A Load of Vegan Taco Inspiration

Meatless marvels to make now.

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Food Network Kitchen’s Nut Meat Tacos with Pickled Red Onions.

Food Network Kitchen’s Nut Meat Tacos with Pickled Red Onions.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Tacos are the kind of dish that are instantly recognizable in their finished form, but the sum of its parts — including the fillings and fixings — leaves plenty of room for riffing. The fillings don’t always have to revolve around a chicken-fish-pork-beef rotation, nor do vegetarians and vegans have to settle for stuffing their tortillas with sautéed veggies alone. From mushrooms to squash, beans to nuts, tofu to seitan, there are so many satisfying vegan taco options that we wouldn’t be surprised if they inspire your weeknight meals well beyond Meatless Mondays and Taco Tuesdays.

Make it Mushroom

Given their texture, mushrooms are a natural stand-in for meat. But don’t relegate them to substitute status — instead, give them top billing. Trisha Yearwood pulls in a medley of mushrooms including shiitake, cremini and oyster to vary textures in her Wild Mushroom Blackened Poblano Tacos (sub in dairy-free cheese or vegan sour cream for topping).

You might be more likely to envision green beans and mushrooms as casserole fare, but they make a dynamic duo, as these Green Bean-Mushroom Tacos demonstrate. The key is to let the oyster and cremini mushrooms cook undisturbed in a hot pan for ten minutes before flipping to ensure a toasty exterior.

These Poblano, Mushroom and Potato Tacos star a flavorful combination of roasted poblano peppers and sautéed mushrooms, and are extra satisfying thanks to the addition of tender chunks of Yukon gold potatoes. A few tweaks are needed to keep them vegan, like swapping in cooking oil for butter and finishing them with a dairy-free sour cream.

Katie Lee makes Cauliflower Tacos with Spicy Sriracha Black Beans, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen

Katie Lee makes Cauliflower Tacos with Spicy Sriracha Black Beans, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen

Load ’Em with Veggies

Look to hearty veggies in the cruciferous, root and squash families that will hold their shape and drink up seasoning.

Roasted Cauliflower yields a firm-yet-creamy texture that lends itself to being nestled into tortillas or taco shells. For extra visual flair, choose a mix of green, white and purple cauliflower. Katie Lee offers another technique for tasty cauliflower with these Cauliflower Tacos with Spicy Sriracha Black Beans. She briefly sautés cauliflower until soft, all the better to absorb seasoning, then steams them in a mixture of jarred salsa and water until tender.

Sweet potatoes and celery root anchor these Root Vegetable Tacos with Pineapple Salsa, which get an extra boost of protein and texture from a schmear of refried beans. Bobby Flay is a fan of sweet potatoes in his tacos too, as evidenced by these Grilled Sweet Potato Tacos with Ancho Chile-Maple Syrup Glaze. As with roasting, grilling the sweet potatoes helps caramelize the tuber’s sweetness, but Flay tempers the accompanying maple glaze with ancho chile powder and Dijon mustard. (Swap in shredded dairy-free cheese to keep these tacos vegan.)

Tia Mowry’s Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos with Avocado Hummus delivers as much smoke and spice as a carnitas taco, thanks to a cumin-chili-paprika spice mix that intensifies as the squash roasts. A chunky mashed chickpea-and-avocado bolsters the nutrition and lends a welcome cooling creaminess.

Damaris Phillip's Fauxrizo Taco Filling for Taco Tuesday as seen on Food Network's Southern at Heart

Damaris Phillip's Fauxrizo Taco Filling for Taco Tuesday as seen on Food Network's Southern at Heart

Photo by: Alice Gao ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Alice Gao, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Pick Plant-Based Proteins

Katie Lee replaces beef with shredded jackfruit which boasts a satisfying, stringy texture in these easy Jackfruit Tacos. Jackfruit’s neutral flavor means it takes on seasoning particularly well, in this case, a medley of chili powder, garlic salt and pantry-ready jarred salsa.

Your Meatless Mondays will never be the same once you try these Tofu Tacos. Seared cubes of tofu are nestled into a tortilla and then crowned with a tangle of tangy slaw, radish coins and sliced scallions. You can sub in dairy-free yogurt to make the yogurt lime sauce, or simply finish with a squeeze of lime instead. Opt for dairy-free shredded cheese for topping, too.

Another meatless marvel is Damaris Phillips’ “Fauxrizo” Taco Filling, which stars seitan seasoned with all the spices of chorizo. Get her step-by-step know-how in her “Fauxrizo” Tacos class on the Food Network Kitchen app. (You can make the accompanying jicama-and-cilantro slaw vegan by pulling in vegan sour cream or cashew cream for the creme fraiche and subbing in vegan mayo for regular mayo).

Bank on Beans and Legumes

Beans are packed with nutrition, gladly take on whatever seasoning you throw on them and deliver satisfying texture. Damaris Phillips’s Coconut Lime Black Beans are so tasty you could eat them by the spoonful, but they’re also excellent wrapped up in tortillas. The key to unlocking the beans’ flavor potential here is letting dried beans simmer low and slow in coconut water before finishing them with coconut oil and fresh lime juice.

Proof that roasted chickpeas can go from super snack to top-notch taco filling are these Crunchy Roasted Chickpea Tacos. During her class on the Food Network Kitchen app, Gabriela Rodiles’s shares her trick to getting chickpeas super crispy: pat them completely dry before seasoning. And to ensure the chickpeas don’t roll out, she spreads mashed avocado on the tortillas.

For these Nut Meat Tacos with Pickled Red Onions, almonds, walnuts and sundried tomatoes are all pulsed together in a food processor to yield a savory mixture whose texture is just as satisfying as ground beef crumbles.

A cashew-avocado dressing for potato salad, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen.

A cashew-avocado dressing for potato salad, as seen on Food Network's The Kitchen.

Photo by: David Katz

David Katz

Don’t Forget the Fixings

What makes a taco greater than the sum of its parts are the finishing touches like sauces, salsas and pickles.

To Spoon:

Guy Fieri’s Black Bean Avocado Salsa with Corn, a mixture of charred corn, cherry tomatoes, black beans and avocado all pulled together with a cumin-lime-chile dressing, is practically a meal itself — in fact, you could easily pair it with tortilla chips and call it dinner. Ellie Krieger’s Mango Salsa lends a tropical touch, but a trio of cucumbers, jalapenos and red onions keep it from veering too sweet. Guacamole is a must-have taco night accompaniment, but might we suggest Molly Yeh’s Guacamole Salad as an alternative? Dicing the avocados instead of mashing them keeps their texture intact and allows the flavors of individual spices to shine, adding more dimension to each bite.

To Drizzle:

For her Jalapeno-Avocado Cashew Cream, Marcela Valladolid whizzes soaked cashews, avocados, lime and cilantro into a silky smooth sauce. Pro tip: reserve some of the soaking liquid to help thin it if the consistency is too thick. Sunny Anderson’s Cilantro Vinaigrette gets its creamy texture from Dijon mustard, which plays nicely off herbaceous cilantro. Plus, leftover dressing can be saved to pour over all manner of salads and grilled veggies.

To Pickle:

Pickles add a nuanced final flourish, at once lending a bracing bite, a touch of texture and a pop of color. Try these zingy taco toppers, including Pickled Red Onions, Pickled Avocados (a great recipe for using unripe avocados) or Pickled Chiles.

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