I’ve gone on record in praise of tempeh, the fermented soybean cakes that are a staple in my plant-based diet. Nutritionally, it’s a superstar – high in protein, fiber and probiotics. And when it’s cooked right, it has a nutty taste and soft-but-dense texture, making it fit seamlessly into preparations that usually call for meat.
Let me repeat that qualifier: when it’s cooked right. If you merely pan fry a whole block of tempeh and season it with nothing but salt and pepper, you’ll end up with something dry and uninteresting. Add liquid, in the form of steam or a braising sauce, and the tempeh opens up, leaving it able to soak up flavor. It also becomes pleasantly soft while retaining chew.
Turns out, the Instant Pot is a great way to cook it. Is there anything the Instant Pot can’t do? In this recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen crew, you use the pot to braise it in a mixture that features gochujang, the Korean spicy-sweet chile paste, then cook down the sauce until it’s thick enough to coat the tempeh pieces.
The dish is tasty enough to eat just like that, perhaps with rice or noodles. But for something more festive, you pair it with quick-pickled vegetables and wrap it all up in leaves of Bibb or butter lettuce. The crunchy, tart pickles act as foils to the spicy tempeh, and the lettuce-wrap setup makes them fun to assemble and eat, no utensils required.
Gochugang-Braised Tempeh Lettuce Wraps
1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ English cucumber, thinly sliced on the bias
4 ounces (2 cups) bean sprouts
4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, divided
1 cup water
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean spicy-sweet chile paste)
2 tablespoons agave syrup or maple syrup
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 garlic cloves, finely grated or pressed
1 pound tempeh, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
2 heads Bibb lettuce (8 ounces each), leaves separated
In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar and sugar. Microwave on high until steaming, 1 to 2 minutes, then whisk to dissolve the sugar. Add the cucumber and bean sprouts and let sit, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Drain the vegetables and return them to the now-empty bowl. Stir in the scallions, 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of the ginger. Set aside until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, in the Instant Pot or another multicooker, whisk together the water, gochujang, agave or maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, the remaining oil and the remaining ginger. Arrange the tempeh in as close to an even layer in the pot as possible and spoon the sauce over the top of any pieces that aren’t submerged. Lock the lid into place and make sure the steam valve is sealed. Select pressure (high) and set the cook time to 12 minutes. (It should take a few minutes for the appliance to come to pressure.)
Once the timer goes off, release the pressure manually by moving the pressure-release handle to venting, covering your hand with a towel and making sure to keep your hand and face away from the vent when the steam releases. Carefully remove the lid, allowing the steam to escape away from you. Transfer the tempeh to a serving dish.
Using the highest saute function, simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the appliance off. Spoon the sauce over the tempeh, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve in lettuce leaves with the pickled vegetables. Serve warm.
Yield: 6 servings
Make ahead: The pickled vegetables can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before making the wraps.
Storage notes: Refrigerate tempeh leftovers for up to five days or freeze for up tothree months. Refrigerate the pickles for up to three days.
Where to buy: Gochujang can be found in many well-stocked supermarkets or in Asian markets.
Adapted from “Healthy & Delicious Instant Pot” by America’s Test Kitchen (2021).