Recreating traditional Kung Pao into a vegetarian meal is a tasty upgrade when you use tempeh.
One thing about not eating meat is that you don’t get to enjoy common dishes like everyone else does. Being a plant-based eater doesn’t mean I don’t miss the occasional meaty meal, especially comforting favorites I grew up eating. My Aunt Bea’s meatballs, my Uncle Louie’s “Louie Salad” (made with Italian cold cuts), my Grandmother’s Sunday gravy – these classic dishes are a big part of my food history. Given the opportunity again, I would eat the heck out of them!
Then there are certain dishes that have no emotional connection for me but are just synonymous with a specific protein. Chicken noodle soup, a Reuben sandwich, pasta Bolognese, and turkey chili, to name a few. In these dishes I don’t miss the meat, I just miss the flavor. This is especially true with Chinese food. Chinese veggie dishes usually don’t cut it and tofu is not my favorite, so I rarely really enjoy Chinese food.
I actually love the challenge of re-creating meat dishes veggie-style. I’ve doctored up many a recipe using meatless substitutes. Sometimes it works and other times it’s a total failure. Tempeh is my go-to for replacing certain types of meat in recipes, but you do have to work with it a little bit. You also have to get used to the texture, which is meaty but kind of crumbly.
This Kung Pao Tempeh is inspired by this recipe. Since a big ole' bowl of Chickpeas would be hard for me to digest, I gave the concept a try using tempeh. The trick for getting tempeh to absorb the most flavor is to steam it first. I steamed one brick of tempeh (cut into 4 squares) for about 10 minutes while I was preparing the marinade. Once steamed, I chopped into squares and then let it sit in the marinade while I prepped the veggies and cleaned up. Then I just sautéed everything together and served it over rice.
This Kung Pao Tempeh was a huge treat. It was exactly what I was looking for, all the flavor of great Chinese food without the meat.
Here’s how I made it.
Recreating traditional Kung Pao recipe into a vegetarian meal is a tasty upgrade when you use tempeh. Tweet this
Kung Pao Tempeh
- 8 ounces organic tempeh
- 1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons agave nectar or honey
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- Dash of salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
- 2 scallions, sliced
- 1/2 cup peanuts
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- Place a small colander or steamer basket over a small pot of boiling water. Slice tempeh into 4 pieces and place in steamer basket. Steam for about 10 minutes.
- While the tempeh is steaming, whisk together the tamari, ginger, agave, garlic, sesame oil, and rice vinegar in a bowl. Slice the tempeh into bite size chunks and add to the marinade. Let it marinate for as long as you can (at least 10 minutes).
- Heat the grapeseed oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat and add the tempeh. Cook, tossing around a bit so they don't stick, until golden brown.
- While tempeh is cooking, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining marinade and add it to the pan, along with the peppers, red pepper flakes, and peanuts. Stir gently (tempeh will crumble if you don't) and serve over rice. Garnish with scallions.