Tempeh Bolognese

It looks like beef bolognese, don’t you think? But it ain’t, thank goodness. It’s tempeh, and one of the healthiest ways to eat soy.

Nutritional Yeast Flakes make the perfect parmesan substitute, just sprinkled over the pasta before heaping on the Tempeh Bolognese.

Nutritional Yeast Flakes make the perfect parmesan substitute, just sprinkled over the pasta before heaping on the Tempeh Bolognese.

I say ‘healthiest’ because I’m dubious about soy products, but understand that in a fermented state it’s likely just fine. Tempeh is a fermented soy product.

My recipe for Tempeh Bolognese is based vaguely on a vegetarian chilli recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast cookbook. It has a secret ingredient that I’m sure would make any real Italian throw up their arms in dramatic disgust.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (not virgin, just ordinary as it’s heat tolerant)
  • 1 red onion, chopped finely or gently blitzed in a food processor
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 package of tempeh, crumbled quickly in a food processor
  • 1 cup red wine (Merlot is always my first choice)
  • 1 tbsp mixed dried herbs (including oregano, thyme, parsley and sage)
  • 800g can of diced or crushed tomatoes
  • about 8 to 10 dried tomato halves, soaked in about half a cup of hot water until they are softened, then blitzed to a paste in the food processor
  • 1 tsp rapidura or maple syrup (it has a balancing effect)
  • 1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
  • the weird secret ingredient: 1 tbsp cacao (or cocoa)

In a heavy-based and large pot (like my Le Creuset pot) gently fry the onion in the olive oil until softened, adding the garlic toward the end so it doesn’t have time to burn.

Mr Food Processor makes things easy. He chops the onions and celery, then he crumbles the tempeh, then he blitzes the soaked dried tomatoes.

Mr Food Processor makes things easy. He chops the onions, then he crumbles the tempeh, then he blitzes the soaked dried tomatoes.

Add the tempeh and fry a bit until some of it gets some colour. Then add the red wine and let it reduce for a few minutes.

Add the herbs, crushed tomatoes, about 1 cup of water, the sundried tomato paste, rapidura or maple syrup and sea salt. Stir it to combine, and then add the cocoa and stir it through.

Stir everything together. Then add in the cocoa and stir it through. It will darken, deepen and richen the sauce. No chocolate taste, I promise!

Stir everything together. Then add in the cocoa and stir it through. It will darken, deepen and richen the sauce. No chocolate taste, I promise!

Let it come to a gentle bubble (it will splatter easily if you let it bubble too hard), turn down the heat to just maintain the bubble, and clamp on a lid. I let it simmer gently for about 30 minutes or so, to develop a rich flavour.

Comfort food: a pot of rich, tomatoey, herby sauce for pasta.

Comfort food: a pot of rich, tomatoey, herby sauce for pasta.

Then I divide it into batches, and freeze what I don’t eat right away, served over khorosan or mung bean pasta sprinkled with nooch (nutritional yeast flakes).

While the stove area was being tiled, the camp stoves came out. Reheating the tempeh bolognese from frozen was a cinch.

While the stove area was being tiled, the camp stoves came out. Reheating the tempeh bolognese from frozen was a cinch.

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