1-Pot Smoky Lentil Vegan Taco “Meat”

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Picking up a vegan taco filled with spiced carrots and lentils

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!

Carrot, vegetable broth, lentils, onion, lime, spices, garlic, and adobo peppers

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!

Skillet of shredded carrots and sautéed onions

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.

Lentils, shredded carrots, sautéed onions, and spices in a large rimmed skillet

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!

Skillet of vegan taco meat made with lentils and carrots

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.

Plate of tacos, cilantro, and limes next to a cast iron skillet of vegan lentil taco meat

We hope you LOVE this vegan taco “meat”! It’s:

Smoky
Spicy
Tender
Incredibly flavorful
Customizable
Satisfying
& Quick + easy!

It’s PERFECT for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salads, nachos, and more! It would even be delicious eaten as a snack by the spoonful.

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!

Close up shot of a corn tortilla filled with vegan taco meat, red cabbage, and carrots

1-Pot Smoky Lentil Vegan Taco “Meat”

Easy vegan taco “meat” made with lentils, carrots, and TONS of smoky spices! Just 30 minutes required for this flavorful, 1-pot dish!
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Picking up a taco from a plate
4.97 from 26 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 (1/2-Cup Servings)
Course Entrée or Side
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Mexican-Inspired, Vegan
Freezer Friendly 1 month
Does it keep? 4-5 Days

Ingredients

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

FOR SERVING optional

Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

*To cook lentils from scratch, rinse ~3/4 cup (~144 g) lentils (as original recipe is written — adjust quantities as needed) under cool water. Then add to a small saucepan with ~1 ½ cups (340 ml) water (as original recipe is written — adjust quantities as needed) and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer (uncovered) for ~20-30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain off any remaining liquid. Proceed with recipe as instructed.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without optional ingredients.

Nutrition (1 of 6 servings)

Serving: 1 half-cup serving Calories: 82 Carbohydrates: 15.7 g Protein: 4.7 g Fat: 0.5 g Saturated Fat: 0.1 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.17 g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.14 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 283 mg Potassium: 330 mg Fiber: 4.1 g Sugar: 3.8 g Vitamin A: 6867 IU Vitamin C: 5.09 mg Calcium: 33.5 mg Iron: 1.89 mg

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  1. Melissa says

    This recipe was SO delicious. I’m always looking for great vegan taco variations, and this hit the spot. I had to sub soy sauce for coconut aminos, but otherwise I followed the recipe exactly!

  2. Hope says

    She does it again! I think I overcooked my carrots and lentils so the texture was not very “meaty”, but the flavors were ON POINT. It’s spicy, sweet, warming, and hearty. I served over some rice, avocado, and lettuce. I didn’t want to serve it with anything too strong in flavor because I didn’t want to take away from the perfection of this dish!

  3. Claire says

    This recipe is amazing! I tried it tonight purely as I had some green lentils lying around my pantry, and was pleasantly surprised by the result. One of the best, if not the best, vegan taco meats!

  4. Angelique says

    This lentil meat is so delicious, I’ve made it 2x this week. I didn’t have coconut aminos so I subbed with tamari and I didn’t have limes, and it still turned out amazing. I can’t wait till I have those 2 ingredients to see how it changes the flavor profile. I’ll definitely be making this again and again, and I would highly recommend this to people who are looking for a “meaty” taste.

  5. Liz says

    Delicious!! I added extra cumin, paprika, chipotle and extra splash of lime. So savory and great textures. Zingy. Sweet, spicy. Served on warm corn tortillas with melted violife cheddar, shredded red cabbage, home pickled red onion, avocado and culantro

  6. Anne-Marie says

    Made these tonight for “Taco Tuesday”. They were delicious. The favour combinations worked really well and the texture was great. The best part is that my “chicken fajita loving” kiddos also enjoyed them. I’m trying to slowly incorporate more and more plant-based meals into our diet… so always a big hit when the kids enjoy it. (And BTW, your website is a major source of inspiration for this transition).

    We added avocados into our tacos too :)

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Aw, we’re so glad our recipes are helping with your transition and that your kids enjoyed this one! Thanks so much for sharing, Anne-Marie! xo

  7. jones says

    100% delicious, I’ve made it twice already and I’m going to make it again. This is a great staple that will satisfy the meat eaters as well

  8. Elizabeth says

    This was so yummy! I’ve made it twice already and will be making it regularly. Love that it’s budget friendly. I omitted the sweetener and it still tasted great. Served burrito style with some massaged kale, tomato, and avocado sauce. Yum!

  9. Mia says

    Used this as empanada filling, it was delicious! The texture and hearty flavor was perfect for a vegan “beef” empanada. I love how the ingredients are so simple and affordable. I’ll definitely be making this again.

  10. Chris says

    I saw the video this morning and realized I have so many carrots I need to use. I added tempeh just cuz I have some and figured it would lend to the meaty texture.

    Amazing recipe. The perfect thing to quell my spice cravings.

  11. Marilyn says

    Second time making this and wow – so good and so easy!!! My boyfriend is actually the one who requested I make it again, so it passes the ultimate test. I make mine with black beans which I highly recommend.

  12. Callie says

    LOVED this recipe!! we are spice fiends so we actually nearly doubled the cumin, paprika and chili powder. added a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a kick and added ~1/4 cup of salsa in to give it a tomatoey saucey texture rather than blending a portion of it. Instant favorite!

  13. Jenna S says

    Delicious taco filling! Never would have thought to use carrots in something like this but the texture is so great. I made a double batch and froze half to bring for an easy camping meal and it kept very well.
    Thanks!!

  14. Trina says

    This recipe was a nice change of pace. I had so many carrots to use up, so gave it a try. Adjusted seasonings to my taste, added a a cap full of liquid smoke for an extra Smokey flavor.
    Will be making this again.
    Thank you,
    Trina

  15. Laura says

    Yes, please!! My daughter (12) made this last night and it was a hit! We used carrots and gluten-free soy sauce and it was super. She ate them in the tacos, I ate threw it on top of a salad and my husband ate it with rice. My only thing I would tweak would be to throw some heat via cayenne or red pepper flakes for those who want it.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Way to go! We’re so glad you all enjoyed it! Different brands of chipotles in adobo and chili powder can be spicier, so just keep that in mind for future experimentation.

  16. Crystal M says

    I really liked this recipe. I used the precooked lentils in the fridge aisle from Trader Joe’s. No Chile in adobo but threw in a small can of mild green chilies I also had from Trader Joe’s. I used a whole grated sweet potato. I don’t think you’ll “fool” people into thinking it’s meat, but it was like super delicious bean base for taco night. Topped with a vinegary coleslaw I had, avocado and hot sauce on corn tortillas. Super super good. No need to blend in my opinion. Will make again for sure.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We’re so glad you enjoyed it, Crystal! Love your serving ideas. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Monica says

    Delicious! Tacos are a favorite of ours, and this will be added to our regular rotation. We doubled the recipe, adjusted some of the seasonings to suit our tastes, skipped the sugar and added some apple cider vinegar instead.

  18. Amanda says

    Wowza, this was tasty. I love the smokiness that the chipotle brings, and I found the texture to be perfect for tacos. I made your corn tortilla recipe for these, and topped with roasted cauliflower, cabbage slaw, and cashew cream. This will be a regular in our house now! Thanks, MB!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Thanks so much for the lovely review, Amanda. We are so glad you enjoyed it! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating with your review? It’s super helpful for us and other readers. Thanks so much! Xo

  19. t says

    I got a tip on chipotle in adobo years ago from another food blog: when you buy a can, whiz up the whole thing in a mini food processor and store it in an old glass jar in the fridge. It will keep for months, and allows you to add as little or as much as you like to recipes. Or to individual bowls of soup, quesadillas, etc…………… My BFF and I are planning a virtual “Taco Tuesday” on Zoom w/ our families this week, and this is on our menu!!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Love that idea, thanks for sharing! We also like to freeze them in ice cube trays to help them keep longer.

  20. Mary says

    The best things about this recipe (in my opinion) are that it comes together quickly and is very flexible. I made several modifications and it still turned out wonderfully. I used canned pinto beans instead of lentils. Since I only had regular paprika I added a dash of liquid smoke to get that smoky taste. I left the chipotle pepper and nutritional yeast out. I used soy sauce instead of coconut aminos and started with 1 tsp to avoid over salting. Put it all together in tacos topped with chopped tomato and a cashew jalapeno sauce that I whipped up. Absolutely delicious, really filling, and healthy! This will definitely be my go-to taco filling from now on. I’m looking forward to trying it with other proteins.

  21. Michael says

    Sorry but this is the exact same as your one-pot barbacoa (which has been a go-to for me for months!) What’s the difference?

  22. Rachelle says

    These are amazing, smokey, spicy and a little sweet! We ended up doubling the recipe and used half carrot and half sweet potato, cut on a mandoline. We used 2 peppers – rather large, but perfect level of spice. The sweet potato definitely gave it more of a dense consistency, perhaps more like taco meat. We used French green lentils. We used the small jar on the Blendtec to blend half of it and that made the consistency ideal as a taco filling. We used corn tortillas and topped with avocado. They were great with a side of stir fried red peppers and zucchini. Very filling! We will definitely make it again, even my 14 year old daughter ate it.

  23. Shari says

    Hi Dana!
    You’ve done it yet again. An awesome recipe using all the ingredients I already had on hand. I omitted the onions because I don’t li me them. I doubled the recipe, so unfortunately I had to use a wok instead of a skillet and could not cover the wok. However, it still came out delicious in the end 😊.

  24. Sonika Lakhani says

    HI just curious can I use soy sauce instead of coconut aminos and can I use any lentil or does puy work the best? Thanks

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Yes! But soy sauce is saltier so start with less and work your way up. And any lentil will pretty much do here. Good luck!

  25. Dani says

    Hi! This looks delicious but my daughter is allergic to soy and coconut. sigh. Any substitute for the aminos? I’m unfortunately unable to use liquid aminos, coconut, tamari, and obviously soy sauce. Thanks!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Thanks, Nicole! Next time would you mind adding a rating to your review? It’s super helpful to us and other readers! xo

  26. Isabel Rivas says

    I made this!! It was delicious!!! But be careful w/ the chipotle as they can make the dish a little too spicy. I doubled the recipe and used 3 peppers and that was a little too many for my kids but my husband and I LOVED it!! Will definitely make again!!

    • Laura says

      Thanks for the fabulous recipe l. We made it tonight and the whole family loved it and my 12 year old wanted to let you know. The flavour was perfect (went easy on the chipotle in adobo). Will definately become a regular request at our house!

  27. Melanie says

    I made these tacos for dinner tonight—they were fantastic! It’s often a challenge finding recipes that my entire family likes, but, like many Minimalist Baker recipes, this was a winner. An added plus was that it was also nice and easy for a weeknight meal. I subbed sweet potato for the carrot, but otherwise followed ther recipe to the letter. I suspect that we’ll be making these regularly.

  28. Callie V says

    This looks very similar to your vegan barbacoa which I loved! Give me all the tacos 🌮 🌮 🌮

  29. Kaleigh says

    My grocery has been out of green/brown lentils for several weeks. I am wondering if using red lentils might be an option or if you think they will fall apart too easily. Thank you!!