This vegan taco meat is made with tempeh, cauliflower, mushrooms, and walnuts cooked in Mexican adobo and seasoned with garlic, onions, chili powder and lime.
This easy recipe makes hearty, meaty-tasting veggie taco meat that's 100% plant-based, high in protein, and so delicious you might not ever be tempted to use ground beef again.
I am increasingly interested in eating less meat AND also in eating less processed food. So, the packages of vegan ground beef alternatives that can be found in most grocery stores are not a terribly appealing option for me.
They may be meatless but they are also highly processed with a super long ingredient list, most of which I can’t even begin to pronounce.
If you relate, I have some very good news for your taco game (and also your nacho, tostada, baked potato, enchilada, and burrito game): Homemade vegan taco meat that is 100% plant-based and made from whole food ingredients is not only easy but really, truly, genuinely delicious.
Like, obviously, I’m going to say that dedicated vegans are going to love a recipe for meatless taco meat. But, I’d be willing to bet that there are a great many meat eaters out there who are going to fall in love with this recipe and possibly like it even more than taco meat made with ground beef.
Ways To Use Vegan Taco Meat
So, vegan taco meat is great for vegan tacos, of course. But also…
- Pile it into the center of these super cheesy, crispy corn tortilla quesadillas
- Heap it onto a loaded baked potato along with some vegan sour cream and nacho cheese
- Slap it on these black bean tostadas for some added protein and meaty goodness
- Layer it into cheese enchilada casserole
- Pile it onto a plate of tortilla chips along with vegan sour cream and nacho cheese for the most delicious plate of nachos you’ve ever had
- Mix it with some vegan nacho cheese for some crazy good tortilla-chip-dipping taco dip
- Also, loaded fries, taco salad, burritos, taco soup… there are more ways to use this one recipe than I could possibly list here and don’t we all just LOVE recipes with so many uses???
The Ingredients You Need to Make This Meatless Wonder
This recipe uses all whole food ingredients that are 100% plant-based and easy to find in most supermarkets.
- Cauliflower. Vegan taco meat is just one more way to use this incredibly versatile, delicious, and nutritious vegetable.
- Raw walnuts. Walnuts add texture, flavor, and heartiness to this meat substitute.
- Mushrooms. I tested this recipe with and without mushrooms and feel they are essential to achieving a chewy, "meaty" texture you can really sink your teeth into. I'll also stick my neck out and say that people who don't like mushrooms will most likely still love this taco meat alternative. I have tested it on several people who don't like mushrooms and they had no idea they were eating them.
- Tempeh. Tempeh gives this plant based taco meat a firm, meaty texture AND a hearty dose of protein, prebiotics, and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Chopped red onion
- Mexican adobo sauce. Either follow this super simple recipe to make some Mexican adobo in your food processor, or purchase a can of adobo at your local market. You can also, of course, purchase Mexican adobo on Amazon.
- Optional ingredients (not pictured): Chili powder, fresh lime juice, and fresh cilantro
Additions and Substitutions
Instead of walnuts: I like to use walnuts in this recipe because they contribute texture and nutrition to this vegan taco meat without giving it a "nutty" flavor. However, feel free to use any kind of nuts you like in this recipe, understanding that they will have an impact on the flavor. This is not a bad thing! Experiment and have fun with it!
To make vegan taco meat that's nut-free: Simply leave the walnuts out entirely. Tempeh adds plenty of firm chewiness to this plant-based meat substitute so there's no need to replace the nuts with anything else.
To make vegan taco meat that's soy-free: Omit the tempeh and increase the amount of walnuts to 1 cup.
Substitutions for Mexican adobo: One great substitution for Mexican adobo is a to mix 1 cup of hot water with 2 tablespoons Better than Bouillon Adobo Base, available in most major supermarkets and usually stocked in the soup isle. If the adobo variety isn't available in your local market, you can order it on Amazon.
Another good option is to use dried spices to make an adobo seasoning blend:
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon chili powder.
Mix all the spices together, add them to the skillet instead of the adobo sauce, and increase the amount of water to 2 cups.
Instead of mushrooms: If you don't want to include mushrooms in your veggie taco meat, you can either just leave them out or replace them with zucchini, eggplant, or tofu.
Zucchini, eggplant, and firm or extra-firm tofu all contain excess water that you'll want to remove before using them in this recipe. Here's how:
- Zucchini: Cut it into chunks and then pulse it in the food processor to chop it into rice-size pieces. Dump the zucchini out onto paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and press the excess moisture from it.
- Eggplant: peel the eggplant, cut the meat into chunks, and pulse it in the food processor to chop it into rice-size pieces. Dump the eggplant out onto paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and lay more paper towels or another kitchen towel over it. Set a heavy pot on the eggplant and press it down. Do this a few times which will squeeze out excess water than proceed with the recipe.
- Tofu: use a knife to dice the tofu into pieces about the size of a bean. Spread it out onto paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and lay more paper towels or another kitchen towel over it. Set a heavy pot on the tofu and press it down. Do this a few times which will squeeze out excess water than proceed with the recipe.
Step-by-Step Photos and Instructions
Use a food processor to chop the cauliflower into pieces that are about the size of grains of rice.
Repeat with the walnuts, mushrooms, and tempeh so that everything is chopped into similar size pieces. To guard against over-processing and ending up with pureed vegetables and walnut butter, pulse the food processor rather than letting it run.
Pour some olive oil into a large skillet and all of the chopped ingredients along with some diced onion and garlic.
Add the adobo, water, and salt, and set the pan over medium-high heat.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 - 10 minutes, until it's the right kind of "saucy" for what you want to use it for. Then, cover the pan and let it simmer for another 15 or 20 minutes.
Pro tip! At any time, if the mixture looks too dry, just add some more water. If it's too saucy for what you want to use it for, just let it simmer uncovered until some of the excess water has evaporated.
That's it! So easy! Give it a taste and add more salt, a bit of lime juice, and some fresh cilantro if you like and it's ready to serve!
How to Store and Freeze Vegan Taco Meat
Store leftover vegan taco meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat it on the stovetop over low heat in a covered saucepan or skillet, lifting the lid to stir it frequently. You can also reheat it in the microwave in 1 minute bursts, stopping to stir and continuing to heat until it's the desired temperature.
Vegan taco meat will keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months. In fact, it keeps so well in the freezer, I almost always make more than I need just so I can freeze some for later.
Store it in an airtight container or zip-top bag. Allow the frozen taco meat to thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
If you want to thaw it faster, use your microwave defrost settings or place the frozen taco meat, still in its container, in a bowl of warm water. Once the meat is about 75% thawed, you can start to reheat it over low heat on the stovetop or in the microwave on 1 minute bursts.
I like a lot of chili flavor and a lot of spicy heat in my vegan taco meat but I know that's not everyone's preference. So, the addition of chili powder is for likeminded people who like it spicy and want a stronger chili flavor than you get from adobo alone.
Use whatever kind of chili powder you want in whatever amounts you prefer to achieve the desired result.
White button, cremini, or portabello mushrooms are all the same type of mushroom. The only difference is their age. White buttons are the youngest, cremini are middle-aged, and portobello is the oldest.
Use any of those varieties in this recipe, or a combination.
- ¼ cup (50 grams) extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups (240 grams) cauliflower florets (or 2 ¼ cups of riced cauliflower)
- ½ cup raw walnuts
- 4 ounces (122 grams) button, cremini, or portobello mushrooms
- 8 ounces Tempeh
- 1 cup chopped red onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon minced garlic)
- 1 cup adobo sauce, prepared or homemade (See notes below)
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
- Optional: Chili powder, fresh lime juice, and cilantro
- Pour the olive oil into a large skillet.
- Add the cauliflower florets into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse a few times until the cauliflower is chopped into rice-size pieces. (Disregard if using already prepared riced cauliflower.) Dump the cauliflower into the skillet.
- Use the food processor to chop the walnuts, mushrooms, and tempeh into pieces that are also about the same size as grains of rice. As you chop, add these ingredients to the skillet with the cauliflower.
- Add the chopped onion and garlic to the pan along with the adobo sauce, water, and salt. If you are using chili powder, add that to the skillet as well (see note below).
- Set the skillet over medium-high heat to bring the liquid to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature to medium.
- Cook the taco meat uncovered, stirring frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until enough liquid has evaporated to be the consistency you want. Then cover the skillet and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, removing the lid to stir every once in a while. You can control how saucy your taco meat is by adding more water or cooking it uncovered to let excess water evaporate. Taste and add more salt if you like.
- If using, add some lime juice and chopped fresh cilantro. Start with a little of these ingredients, then continue to taste and add more until it tastes right to you.
- Mexican adobo is easy to make but is also sold in jars in the Mexican food aisle of most supermarkets. You can also order it on Amazon (link below). Another good alternative is to mix 2 tablespoons of Better than Bouillon Adobo Base (link below) with 1 cup of hot water and use that in place of adobo sauce.
- It's important to not over-process the cauliflower, walnuts, mushrooms, and tempeh when chopping them in the food processor. The goal is to chop each of these ingredients into pieces that are about the size of grains of rice. To guard against over-processing, don't overcrowd the bowl, and pulse the vegetables in the food processor instead of running it non-stop.
- Why is Chili powder an optional ingredient? The addition of chili powder is for those of you who want a strong chili flavor and might want to add some heat. Mexican Adobo sauce adds a moderate amount of chili flavor and a touch of mild heat to this taco meat. If you want more chili flavor and heat, use whatever kind of chili powder you want in whatever amounts you prefer to achieve the desired result.
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Serving Size:1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 253Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 330mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 4gSugar: 4gProtein: 10g