1-Pot Vegan “Barbacoa”

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Dinner plate with three Vegan Barbacoa Tacos with sliced radishes, cilantro, and fresh limes

Friends, I’m so excited to share this recipe with you! What started as a “tempeh taco ‘meat'” experiment/flop turned into a major success.

Without further ado, let’s make vegan “barbacoa!”

Stirring together ingredients for healthy Vegan Barbacoa made with lentils and carrots

I was initially hoping to make tempeh taco meat. But because tempeh benefits from some sweetness in a marinade/sauce, I just couldn’t get the flavor right.

So I pivoted and remembered how the mixture of carrots and lentils in my Best Vegan Pulled “Pork” Sandwich blew me away. I decided to try to morph that recipe into vegan “barbacoa.” Total win!

The base of this 1-pot recipe is onion, garlic, shredded carrots, and cooked lentils (I used canned to save time).  The smokiness comes from ground smoked paprika, cumin, and cloves. And the heat comes from chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – a favorite ingredient for adding smoky, earthy spice.

To balance the spice and smokiness, I added some coconut sugar for sweetness, lime juice and apple cider vinegar for acidity, and coconut aminos for that “umami” flavor. Then I let it simmer to deepen in color and flavor until it was tender, delectable, and insanely flavorful. Like whoa.

Note: Learn more about the history of barbacao here.

Using a wooden spoon to stir Vegan Barbacoa in a large skillet
Plate with corn tortillas filled with Vegan Barbacoa for healthy plant-based tacos

I hope you guys LOVE this “barbacoa!” It’s:

Tender
Smoky
Flavorful
Spicy
Hearty
Satisfying
Easy to make
& Super delicious

This would make the perfect topping for dishes like tacos, taco salads, nachos, and more! And I think it would be insanely delicious inside enchiladas (added to my recipe list!) and taquitos (find a version in our cookbook!).

This barbacoa is delicious on its own, but it would also pair extremely well with things like my 5-Ingredient Ginger Beer Margaritas, 10-Minute Chimichurri Sauce, Mexican Quinoa Salad, Kale Chip Nachos, Vegan Mexican 7-Layer Dip, and Grilled Corn with Sriracha Aioli. And if you’re into vegan meat substitutes, be sure to check out my Eggplant Bacon, Coconut Bacon, Tempeh Breakfast Sausage, and Quinoa Taco Meat!

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag a photo #minimalistbaker on Instagram! We’d LOVE to see what you come up with. Cheers and happy cooking, friends!

Holding up a Vegan Barbacoa Taco for a healthy gluten-free meal

1-Pot Vegan “Barbacoa”

Amazing, rich, flavorful vegan “barbacoa” with spices, chipotle peppers, lentils, and shredded carrots! The perfect plant-based “meat” for taco night!
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Plate with three Vegan Barbacoa Tacos topped with sliced cabbage, radishes, cilantro, and lime
4.80 from 145 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 5 (1/2-cup servings)
Course Entree
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Mexican-Inspired, Vegan
Freezer Friendly 1 month
Does it keep? 4-5 Days

Ingredients

BARBACOA

  • 2 Tbsp olive or grape seed oil (or sub water)
  • 1/2 medium white or yellow onion (minced)
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked green or brown lentils (I used canned, rinsed and drained)
  • 1 1/2 cups packed finely shredded/grated carrots (I used my food processor + grater attachment)
  • 2-3 Tbsp coconut sugar or organic brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and black pepper (plus more to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-3 whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (canned // plus 1-3 tsp adobo sauce as original recipe is written // more or less to preferred spice level)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut aminos (or sub 1 Tbsp or 15 ml tamari or soy sauce if not GF)
  • 3-4 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water (more as needed)
  • 2 dried bay leaves (optional)

FOR SERVING optional

Instructions

  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add oil (or water), onion, and garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until tender and slightly browned.
  • Next, add cooked lentils, carrots, coconut sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, cloves, oregano, chipotle peppers + adobo sauce (start with 1 tsp for low spice level), coconut aminos, lime juice, apple cider vinegar (start with lesser amount), water, and bay leaves (optional). Stir to combine.
  • Cover and cook over medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes (or up to 30-40 minutes on low heat) or until the carrots are tender and the color has deepened. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed if it dries up.
  • Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more paprika or cumin for smokiness, salt for saltiness, coconut sugar for sweetness, lime for acidity, coconut aminos for “umami” flavor, or chipotle peppers for spice. I added more chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, coconut aminos, lime, paprika, and salt.
  • 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, which I prefer.
  • Serve the mixture on tortillas (I used corn tortillas heated over an open flame for 20 seconds on each side). For toppings, I went with shredded red cabbage, sliced radish, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges or hot sauce for more flavor.
  • Store leftover “barbacoa” covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or up to 1 month in the freezer. Reheat on the stovetop until hot, adding water as needed to add moisture back in.

Notes

*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without toppings/tortillas.
*Recipe loosely adapted from the talented Serious Eats + Gimme Some Oven.

Nutrition (1 of 5 servings)

Serving: 1 half-cup servings Calories: 201 Carbohydrates: 28.1 g Protein: 8.3 g Fat: 6.3 g Saturated Fat: 0.8 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 414 mg Fiber: 10.1 g Sugar: 8 g

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My Rating:




  1. Amanda D says

    I made this for some vegan friends of mine, and I was sadly a little disappointed with the flavor. All 3 of us tasted carrots strongly through the smoky “barbacoa” flavor, which none of us really cared for. I think it would be much better sans carrots. Maybe a different vegetable could be subbed? I don’t want to totally write off this recipe, so I’ll try again and report back!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Amanda, sorry to hear it wasn’t a hit! You could add more lentils instead of carrots. We also have an improved version of the recipe here. Hope that helps for next time!

  2. Nicole says

    This was lovely! It’s extremely similar to the 1-Pot Smoky Lentil Vegan Taco “Meat” recipe, but I might slightly prefer this one. I did find it a little sweeter than I’d like at 2 TBS raw sugar – I’m glad I didn’t do 3! – so I’ll do 1 or none next time.

  3. Nate says

    Be careful not to add the lime juice and apple cider vinegar until the end or your carrots won’t soften up. I cooked this in my pan for an hour and a half trying to get the consistency right before googling and finding out that vegetables don’t soften in acidic mixtures. It tastes alright but honestly don’t think I’d ever want to try again.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Sorry to hear it didn’t work out well for you, Nate! We’ve never had an issue with it not softening. The flavor might be too strong if you add them later, so we’d suggest starting with less and adding to taste.

  4. Keeli Mullaney says

    I love this recipe! It’s a go-to in our house. I’m looking to make this for a group of 25. Would this recipe work to make in a big pot(recipex5) two days before and then put in a crockpot day of? Thanks!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We’re so glad you enjoy it, Keeli! That should work well! Let us know how it goes.

  5. Lauren says

    I made these last week and they were so good I’m already making them again! I don’t have carrots though – could I sub something else? Mushrooms or cabbage maybe?

  6. SLS says

    OH.My.Goodness. I halved the recipe and now I wish I had made the full recipe. It is SO good. It’s addicting. I left out the sugar, no need for it, and the lime, as it was balanced in flavor without the acidity. I used Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Whipple Beans since I had those and they were perfect in this. I used the barbacoa as a topping on a Carolina purple sweet potato. It was awesome – I am thinking it would go with just about everything so I’ll definitely be making this again.

  7. Michelle Cohron says

    This recipe was soooo good! Next time I will decrease the peppers because it was a little too hot for me. My husband loved it, but he can add hot sauce to his! We ate this over several days in burritos, rice bowls and tostadas. I love your recipes!

  8. Kat says

    I make this regularly. My whole family loves it! So flavorful, delicious and healthy! Thanks for this wonderful recipe! ❤️

  9. Bryana says

    Hi! I want to make this but I have a couple of questions:

    1. About how many small corn tortilla tacos does the default serving make?

    2. How many cups of lentils are in 1, 15 oz can?

    3. How many medium sized carrots yield the 1.5 cups?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Bryana, with small corn tortillas, we’d estimate about 10 tacos (1/4 cup filling per taco). A 15-ounce can has about 1 1/2 cups of cooked lentils. We’d estimate about 4 carrots. Hope that helps!

  10. Gina says

    I like to have like 7 or 8 go to recipes for my family and I already use quite a few of yours. This is ABSOLUTELY added to the list. Thank you so much!

  11. Lukas says

    This was so delicious, like one of the best things I’ve ever made! I used chickpeas instead of lentils and cinnamon instead of cloves and it still worked out great!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hmm, we’ve never tried that and aren’t sure how the texture would be. Let us know if you try it!

  12. Clarke says

    My husband and I are both vegan and we have made MANY of your recipes… you never let us down! We made this recipe tonight and I just wanted to comment because this is DEFINITELY going into our regular rotation!

    I used 2 Herdez brand adobo peppers, 2 tsp of the sauce, 2 tbsp of brown sugar, and 1 tbsp Bragg’s liquid aminos (not coconut aminos as we don’t have it on hand). Next time I will probably only use one adobo pepper.. we both love spicy food but it was just a little too spicy. We used a full 1/4 cup lime juice.

    Cooked for 20 min on med low heat

    For us, texture was not right until we blended in a food processor… imo this is a required step. Overall fantastic recipe we will definitely be coming back to :)

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Woohoo! We’re so glad you both enjoy our recipes! Thank you so much for the lovely review and for sharing your modifications.

  13. lauren says

    LOVED this recipe! Didn’t want to use any sugar to be as sugar-free as possible, and it still tastes amazing. Do you have any others that use chipotle peppers/adobo sauce? I don’t typically use this ingredient, and now I still have quite a bit leftover, would love to put it to use!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Lauren, we’re so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing! Yes, we have lots of recipes that use chipotles in adobo (1, 2, 3, 4, & more!). We also like to freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray and then transfer to a sealed container. That way you don’t have to use them all in a short period of time. Hope that helps!

  14. Grace says

    What can we use for the Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce? Most of the cans of this contain soy or corn oil which I am allergic too.

    • JT says

      I also try to avoid gmo’s and unnecessary major allergens (corn, soy, wheat…), so I looked long and hard to find a brand of chipotle in adobo that fit the bill. San Marcos brand isn’t certified gluten free or anything, but the only ingredient in it I object to at all is sugar. Given the other options I just decided a tiny bit of sugar was the lesser evil. My grocery stores don’t carry San Marcos brand, but all the Walmarts in my area do.

  15. Gwen says

    These were really good! Definitely on the spicier side (I used 2 chipotle peppers) so if you are sensitive to heat I would scale that back. I tried a number of different toppings, but because of the spice I found vegan yogurt was the best at cooling down the heat. Also did 2TB of sugar and that seemed good. It only needed a little salt at the end. Will definitely keep this in the rotation.

  16. Gwen says

    I am going to try this tonight, but confused on the chipotle peppers. Am I chopping them first? They say and look whole in the picture, but I can’t imagine eating a whole adobo pepper in my taco?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Gwen, you can chop them first if preferred! We typically use a wooden spoon to break them up in the pan.

  17. Maggie says

    This was another amazing recipe. Seriously this blog has changed my life and has made eating plant based so easy for my family since we made the change over 3 years ago. I have always been into cooking and your blog has made it more enjoyable for sure! My husband loved this recipe and wants me to make it on the regular. The recipe is clean but super tasty. Also love that I can make oil free on nights I want less fat. Thanks again!!

  18. George says

    Four pages of BS to get to the recipe. Most people don’t want to read all that crap, they want to see the recipe!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi George, feel free to click the “jump to recipe” button at the top of the page to skip ahead.

    • Ree says

      What an incredibly rude comment. If you had taken the time to read “all that crap” you would have seen that she very clearly explained why she chose the spices that she did and how to adjust them to your taste, which is not something that most food bloggers do. I very much appreciated this entire post, including the “BS” because it gave me a better understanding of how to work with these ingredients and balance the flavors and textures. If you don’t think you need any of that information, then it’s a wonder you’re on a recipe website at all as you surely must have it all figured out. Thank you to Dana for producing such high quality posts for those of us who still need some direction.

  19. Candice says

    Thank you for such a delicious recipe! I used this as a filling for tamales (+ potato and cheese) and they were THE BOMB! I took them to our family get together and everyone LOVED them. Definitely keeping this recipe like for ever!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Woah, love that idea! And we’re so glad everyone enjoyed them. Thanks for sharing, Candice! xo

  20. Alexa says

    Highly recommend! This was super flavorful and easy to throw together. So yummy with radishes, red cabbage and sour cream (unsweetened coconut yogurt) on top. This recipe also was loved by non vegans and they requested I make it again next time they visit.

  21. Molly says

    Absolutely incredible recipe. My husband and I are both big fans of your stuff, but this one definitely shot to the top of our favorites. We served them with your chimichurri recipe for dinner, then made breakfast tacos with eggs from our chickens for the next couple of mornings. Honestly divine. Husband even told me that we need to keep a batch of that on hand for all of our breakfasts going forward. Bravo!

    • Amanda says

      This was absolutely incredible! I made it because I needed to use up some carrots. My wife wasn’t pumped about a carrot lentil dish…until she was mind blown by this flavor bomb! So delicious♥️ I love so many recipes on your blog but this is definitely in the top 5! Or 3? Or 1?? Thanks for the yums!

  22. Erin says

    I love this recipe! I made it for my non-vegan husband and he loved it too! It has a great smokiness and yummy texture. Because this makes quite a bit of food, I make it for dinner but there are plenty of leftovers for lunch–score! I’m always looking for more ways to cram lentils and vegetables into my diet. :) Thanks Dana, for another hit!

  23. Marin says

    I made this a few nights ago & it was delicious. I would say though that the spices & ACV took over the whole dish & the lentils were dominated by such strong flavours. Way too much cumin that the balance was not right. The flavours were so strong that I could not taste my shredded cabbage & fresh coriander in the taco. I followed the recipe exactly as written & would recommend toning down the cumin & ACV by half.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Thanks for the feedback, Marin! We wonder if some of the spices were fresher than others? Either way, those modifications should help or you could also try adding more lentils to this batch.

      • Marin says

        All my spices were purchased on the same day, unless the cumin was super strong! I’m from Australia, so I’m not sure if our spices & ACV are more potent? Either way, it’s a great recipe :)

  24. Hannah says

    I accidentally used red lentils (because it was what I had on hand). At first, I thought it was going to be a bust because red lentils don’t have the same texture as brown or green, but let me tell you, the flavors in this recipe are so incredible that I didn’t even care! I also added a little roasted green chile on the top and it was delicious. I’ll have to make it again with the right kind of lentils!

  25. Dawn Lopez says

    This recipe has to be one of the very best vegan recipes I have ever tried. We are it all in one night and I literally cannot wait to make it again! 😍😍😍

  26. Jessica says

    Very flavorful and I highly recommend! I doubled the recipe and used shredded sweet potatoes in place of carrots because I served this with a homemade slaw with carrots, purple cabbage, and kohlrabi. Based on other reviews I decided to reduce the sugar and I didn’t read the note about chipotles and spice level so next time I will reduce (used 6).

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      We’re so glad you enjoyed it, Jessica! Thanks so much for the lovely review and for sharing your modifications!

  27. Kati says

    My teens are new vegetarians, and I think they’d like this, but we have allergies to consider. No nuts, lentils, chickpeas, peas, or pea protein. Is there something you’d suggest instead of lentils?

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hmm, what about jackfruit? It won’t have the same protein content, but the texture and flavor will be nice. Similar to this recipe. Maybe you could mix in some tofu? We haven’t tried that though. Let us know if you do some experimenting!

  28. Oded Amir says

    The sugar addition was unnecessary :(
    Took this dish from spicy, savory and smoky to just plain sweet.
    That being said, we ate it all!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerDana @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi there! We find the sugar balances and rounds out the spice and acidity in this dish. But of course, next time feel free to leave it out!

  29. Ronica says

    What a fantastic flavour combination! I used black lentils and Meyer lemon (tree outside), which was still phenomenal. I burned the corn tortillas over gas for that special smoky char. Was all pure deliciousness! Thank you again