Sweet and Sour Tempeh–It Ain’t Elegant

Okay, it’s not the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever made.

The classic recipe according to some sources: meatballs, jarred chili sauce, and grape jelly–three things I refuse to eat or harbor in my kitchen. But I’ve been feeling nostalgic for my mom’s sweet and sour meatballs. I always called them Swedish meatballs thinking, perhaps, Sweet-ish meatballs or Swedish fish. But I meant the red saucy bite-sized morsels my mom used to serve in a crock pot at holiday parties.

It’s hard to imagine my mom cooking something using those ingredients, either, but she was also braver than I am in the kitchen.When I was little, she once made me green eggs and ham, rendered in Dr. Seussian emerald through the magic of green food coloring. She was that courageous. And doting.

So I almost tried the chili sauce and grape jelly version on tempeh, because why not, right? Tempeh starts out not that exciting and probably wouldn’t get any worse after bathing in some sort of sweet and sour concoction. But I read the label; the jarred chili sauce had high fructose corn syrup and “natural flavors” in it. And grape jelly just frightens me.

This version starts with organic pureed tomatoes (I was feeling better about my project already) with various additions and apricot jam (so much more civilized). The result is a bit more tomato-y than I remember, but still, tasty.

Our dear friend Jim came over to sample the experiment and he really seemed to enjoy this dish. Of course, Jim is always a good audience to cook for–unfailingly appreciative. Which is one of the reasons we love him and he is always welcome for dinner in our house.

Sweet and Sour Tempeh

  • 2 packages tempeh, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 28-ounce can pureed tomatoes
  • 1 TBS + 1 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 4 TBS (or more) apricot jam or preserves
  • 4 TBS or more cider vinegar
  • 4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • pinch (or more) ground cayenne or chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  1. (Optional) Steam tempeh for 10 minutes to tenderize and make it soak in more flavor
  2. In a medium saucepan, simmer all the rest of the ingredients together, tasting and adjusting as you go.
  3. Once the sauce tastes right, transfer the tempeh to the sauce and allow to gently simmer until you’re ready to serve.



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