If you’re looking for a plant-based “meat” alternative for Mexican night, look no further! Introducing smoky lentil vegan taco “meat”!
This 1-pot dish is made entirely with whole food ingredients including finely shredded carrots, which mock the texture of meat, and lentils, which add plenty of plant-based protein. Let us show you how it’s done!
Origins of Tacos
Who exactly invented the taco? It’s still a bit of a mystery! But a professor who has spent much time researching the topic theorizes that tacos were invented by Mexican silver miners in the 18th century. (source)
Tacos became popular throughout Mexico and were introduced to the US by Mexican immigrants in the 19th century. Authentic Mexican tacos tend to have simple ingredients such as corn tortillas, meat, lettuce, a small amount of cheese, and lime. (source)
Our plant-based version is not traditional, but is inspired by the same minimalist concept and flavors.
How to Make Vegan Taco “Meat”
This quick and easy recipe starts with sautéing onion and garlic in a large skillet. To keep it oil-free, sauté in water.
Shredded carrots are sautéed until slightly browned and tender. We like to finely shred them using a mandolin, but you can also buy pre-shredded carrots or use a box grater or the grater attachment on a food processor. The finer, the better, and the quicker they cook!
Cooked lentils are added next for plant protein and fiber. We used canned lentils to keep this recipe extra quick and simple, but cooking them from dry is also an option (see instructions below).
For seasonings, we went for smoky spices like chipotles in adobo, cumin, smoked paprika, and chili powder.
Next comes coconut aminos for umami flavor and coconut sugar to balance it all out.
Nutritional yeast adds extra flavor but is optional. Then lime adds acidity to balance out the heat and sweetness. Hello, mega flavor!
Once all ingredients are simmered in vegetable broth allowing the flavors to deepen, you’re done!
And in almost no time, you have a flavorful, plant-based taco filling made with recognizable, whole-food ingredients.
Optionally, for a more cohesive texture (think refried beans), you can add half of the mixture to a food processor and mix/pulse into a purée.
We hope you LOVE this vegan taco “meat”! It’s:
& Quick + easy!
More Vegan Taco Meat Ideas
If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!
1-Pot Smoky Lentil Vegan Taco “Meat”
SMOKY LENTIL FILLING
- 3-4 Tbsp water (plus more as needed // or sub half the amount in oil)
- 1/2 cup finely diced onion (any color)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups finely shredded carrot (or try subbing sweet potato)
- 1 ¼ cups cooked lentils (rinsed and drained // we used canned — see notes if cooking raw lentils // or sub black or pinto beans)
- ~1/4 cup vegetable broth or water as needed (plus more as needed)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt (plus more to taste)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika (plus more to taste)
- 1 tsp ground cumin (plus more to taste)
- 1 tsp chili powder (plus more to taste // spice blend should contain chili powder, cumin, oregano, etc.)
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, roughly chopped (omit for less heat)
- 1-2 tsp coconut aminos
- 1-2 tsp coconut sugar or maple syrup (omit if avoiding sugar, or sub stevia to taste)
- 1-2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- 1-2 tsp lime juice
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add water (or oil), onion, and garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until tender and slightly browned.
- Next, add carrots and sauté for several minutes to get slightly browned and tender, stirring frequently. Then add cooked lentils, vegetable broth, salt, paprika, cumin, chili powder, chopped chipotle pepper, adobo sauce (start with 1 tsp for low spice level), coconut aminos, coconut sugar, and nutritional yeast (optional). Stir to combine.
- Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid and cook for 5-10 minutes more or until the carrots are tender and the color has deepened. Stir occasionally and add more broth (or water) as needed if it dries up. Near the end of cooking, add lime juice and stir.
- Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more paprika or cumin for smokiness, salt to taste, coconut sugar for sweetness, lime for acidity, coconut aminos for umami flavor, or chipotle peppers for heat. We added more adobo sauce, coconut aminos, lime, cumin, and salt. Don’t be shy with flavor here!
- Optional: Scoop half of the mixture into a food processor and (using the "s"-shaped blade) mix/pulse to mash some of the lentils and carrots together. This creates a more cohesive texture but isn’t necessary.
- Serve the mixture on tortillas (we used corn tortillas heated over an open flame for 20 seconds on each side). For toppings, we suggest shredded red cabbage and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges or hot sauce for more flavor.
- Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or up to 1 month in the freezer. Reheat on the stovetop until hot, adding water or broth as needed to add moisture back in.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without optional ingredients.