Tempeh bolognese is an earthy, rich, and flavorful sauce that you can make in just about 20 minutes. I am not a big fan of tempeh, but I LOVE it cooked this way.
This easy tempeh recipe is perfect with spaghetti, gnocchi, lasagna, and polenta. It's my personal favorite vegan bolognese sauce of all time, and I am sure you'll love it too.
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What is tempeh?
Tempeh, or tempe, is a traditional Indonesian, more precisely, Javanese food made with whole, fermented soybeans.
It's very popular across Southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a staple source of protein.
The main difference between tempeh and tofu is that tempeh is made with whole soybeans that are fermented.
This results in higher protein content, more dietary fiber, more vitamins. Tempeh is basically a vegan superfood in my opinion.
It also reminds me of aged cheese a lot. It has a firm texture and an intense flavor that gets stronger and more pungent as it ages.
And that is the main problem with tempeh, at least for western palates. Its flavor is quite strong, especially if you are not used to it.
I personally never really enjoyed tempeh, at least until I learned how to cook it to please my Italian taste buds.
So, if like me you are not a big fan of tempeh, or if you've never tried it before, give this recipe a chance. It's really the best vegan bolognese sauce I have ever had!
And I promise: you won't taste the tempeh much! It's just gonna be a rich, meaty, healthy, delicious sauce.
What is tempeh bolognese?
Tempeh bolognese is a tomato-based ragu that is perfect to replace the original meat-based bolognese sauce.
It's easy to make, we fry it on a pan with some onions, carrots, celery, and tomato passata, to make what is in my opinion the best meat replacement for an earthy and "meaty" vegan bolognese sauce (better than lentils or mushrooms).
Try it with spaghetti, in lasagna, with homemade gnocchi, on top of polenta, and even with nachos, as a dip.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Tempeh: we use it as our meat replacement for this vegan bolognese
- Tomato passata: we use a smooth one, from a bottle.
- Onion, carrot, celery: the building blocks to make a tasty sauce. Try to put all of them, as they loads of flavour together.
- Olive Oil: to get everything started and build a flavor base.
- Red wine: it adds acidity, which gives the sauce a flavour boost. You could replace it with vegetable stock.
- Soy sauce: for saltiness and umami. It really works well to enhance both the tomato and the tempeh. You can replace it with tamari for gluten-free.
- Salt and pepper
- Basil: this is optional, but I always add some fresh basil leaves once the sauce is cooked.
Start this sauce with a "soffritto" to build a strong flavor base. That is, finely chop onion, celery, and carrot and add them to a pan with olive oil.
I like to use a food processor to do that.
Fry them gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, till they get soft. This step really helps boost the flavor of the sauce.
Now add the tempeh. Crumble it with your hands while you add it to the pan. Then stir, and let it fry for a minute or two with the vegetables.
When the pan is hot, add the red wine. Careful as it will splash a bit. Stir with a wooden spoon and let the wine evaporate. The acidity of the wine adds a great amount of flavor.
When the wine is gone, add the tomato passata, the soy sauce, two pinches of salt, and some pepper.
Stir and let simmer on medium to low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, taste and adjust for salt if necessary.
Then turn off the heat and add some fresh basil if you like, although this is optional.
Serve the tempeh bolognese with anything you would normally serve regular bolognese with. Spaghetti, lasagna, polenta, or homemade gnocchi.
- Make the soffritto: starting this sauce with chopped onion, celery and carrot and frying it in oil for a few minutes makes all the difference. This tecniques is used all the time in Italian cooking.
- Soy sauce for a boost: since there is no meat, we need something that salty, umami flavour to the bolognese. And that's the soy sauce.
- Don't add water: or at least try not too. With this sauce we are trying to recreate a rich, intense, meaty flavour. If you add water (for instance to rinse the passata bottle) you'll need more time to cook the sauce.
This variation of vegan bolognese is a rich and tasty mushroom-based sauce that goes perfectly with spaghetti, tagliatelle, on top of polenta, or with a vegan lasagna.
But it's also great for any other pasta type. We even use this sauce to put on top of tacos, inside tortilla wraps, or as a topping for roasted veggies.
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
- 24 ounces tomato passata or canned tomatoes
- 3 ounces tempeh
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ teaspoon pepper
- Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. You can use a food processor to speed things up.To a pan, add 2 tablespoon of olive oil, then on low heat, fry the chopped onion, celery and carrot till soft.
- Now add the tempeh, crumbling it with your hands. Fry it with the veggies for about 1 minute.
- Add the red wine. If you prefer, you can replace the wine with vegetable stock.
- When the wine has completely evaporated, add the tomato passata, salt, pepper, soy sauce and let simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- You should have a thick and rich tomato sauce to use on pasta, gnocchi, lasagne, and other preparations. Finish with some fresh basil if you like.