy avocado dressing from this white bean panzanella. I had forgotten what a nice summertime dressing it is: lemony but not too tart, just the perfect hint of fresh basil. You could substitute a sauce or dressing that you prefer in these tacos, or you can give it a try and save the leftovers for salad.
To keep things simple, I garnished the tacos with corn and chopped romaine. Nothing fancy. You could roast the corn to bring out its flavor, but I was honestly trying to avoid the oven on the day that I made these. You could also add cooked rice, quinoa, or potatoes to the tacos for extra staying power. If you don’t have romaine, you can add fresh kale, spinach, or even just a sprinkling of chopped herbs in its place.
Chili Lime Tempeh Tacos
- 1 1/4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon tamari, Bragg's liquid aminos, or soy sauce
- 8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons neutral vegetable oil, such as safflower, grapeseed, or refined avocado (substitute a few tablespoons vegetable broth)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- 8 6" corn or wheat tortillas
- 1 cup corn (fresh, frozen and defrosted, or canned)
- 2 cups chopped romaine or baby romaine leaves
- creamy avocado dressing
Bring the broth, lime juice, and tamari or Bragg's Liquid Aminos to a simmer in a small saucepan. Place the crumbled tempeh in a nonreactive bowl or a glasslock storage container and pour the warm mixture over it. Cover the tempeh and allow it to marinate for 1 hour, or up to overnight. (Store the tempeh in the fridge if marinating for more than 1 hour.)
While the tempeh marinates, make the creamy avocado dressing (or another dressing of choice).
Strain the tempeh, reserving the marinade. Heat the oil (or broth) in a frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the tempeh crumbles, tomato paste, and 1/4 cup of the reserved marinade. Cook, stirring frequently, for a minute or two. Sprinkle the oregano, paprika, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper, if using, over the tempeh and stir again. Cook the tempeh, stirring frequently, for another 4-5 minutes, or until the tempeh is becoming crispy and lightly browned.
To prepare your tacos, you can wrap them in foil and warm them in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. You can also gently toast them over an open burner with a very low flame, using tongs.
Divide the tempeh among the tacos. Top each taco with some fresh corn and chopped romaine. Drizzle each taco with a tablespoon or so of the creamy avocado dressing. Serve.
Storing chili lime tempeh tacos
I think it’s easiest to store all of the components of this dish—tempeh, corn, tacos, dressing, greens—separately. This will keep them crisp and make for better texture in your leftover tacos! You can definitely do some meal prep in advance of eating these. The cooked tempeh will keep for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge. The dressing will also keep for five days, and you can freeze any leftovers for up to a month (or use it in salads).
These definitely aren’t the most complex or involved tacos I’ve made, but they are so very tasty and summery. I love that bright, tangy citrus is the main flavor here. It’s a good compliment to the earthy flavor of the tempeh and just a little dash of heat from cayenne. I’ll probably make these again soon and turn them into a breakfast staple, but for now I’ve been enjoying them for low-key, unfussy work-from-home lunches.
Hope you’ll enjoy a taco or two with me. Wishing you a good end to the week, and I’ll be back for weekend reading.