Tips & Techniques

Smoky, Savory Vegan Crumbles to Add by the Handful to Everything

August 11, 2016

Not too long ago, I sang the praises of faux meats. One of the points I made was that commercial beef and chicken replacements can help to save the vegan home cook time and energy (as well as provide heft and familiarity to dishes).

This is all true, but that doesn’t mean that faux meats are always easy to find or use. Depending on where you live, meat analogs may be scarce in local grocery stores. And if you do find them, they’re not always cheap. Some faux meats are incredibly cost-conscious, but a lot of brands—especially up-and-coming brands—remain pricey. And then, even if you find a product that you love and it’s affordable for you, you may still forget to pick it up regularly.

This is what tends to happen to me. There are a number of vegan meat replacements that I know and love and buy with regularity, but rarely do I remember to pick them up on a weekly basis. As a result, I often think to use them in a recipe only when it’s too late: the marinara sauce that could have turned into a vegan spin on Bolognese or sausage ragu is already bubbling, and I’ve got no beefy crumbles in sight. Or I’ve got everything I need for taco night, save the meaty filling I forgot to pick up at the store.

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Fortunately, there is nearly always a block of tempeh in my fridge or in my freezer. I pick up tofu and tempeh far more frequently than I do vegan products, in part because I prefer them and in part because they’re more cost-effective. So, if I’m in a pinch and I need something “meaty” for my meal, these all-purpose, savory tempeh crumbles are my go-to.

Tempeh is crumbly and earthy and textured; you can see the individual soybeans. This textural element is one of the things that some folks struggle with as they warm up to tempeh—it's not smooth, like tofu, its soy-based cousin—but I actually think that this is one of tempeh's strengths. You can cut it into slabs if you want, and it'll obediently hold its shape. It's great for grilling, cubing, and baking, sure, but it's equally great for chili, pasta sauce, and sprinkling. You can crumble or even grate it on a box cutter, instantly expanding its possibilities.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

You’ll be surprised at how versatile this recipe for tempeh crumbles is. I’ve used these crumbles in tacos, burritos, pasta sauces, lasagnas, bowls, stir-fries, casseroles, vegan mac n’ cheese, nachos, and in countless other ways. Once you get the hang of making the crumbles—which are mostly smoky and salty, with some herb notes trailing behind—it’s easy to modify them to fit any flavor profile (Italian herbs and extra garlic for a pasta dish, a pinch of chili and cayenne or a teaspoon of adobo sauce for something Mexican). They’re nutritious, filling, and making them is less work than running out to the store for a commercial vegan crumble.

Lately, I’ve been using the crumbles as part of my brunch routine, folding them into tofu scramble and breakfast burritos. It’s a fun new twist on a recipe that has served me well for a long time—and which continually reminds me that, no matter how grateful I am for the convenience of vegan products, it’s always satisfying to prepare one’s own staple foods. Especially a heavy-duty, multitasking staple like this.

Gena Hamshaw is a vegan chef and nutritionist—and the author of our Vegan cookbook! You can read more of her writing here.

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Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.