Grilled tempeh burgers

I’m not a big red meat eater, but I crave burgers all the same. There is something uniquely satisfying about biting into a bun decked out with thinly sliced onions, tomatoes, crunchy pickles, and condiments from ketchup to mustard to hot sauce. To be honest, I think the fixin’s are more important than the hunk of protein at the heart of it all, but I prefer that protein to be juicy, rich, and if possible, plant-based.

I shy away from beef because of the environmental costs of producing meat (growing a pound of meat requires several times more fossil fuels and water than growing a pound of plants), and because animals grown on feedlots ­­- the source of all supermarket beef – are generally treated pretty miserably. And, as we know, red meat in large quantities is hard on our bodies.

These days, it’s easy to find ready-made alternatives to meat, and there are several brands of veggie burgers available. Store-bought veggie burgers, however, are not necessarily healthy, and many are full of sodium, fat, and mysterious processed additives, so I prefer to make my own. Luckily, it’s easy; I simply take a package of tempeh, available in any natural food store, and cut it to the size I want; one rectangular 8-ounce package makes three square “burgers.” Then it’s just a matter of marinating before the tempeh is ready to be cooked the way you would any burger.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from whole fermented soybeans. Like soybeans, tempeh is naturally high in protein, fiber, and vitamins. It looks a bit like an unleavened loaf of bread, and has a mild flavor reminiscent of whole grains. Tempeh’s dense texture makes it a perfect replacement for meat (I like making tempeh chili), and it holds together well, so there’s little risk of it falling apart during cooking.

Being that it’s the height of barbecue season, I prefer to grill these burgers, as the charcoal endows them with a smoky, meaty taste, but they can also be seared in a pan. With fresh, flavorful condiments, see if grilled tempeh doesn’t satisfy your burger craving!

Tempeh Burgers

Start this recipe the night before serving, so the tempeh can marinate overnight and fully soak up the flavors.

Makes 6 burgers

Burger Marinade:


  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Salt



  • 2 8-ounce packages of tempeh
  • 6 slices of cheese (optional)
  • Buns
  • Condiments
  • Fixin’s


In a blender, combine the marinade ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt.

Remove the wrapping from the tempeh, and cut each rectangle into three equal squares. Put the tempeh squares in a sauté pan and pour the marinade over them. Heat the pan over high heat and bring the marinade to a boil. Decrease the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. As the tempeh simmers, gently stir it and turn the pieces every few minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Transfer the tempeh and marinade to a casserole dish and cover. Let the tempeh marinate overnight in the refrigerator, or for several hours.

Heat the grill. When the grill is hot, lift the burgers out of the casserole dish but save the marinade. Lay the burgers on the grill and baste them with marinade. Cook the first side for about 5 minutes, or until the burgers have dark grill marks and are heated through. Flip the burgers and baste the second side with marinade. Grill for 2 minutes. If you’re using cheese, put it on the burgers now, and pull down the lid of the grill until the cheese melts, 1-2 minutes. Lightly toast the burger buns.

Serve the burgers on the warm buns with your choice of condiments and fixin’s.

In November of 2009, Ten Speed Press/Random House will publish my first cookbook, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of healthy, eco-conscious recipes, tips, and entertaining ideas.

For more info about me and my work, and for more healthy cooking tips, please visit my website,

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Rachael Ray