Breakfast Polenta Bowl with Smoky Air Fryer Tempeh

Vegan Breakfast Polenta Bowl – creamy miso polenta topped with smoky air fryer tempeh, this meal is savory, satisfying and easy to make.

Side view of a bowl of polenta topped with air fried tempeh and sautéed spinach.

I’m such a big oatmeal eater, but I really love changing it up some days for something on the savory side instead. This polenta bowl is my new go to and a fun way to incorporate a different grain.

As someone that previously hasn’t made a lot of polenta in my life, I made sure to include as much detail for your success with this recipe.

Why You’ll Love This Breakfast Bowl

  • It’s something outside of the common oatmeal bowl or tofu scramble you often see recommended as a vegan breakfast option.
  • This bowl is filling. Tempeh is packed with protein and fiber, which will help keep you feeling full and energized when paired with the polenta.
  • A nice warming meal that can cook up in 20 minutes. I also have some tips below to help meal prep some items in advance as well as tips for making it even faster.

Key Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Stone-Ground Polenta: We are using a stone-ground polenta for this. The only ingredients should be stone-ground yellow corn on the package you purchase. Do not substitute for the polenta that comes in a tube.
  • Miso Paste: Helps provide an incredible amount of savory, salty umami flavor to the polenta.
  • Nutritional Yeast: Gives some extra umami flavor that makes the polenta more savory even though we are not adding any cheese or butter to it.
  • Tempeh: The high protein source of our breakfast bowl. If you wish to skip preparing it, you can opt for a pre-seasoned or marinated tempeh bacon and air fry it as well if you want to skip marinating it yourself. I also love topping this bowl with some crispy baked chickpeas too if I want something different.
  • Soy Sauce: To make this meal gluten-free, opt for gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos.
  • Spices: Smoked paprika, coriander, white pepper, and garlic powder. Feel free to use a different combo of spices based on your preferences.

How to Make a Polenta Breakfast Bowl

Your stone-ground polenta will likely be coarse. To help save time with cooking, place in a blender and blend up to smooth it out then set aside. Then combine your water and miso paste in a separate small bowl until smooth and set aside for later as well.

The tempeh is pretty quick and easy to make. Just place the cut tempeh in a bowl with hot water and cover to allow to steam for 5 minutes. Drain the tempeh and add your marinade ingredients, mix and allow to sit while you heat up your air fryer. Bake the tempeh and allow to sit as you cook your polenta.

As the tempeh is marinating I place the milk and water in a sauce pan over medium low heat to bring to a simmer. By the time you place the tempeh in the oven to bake, the liquid is simmering and ready to cook your polenta in.

Add your nutritional yeast and slowly pour in your polenta, whisking frequently to help avoid clump formation. Allow the polenta to continue gently cooking while stirring until the polenta has thickened. Pour in your miso mixture and continue to stir for a few minutes, then remove from heat, stir in your oil and cover to set. When ready to serve, add some polenta to your plate and top with the cooked tempeh.

Tips for a Tasty Breakfast Bowl

  • Place your course polenta in a blender to blend up until it’s finer. This will help reduce the cook time in half. Make sure to run through the blended cornmeal with your hands to break up any clumps. This is a very good tip that I got from Love and Lemons.
  • Slowly pour in your polenta while whisking to reduce clumping. Whisk continuously to help evenly mix it into the boiling liquid , which will help make it come out more creamy.
  • Add your miso to the polenta near the end of cooking to avoid altering the flavor of the miso.
  • Make sure to cut your tempeh into thin pieces to help decrease the time needed to steam and bake in the air fryer. This will also help for the marinade to quickly penetrate into the tempeh and flavor it.
  • To save time with making this recipe, bring your liquids to a boil while you place the tempeh in the air fryer. Allow the tempeh to sit in the air fryer after it’s done cooking until the polenta is done.
Close up view of a bowl of polenta topped with tempeh and spinach.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between grits and polenta?

Both are made from ground corn. However, grits is made of a finer ground white corn and commonly used in Southern cooking and polenta is made of stone-ground yellow corn and commonly used in Italian cooking.

Can this recipe be made ahead of time?

This recipe is best prepared fresh. But you can make the tempeh in advance. Allow the tempeh to cool and place in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days. You can pop them in a toaster oven for 3 minutes to warm back up when serving. Polenta can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container with plastic wrap pressed over the polenta to prevent it from completely drying out. Just note, the longer it sits, the stiffer it will get, so reheat on the stove top with a few splashes of plant based milk or water to help rehydrate and loosen it up.

How do you make the tempeh in the oven?

If you don’t have an air fryer, you can make the tempeh in the oven. Place the marinated tempeh in a single layer on a lined baking tray, then put the tray in the oven at 400F for 15 minutes or until the edges of the tempeh start to brown and crisp up.

Is there a way to save even more time with cooking the polenta?

You can try using instant grits as a faster alternative. Cook them according to package and stir in a little miso, nutritional yeast and salt to taste. Then serve with the cooked tempeh as desired.

Is there a short cut for the tempeh?

You can cook some pre-marinated tempeh like this smoky Tempeh from Lightlife works great. It’s sliced thin, so you can bake in the air fryer at 375F for 8-10 minutes. Just watch to make sure it doesn’t burn.

How to Serve

Add polenta to your bowl and top with some sautéed veggies like spinach and the air fryer tempeh. This meal is complete as is, but you can also serve with a few slices of extra avocado as well.

If not a fan of tempeh, try topping with some crunchy roasted chickpeas instead.

More Savory Vegan Breakfast Ideas

Top view of a bowl of polenta topped with spinach, tempeh and green onions.
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Bowl of polenta, spinach and tempeh on a stripped napkin.

Breakfast Polenta Bowl with Smoky Air Fryer Tempeh

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  • Author: Catherine Perez
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 3 servings 1x
  • Category: Breakfast
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegan


Vegan Breakfast Polenta Bowl – creamy miso polenta topped with smoky air fryer tempeh, this meal is savory, satisfying and easy to make.



Miso Polenta

  • 1 tbsp white miso paste
  • 1 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground polenta
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt and more to taste
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  • 1 block Tempeh, cut into 1/4 inch thin bite sized pieces
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce or coconut aminos to make gluten-free
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp maple syrup


  1. To a bowl, add in your cut tempeh and pour over enough boiling water (I used a tea kettle) to partially cover the tempeh. Place a cover over the bowl and allow to sit for 5 minutes to steam. As you wait, prepare your miso, mix your miso with a fork in 2 tbsp of water until smooth and set a side.
  2. Carefully drain the water from the tempeh and then add the remaining tempeh marinade ingredients and mix together to coat. Allow the tempeh to sit and marinade for 10 minutes.
  3. Place the tempeh pieces in your air fryer basket and set to 375F for 10 minutes. Allow the tempeh to stay warm in the air fryer while you finish cooking your polenta.
  4. For the polenta, add one cup of water and your milk to a sauce pan and bring to a high simmer.
  5. Stir in your nutritional yeast and then slowly pour in your polenta while whisking continuously to help avoid clumps. Allow to simmer while stirring frequently for 10 minutes as the polenta thickens.
  6. Add your salt and miso mixture and continue to stir for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Stir in your olive oil, cover and let stand for 3-5 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed and serve with the tempeh and any sautéed vegetables on top.


The polenta will continue to thicken as it sits, so make sure to serve fairly soon after cooking. If it does thicken too much, stir in some extra water or milk to help loosen it up and adjust seasonings accordingly.

Do not use the polenta that already comes in a tube. We just want the dry granulated variety you get from a block or bag.

To make the sautéed spinach featured in the photo, add small splash of oil to a skillet and add some sliced garlic. Stir-fry until golden then add in a few handfuls of spinach and stir fry until the spinach has wilted. Season with some salt and pepper and serve.

If you tried this recipe or any other recipe on the blog, then let me know what you thought in the comments below! And if you loved it, don’t forget to rate it too. Feel free to follow on Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok for the latest nutrition tips and recipe videos.


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