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This Sweet and Sour Tempeh is everything you’d expect it to be. Crispy, chewy tempeh with tender veggies all tossed together in a homemade sweet and sour sauce that hits the spot every time! Pair it with our fluffy rice for a meal so much cheaper and delicious than takeout.

completed Sweet and Sour Tempeh plated against a light surface

Making takeout-inspired meals is not only (significantly) cheaper, but better for you too! No food coloring, excess sodium or oil. This sweet and sour sauce is made with simple plant-based ingredients and comes together in just about 1 hour. 

If you love vegan Chinese food recipes, you’ll love this Hot and Sour Soup, this Moo Shu Vegetable, Vegetable Fried Brown Rice and this Veggie Chow Mein.

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Why You’ll Love This Sweet and Sour Tempeh

  • Made with pantry staples. Making a homemade sauce from scratch doesn’t have to be complicated. With just a few simple pantry ingredients you can throw together this flavorful, delicious sweet and sour sauce mixture.
  • Freezer friendly. Both the tempeh and the rice in this sweet and sour tempeh recipe freeze really well. Make a double batch and fill your freezer with pre-made meals.
  • Gluten-free. The full recipe is gluten-free when made with tamari and gluten-free tempeh. 
  • Meal prep friendly. This tempeh and rice dish will keep for up to 4 days and makes the perfect quick and easy lunch idea. 
  • Nutrient packed. Many of the sweet and sour sauces at Chinese restaurants are made with red food dye to give it its popular color. Red food dye isn’t always vegan and is void of nutrients. Instead, we used paprika for a similar color and added vitamins and minerals.

The Ingredients and Substitutions

ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tempeh measured out against a white surface

Tempeh Ingredients

  • Tempeh: Plain or multi-grain tempeh works best. If gluten-free, make sure to read the ingredients. Some tempeh contains added grains such as barley or rye. If you can’t find tempeh, use extra-firm tofu
  • Pineapple: Use either fresh cut pineapple or canned and drained pineapple chunks.
  • Lemon: The acidity helps adds sourness and balances the sweetness. 
  • Garlic: Minced garlic is best. Use fresh garlic cloves or jarred minced garlic for speedy prep. 
  • Soy sauce: Use full or lightly reduced soy sauce. If you are gluten-free, use tamari. Coconut aminos won’t add enough saltiness. 
  • Rice wine vinegar: Another source of the sourness. Replace with white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar if needed. 
  • Sugar: Any sugar – granulated or liquid will work. Try cane sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup.
  • Paprika: Adds color and a subtle sweetness. 
  • Cornstarch: Thickens the sauce and helps coat the tempeh.
  • Ketchup: A common ingredient in sweet and sour sauce that adds both sweetness and tanginess from the vinegar and tomato. 
  • Veggies: Most sweet and sour recipes are made with protein, plus veggies. We used bell peppers, squash, and asparagus.

Rice and Veggies 

  • Cooking oil: Any neutral oil will do. 
  • Rice: White rice cooks the fastest, but you can use uncooked brown rice (the cook time will need to be adjusted). 
  • Sunflower seeds: Adds nutty flavor, nutrition, and texture to the rice. Omit if needed or preferred.
  • Broth: Vegetable broth is best. Feel free to use full-sodium or low-sodium and adjust the salt to taste. 
  • Veggies: Add additional steamed broccoli and Bok choy to the meal to make it extra nutritious.

How to Make Sweet and Sour Tempeh

  • 1) First, toast the rice. In a large pot over medium-heat and add the vegetable and sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the rice and sunflower seeds and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning. 
  • 2) When the rice is fragrant, pour in the vegetable stock and season with added salt. Bring this mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all of the water and is fluffy. 
  • 3) Once the rice is done, add the broccoli florets and chopped bok choy directly on top of the rice. Cover and let the veggies steam until soft. 
  • 4) Next, begin to prepare the sweet and sour tofu. First, brown the tempeh. In a pan over medium heat, heat a small amount of oil. Add in the 1-inch cubes of tempeh and cook on all sides until browned and crispy. Take your time here – this should take you about 15 to 20 minutes! 
  • 5) While the tempeh browns, begin to make your sweet and sour sauce. Add the pineapple chunks to the bowl of your food processor and process on high for 30 seconds, or until the consistency of smooth applesauce. 
  • 6) Add in the remaining sauce ingredients and process again until smooth, about 30 additional seconds. Set aside. 
  • 7) Once the tempeh is fully cooked, add in the chopped bell pepper, squash, and asparagus. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until slightly softened yet still crisp. 
  • 8) Lastly, add in the sweet and sour sauce and cook the sweet and sour tempeh mixture for 10 minutes over medium heat. After 10 minutes, lower the heat and cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to your liking. 
  • 9) Serve the sweet and sour tempeh while hot over the cooked rice with steamed veggies on the side. Enjoy!

Recipe FAQs

What does tempeh taste like?

Many describe the flavor of tempeh as nutty, earthy, and if not cooked properly, bitter. It’s much firmer than tofu as it’s made with whole soybeans that have undergone a fermentation process. If you’re looking for a hearty plant-based meat substitute that’s considered a whole food, tempeh is a great option. 

Is this sweet and sour sauce oil-free?

The tempeh is browned in oil, but if you are avoiding oil, pan fry it in a non-stick pan. Add water or broth if it begins to stick. The tempeh won’t get as brown and crispy, but will still be delicious. 

Is tempeh a good source of protein?

Tempeh is an excellent source of protein. Just 3 ounces of the Lightlife brand of tempeh contains 18 grams of protein.

Top Recipe Tips 

  • Blend the sauce really smooth. ​This is essential to break down the pineapple into a smooth puree. If your food processor isn’t strong, use a blender instead. 
  • Take time to thicken the sauce. ​In order to get the sauce thick and glossy, you’ll need to simmer for at least 20 minutes. If it’s not thickening, add in a cornstarch slurry. 
  • Adjust the sauce to taste. If you prefer a sweeter sauce, add more sugar. If you prefer a more sour sauce, reduce the added sugar or add additional vinegar.

Serving Suggestions 

When served over a bed of rice, this sweet and sour tempeh is quite filling on its own. For additional flavor, top with chopped spring onion, sesame seeds, pineapple chunks, and fresh lime juice. If you’d like to serve an appetizer to start, we love this Baby Bok Choy with Soy Sauce and Garlic or this Sautéed Eggplant. You can also serve with Tofu Vegetable Crispy Wontons with extra vegan sweet and sour sauce for dipping.

How to Store and Freeze

Store: Transfer the sweet and sour tofu to an airtight container. It can be stored separately, or on top of rice and veggies. Once the leftovers have cooled, tightly cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. 

Freeze: Cool the tempeh and rice and veggies to room temperature, then place into a freezer safe container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat from frozen or thaw overnight in the fridge until fully defrosted. 

Reheat: Microwave leftovers in a microwave safe dish or heat in a saucepan until warmed through. Rice can be on the drier side when reheating – if that’s the case, add a small splash of water or broth and cover while heating to trap the steam.

More Easy Tempeh Recipes 

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

Sweet and Sour Tempeh

5 from 43 votes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Total: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
This Sweet and Sour Tempeh is everything you'd expect it to be. Crispy, chewy tempeh with tender veggies all tossed together in a homemade sweet and sour sauce that hits the spot every time! Pair it with our fluffy rice for a meal so much cheaper and delicious than takeout.

Ingredients 

Rice:

  • 1 teaspoon of sesame seed oil
  • 1 teaspoon of oil
  • 2 cups of rice
  • ¼ cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth
  • Broccoli
  • Bok choy

Tempeh:

  • 1 package tempeh
  • of a fresh pineapple
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger minced
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of paparika
  • 1 tablespoon of corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon of ketchup
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 medium squash
  • 6 spears of asparagus
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Instructions 

Rice:

  • In a pot with a lid over medium-heat, add the vegetable and sesame oil. When the oil is hot, add the rice and seeds. Cook and stir for 3 to 4 minutes. When the rice is fragrant, add salt and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and allow to cook for 20 minutes. When the rice is done, add the broccoli and bok choy to steam with the rice for a few minutes.

Sauce:

  • Cut the tempeh into 1-inch cubes. In a pan over medium heat, add a small amount of oil. When hot, add the tempeh and brown on all sides, this will take about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add the cleaned pineapple to the bowl of your food processor. Wiz on high for 30 seconds or until creamy. Next, add the lemon, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, paprika, corn starch, and ketchup. Wiz on high for 30 seconds.
  • Next, chop the bell pepper and squash into 1-inch pieces and slice both ends of the apragus. To the pan with the browned tempeh, add the chopped bell pepper, squash, and sliced asparagus. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Next, add the pineapple mixture and cook on medium for 10 minutes, then lower heat and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Notes

  • Blend the sauce really smooth. ​This is essential to break down the pineapple into a smooth puree. If your food processor isn’t strong, use a blender instead. 
  • Take time to thicken the sauce. ​In order to get the sauce thick and glossy, you’ll need to simmer for at least 20 minutes. If it’s not thickening, add in a cornstarch slurry. 
  • Adjust the sauce to taste. If you prefer a sweeter sauce, add more sugar. If you prefer a more sour sauce, reduce the added sugar or add additional vinegar.

Nutrition

Calories: 745kcalCarbohydrates: 139gProtein: 24gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gSodium: 2101mgPotassium: 1463mgFiber: 10gSugar: 27gVitamin A: 22169IUVitamin C: 219mgCalcium: 229mgIron: 5mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Additional Info

Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Asian
Method: Stovetop
Diet: Vegan
Tried this recipe?Please tag us at @PlantBasedOnABudget! 🙂
About

David Sterkel

Plant based foodie, running, cooking, trash TV- all things that describe me! I enjoy cooking quick and easy meals that are healthy and inexpensive. Happy reading!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    The homemade sweet and sour sauce turned out so good with the crispy tempeh! Definitely a new favorite!

  2. 5 stars
    This sweet and sour tempeh was such a huge hit! Loved the textures and flavors, and look forward to making it again!