Tempeh Curry Recipe

A vibrant tempeh curry recipe loosely inspired by a recipe from Lora Zarubin's cookbook, I am Almost Always Hungry.

Tempeh Curry

I'm writing this as I'm eating dinner, which is not something I normally do. But I think this is one of those recipes that a lot of you are going to like, and I'm feeling the need to share it with you now rather than later. It came together as I was riffing off one of Lora Zarubin's recipes from I Am Almost Always Hungry - her Potatoes with Tomato Curry. I love an all-in-one-pot meal, and was cobbling together a hearty, vegetarian version of her recipe with tempeh. It wasn't at all complicated, just an onion sautéed with a short list of spices, diced tomatoes, a splash of cream, and eventually potatoes and tempeh. It all came together in a vibrant red-orange pot of curry. Finished with a bit of cilantro, it's fragrant, filling, and tastes so much more indulgent than it actually is.

Tempeh Curry Recipe

A bit of an aside, I picked up Lora's book while browsing the cooking section at the library down the street from me the other day. I had a bit of a mini-celebration right there on the spot. I had this book years ago, and must have lost it or loaned it to someone. Anyhow, it was like running into an old friend, and I was happy to be reacquainted.

Tempeh Curry Recipe

I should also mention, before we move on to the recipe, Lora's tomato and potato curry recipe is part of one of the most interesting Thanksgiving menus I've come across. Each time I read through it I promise myself I'm going to lobby my family to tackle it one year. There's plenty for a mixed crowd - vegetarians, vegans, the whole lot. The only dish inherently meat-centric is the turkey. Here's the menu: Roasted Turkey with Tandori Spices, Roasted Hubbard Squash Wedges with Garam Masala, Basmati Rice with Saffron and Cloves, Red Lentils with Tamarind and Dates, Potatoes with Tomato Curry, Creamed Spinach with Cardamom and Shiitake Duxelle, Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Ghee and Sea Salt, Cranberry and Ginger Chutney, Mint and Chile Raita, Clover Rolls with Rosemary, Pumpkin and Arborio Rice Pudding, and Shrikand (a creamy yogurt dessert) with Fresh Pomegranate Seeds.

Tempeh Curry Recipe

I hope you give the recipe a try, particularly those of you who aren't so sure about tempeh. I swear, it's just the thing to go along with the sun that has been setting early, and the colder nights as well. Have a glance at the head notes before you jump in though, there are a few things to consider before you start. I should also add, if you're in a pinch time-wise, cauliflower might be a perfect, quick-to-cook alternative to potatoes.

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Tempeh Curry Recipe

This curry has a bit of kick to it - so if you're cooking for a spice-sensitive crowd, scale back a bit - and season to taste at the end. Also, the recipe has you steam the potatoes. I couldn't find my big metal steamer, so I rigged one using a metal strainer suspended over a large pasta pot with a lid on. There was a bit of a gap, and it probably took longer than it would have otherwise, but it worked. A pasta pot insert would work too. In the end, the potatoes just need to be cooked, so you could boil them or even roast them (oven at 375F) - both slightly different approaches, but fine workarounds. As far as the cooking fats go, if you like to cook with ghee or clarified butter, you can substitute that, or even coconut oil.

1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes no bigger than a small lime, halved
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
scant 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
splash of cream or a dollop of creme fraiche

8 ounces tempeh, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
a small handful of cilantro, loosely chopped

Bring a few inches of water to boil in a large pot. Place the potatoes in a steamer (see head notes), sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook until tender throughout - about 20 - 30 minutes, depending on how large your potato pieces are.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the onion and cook over LOW heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin seeds, curry powder, turmeric, and cayenne pepper, wait about thirty seconds, then stir in the tomatoes, water, and the other teaspoon of salt. Remove from heat, stir in the cream and blend with a hand blender - (or leave it unpureed if you like!). Note: you might need to transfer it to a bowl to puree, then return it to the skillet.

Once the curry is back in the pan, add the tempeh and bring barely to a simmer. Let the tempeh cook for 5 minutes or so, then add the potatoes when they are finished steaming. Transfer to a large family-style bowl, and sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Serves 4 - 6.

This recipe was inspired by the Potato with Tomato Curry recipe in Lora Zarubin's I Am Almost Always Hungry. Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in 2003.

Prep time: 15 minutes - Cook time: 30 minutes

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Tempe (that's how we spell it in Indonesia) is highly perishable. Therefore, if you purchase one (usually vacuum packed), make sure that it hasn't passed its expiry date. When you open the package make sure that it doesn't have any offensive smell (ammonia like smell) before you cook them. Otherwise, the "rotten" tempe will spoil your dish. If you want to substitute tempe with something else, deep fried tofu will be delicious too.


This is definitely MY type of cooking! Absolutely!


I really enjoy tempeh. At first, I wasn't much of a fan of the texture, but it's certainly grown on me. Thanks for posting this recipe! I definitely need to try this.

Amy @ People's Gourmet

I love tempe...Tempe is one of traditional food from Indonesia. Unfortunately..the tempe in U.S not the same taste like in Indonesia. We like to eat it with sambal(spicy chili from Indo) or make "sambal goreng tempe" and eat it with warm rice...hmmm..yummy!


What a good recipe to try...

Luisa Mercado

I've been eating tempe lately and can not wait to try this yummy recipe

Julie Grant

Does tempeh have anything to do with soy? We breast cancer survivors cannot have anything with a soy product or derivative of a soy product due to its overabundance of estrogen. Don't want to go through that again!


I saw this recipe earlier today and knew that I had to have it tonight~it was so good. Thank you for such great meal ideas. :)


Sadly, I am highly intolerant to soy beans and anything made with soy. What do you suggest as a replacement?


If anyone is looking for good brands of tofu and tempeh, I'd recommend Surata, made in Oregon. http://www.suratasoy.com/


Another great one. I'm using tempeh more than tofu these days due to a possible allergy, so this is perfect. I also love the sound of that exotic Thanksgiving meal. Would love to try it, although, I don't know if family would be willing to forego the traditional for even one year? We'll see! Thx for the delicious curry recipe!


Just bought this cookbook based on the title alone, story of my life.


Nothing left to say but, "YUM!!!" I am trying this for sure.

Kimberly @ Poor Girl Eats Well

Another recipe to put on the to try list. For the people wanting a substitute to Tempeh, what about home made paneer . HS: You know I was thinking the exact same thing.


I've been searching for something new and exciting to do with tempeh and this sounds delicious! Once again, you have come to my culinary rescue. Thanks so much.


Thanks for the tempeh recipe! They are not so easy to come by. I have food allergies (really food intolerances), and among the forbidden foods are soy and tofu. Tempeh works fine for me, but I don't often get good recipes.


What are people's favorite brands of tempeh? I have tried a few in California (can't remember the names, unfortunately) and am not crazy about them. They don't come close to the wondrous tempeh I had on vacation in Indonesia. I'm somewhat surprised that there aren't small scale tempeh makers in the S.F. Bay Area. The farmers markets have all sorts of food artisans -- tofu, sauerkraut (many kinds), wild-crafted herbal teas, kombucha, etc. -- but no tempeh. Perhaps it's too much of a 1970s hippie thing. Or too difficult? Perhaps we could convince the people at Hodo Soy Beanery to venture into tempeh...


I love curry! Unfortunately it is something that does not get eaten in my household. I should give this recipe a try. Maybe I can sway my boyfriends mind about curry :)

Nutmeg Nanny

Sounds like a delicious recipe, thank you for posting it and for the print option! I've bought tempeh a couple of times and always forget to use it and have to throw it out. Maybe now I will actually try it out. I also have finally purchased your beautiful book "Super Natural Cooking".

anna maria

Loved your description of your dinner and assorted recipes. I've eaten tempeh elsewhere, never tried it at home. Must do so some day. Have heard before of substituting cauliflower for potatoes - why not? Thanks so much, Renee. Keep your blogs coming.

Vee McKnight

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