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Tempeh Piccata

My sister-in-law’s grandson announced he’d become vegan on the drive back to her house from the airport. Needless to say, he is the only vegan in the family. She wanted to accommodate him, however, she wasn’t excited to prepare two different meals. 

This is a common problem between the generations as more and more younger people choose plant-based lifestyles, while the older generation struggles to adapt eating patterns that in their estimation have served them perfectly well throughout their lives.

My solution to this problem is piccata. The meat eaters can have theirs with grilled or sautéed chicken instead of tempeh, and they will never notice that the sauce is vegan.

I first encountered tempeh in 2008 on a trip to Bali during which I spent a week at a yoga retreat on the north coast. Needless to say, all meals were vegetarian. And I loved them all.

Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans and was invented in Indonesia to feed a population that couldn’t afford meat. It easily absorbs other flavors in the process of cooking, and has a good chew. Soy-free versions that use beans and grains instead are available in most supermarkets. 

In Bali they really know how to make tempeh delicious, and I’ve been eating it ever since. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go.

Note: Using mushroom stock to soak the tempeh will infuse it with a subtle umami flavor. If you can’t find mushroom stock, vegetable stock will work, or you can use water mixed with salt, lemon juice and zest. The point is to provide flavor that water alone can’t.

I served this with zucchini and pasta here, but there are many other combinations that work. An Italian friend of mine swears that it is wrong to serve this on the same plate as pasta. She prefers steamed vegetables and maybe roasted potato if there is no separate pasta course. I have also served it over potato gnocchi, Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi, riced cauliflower, steamed greens, and whatever else I had lying around the pantry on a particular day. Go wild.

This recipe easily doubles.

Serves 2



  1. Slice the tempeh into rectangles 1 inch wide.
  2. Soak the tempeh slices for one hour in a bowl with enough mushroom stock to cover. If you are making chicken, prepare it while the tempeh soaks and keep it warm.
  3. Drain the tempeh.
  4. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Pour in a good glug of olive oil. 
  5. Sauté half the minced garlic for a few seconds and then add the tempeh slices. Brown the tempeh on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  6. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
  7. Wipe out the skillet.
  8. Heat another glug of olive oil and add the remaining garlic. Sauté until soft but not brown.  Add the pinch of red pepper if using.
  9. Pour in the wine and reduce the heat to simmer for about 5 minutes, long enough for the alcohol to burn off and for the liquid to reduce a bit.
  10. Add the vegan butter and stir until it melts into the wine mixture.
  11. Add capers and a couple of generous pinches of salt.
  12. Add the lemon juice.
  13. Spoon some of the warm sauce from the pan into a small bowl and add the arrowroot. Whisk until smooth and free of lumps. Add this mixture to the pan and stir until the sauce thickens.
  14. Turn off the heat. Add parsley, lemon zest, pepper. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Pasta & Zucchini

  1. Make zucchini ribbons from one large or 2 smaller zucchini using a spiralizer or a vegetable peeler. Set aside.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  3. Cook 4 ounces (115 g) of pasta according to package directions. In this photo I used whole wheat spaghettini. Thinner pasta works better than thicker.
  4. During the last minute of cooking, plunge the zucchini into the pot with the pasta.
  5. Drain zucchini and pasta.

To Serve

Layer pasta and zucchini in the bottom of individual serving dishes. Top with tempeh slices or sliced cooked chicken, and then spoon over sauce. Sprinkle with more fresh parsley.

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