Tempeh Kebabs

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One of the joys of working on the Call of the Crow Quartet has been doing a deep dive into Iranian culture and learning more about its art, language, and cuisine.

Though I’ve been eagerly exploring international cooking ever since I became vegetarian, I’d never known much about Persian cuisine. This may be due to the fact that many traditional dishes are fairly meat-heavy (although there are plenty of Iranian vegans out there!).

But now, mention sangak (giant pillowy sheets of sourdough flatbread sprinkled with nigella and sesame seeds), zereshk polo (Persian rice with barberries), or pashmak (cotton candy made with spun sugar, sesame, vanilla and rosewater), and you’ve got me salivating instantly.

This recipe is my take on the popular grilled skewers known as joojeh kebab. Tempeh stands in for chicken here, though you could easily use tofu instead. The marinade usually contains yogurt, but this can be substituted with nondairy versions, as long as you use an unsweetened/plain variety (nondairy milk also works if this is too hard to find).

I adapted this recipe from the wonderful, highly recommended cookbook The New Persian Kitchen. It contains lots of adaptations for those with dietary restrictions, and is a beautiful book all around.

A Note About Saffron

True, saffron is expensive. But you can often buy it in small quantities so that you don’t have to make a huge investment. (My go-to source is Cyrus Saffron – you can buy a small jar for under $10 online or at their stall at Pike Place Market). You can omit this ingredient if you don’t have it around, though the dish won’t be quite the same. And you really don’t need much. A pinch goes a long way!

This recipe uses a common technique in Persian cooking: saffron is ground with salt or sugar, then steeped in water to bring out the flavor more fully.

saffron and salt in a glass bowl
Saffron in a glass bowl with a pinch of salt
saffron and salt, after grinding
After grinding (I used a wooden muddler, but a spatula handle would work just as well)
ground saffron soaking in water
Soaking in a few teaspoons of hot water

This method helps infuse the entire dish with that characteristic saffron flavor. Plus, on a dreary day, that little bowl of golden, saffron-colored sunshine is always a welcome sight.

Tempeh Kebabs

These flavorful skewers can be either baked or grilled. Serve with rice or flatbread and roasted/grilled veggies like tomatoes, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and eggplant.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Marination Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Persian
Keyword: gluten free, vegan, vegetarian
Author: Alanna Peterson

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk of choice, plain/unsweetened
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
  • 2 Tbsp orange juice (juice of 1/2 orange)
  • 1 tsp turmeric, ground
  • tsp saffron, ground and steeped in 2 tsp hot water
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 8 oz tempeh

Instructions

Make the Marinade

  • Mix together all ingredients except the tempeh in a medium bowl. Taste and add more salt if desired.
  • Cut the tempeh into thick slices or cubes, whatever you prefer. The important thing is to make sure the slices are thick enough that they won't break when skewered.
  • Add the tempeh to the marinade and mix to coat evenly. Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours (though it will be even better if it sits overnight).

Cook the Tempeh

  • If baking, preheat the oven to 375° F. If grilling, fire up the grill!
  • Thread tempeh onto skewers (along with veggies of your choice, if desired). If you don't have skewers, you can simply spread onto a roasting pan if baking in the oven, or a piece of aluminum foil if cooking on the grill.
  • Brush lightly with olive oil before cooking. Bake or grill until edges start to brown. In the oven, this takes about 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Your Thoughts

Have you tried this recipe? Any questions about preparation, ingredients, or cooking with tempeh? Comment away!

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