Tacos are life, and I wouldn’t live my mine without them. But, as I’ve been transitioning to a plant-based diet, I’ve been experimenting with more vegan-ish recipes. The funny thing is, once you stop eating meat all the time, you don’t crave it either. In this blog, I’ll share a little bit about why I only eat meat in moderation and how I make vegan taco meat at home that tastes good and contains no cow.

Why Avoid Meat?

I will explain why I stopped eating meat, okay, why I started eating meat in moderation. Living in Texas, BBQ, steak, and barbacoa tacos are everywhere, and they taste good. I’m not an extremist, and I won’t ever judge you for what you eat. But, I think it’s important to know what happens inside our bodies after we eat meat, then you can decide. There’s also a cool documentary on Netflix about this; it’s called The Game Changers. Spoiler alert, the world’s strongest man, and lots of elite athletes don’t eat meat. 

Animal protein foods like red meat, eggs, fish, or poultry contain a substance called choline. Our gut bugs munch up choline and turn it into something called trimethylamine (TMA). Our livers then convert TMA to trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Recent studies show a correlation between the amount of TMAO in the blood with the risk of heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Since my dad and my grandpa both dropped dead from heart attacks at 53, I’ve decided that cutting out meat from my diet (reducing the amount of TMAO circulating through my body) is a good idea. So, I’m actively looking for plant-based meat alternatives and have found two so far that I like. The first is tempeh.

What is Tempeh?

I first heard of tempeh when reading Fiber Fueled, and I filed it under things I’ll never eat. But, I had recommended the book to my coworker, and she was eating tempeh. She raved about the Tempeh tacos recipe and how both she and her husband loved it. The next time I was at the grocery store, I grabbed the weird-looking stuff from the grocery store’s vegan refrigerator section. I was right next to the tofu.   

Tempeh originally comes from Indonesia, and it’s a plant-based protein source. Unlike tofu, tempeh is firmer and has more of a meat-like texture and a nutty flavor. It’s made from fermented soybeans and formed into a block. Sometimes tempeh contains other grains and beans, like brown rice, for example.  

Besides a slightly nutty flavor, tempeh doesn’t taste like anything. It’s a blank slate and will take on the flavor of the spices, seasonings, and sauces. So, game on!  

Benefits of Eating Tempeh

Tempeh is high in proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Here are seven benefits of eating tempeh:

  1. Rich in nutrients
  2. Supports weight management
  3. Promotes heart health
  4. Good source of antioxidants
  5. Improves gut health
  6. Could help fight cancer cells
  7. Strengthens bones

Tempeh Recipe

Tempeh is super simple to cook and doesn’t require any fancy equipment. I cook tempeh exactly how I cook ground beef. First, I heat a cast iron pan and add some olive oil and diced onions. Then I crumble the tempeh with my hands while adding it to the hot pan and breaking it up using this fantastic tool. Once the tempeh is browned, or after about five minutes, I add a cup of water and my taco seasoning.  

You can buy taco seasoning at the store. Still, I like to make a big batch by combining the following and storing it in a mason jar: 

6 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons sea salt
4 teaspoons paprika

After adding water and 1 tablespoon of the above taco seasoning, I let the tempeh cook for another 10 minutes, occasionally stirring until the water is mostly absorbed. At that point, my tempeh looks like this and is ready to add to tacos.  

Walnut Lentil Vegan Taco Meat Recipe

Speaking of nutty flavor (see what I did there?), our second recipe’s main ingredient is walnuts. Yes, I’m serious. This one comes from my all-time favorite plant-based cookbook, Simple Green Meals by Jen Hansard of Simple Green Smoothies. I initially thought walnuts and lentils was an odd combo. But, it turns out that walnuts and lentils play nice together and are in many plant-based recipes, including plates of pasta, salads, and spreads.  

Benefits of Eating Walnuts

Walnuts supply healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Here are twelve benefits of eating walnuts:

  1. Rich in antioxidants
  2. Plant source of omega-3s
  3. May decrease inflammation
  4. Promotes a healthy gut
  5. May reduce risk of some cancers
  6. Supports weight control
  7. Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes
  8. May help lower blood pressure
  9. Supports healthy aging
  10. Maintains brain function
  11. Supports male reproductive health
  12. Decreases bad cholesterol levels

Benefits of Eating Lentils

Lentils are growingly famous in the nutrition and food blog world, but humans have been growing and eating them for thousands of years. Here are five benefits of eating lentils, in no particular order:

  1. High in fiber
  2. Help lower cholesterol
  3. Good source of folic acid
  4. Provide plant-based iron
  5. Contain nutrients that promote healthy skin, hair, and nails

Walnut Lentil Vegan Taco Meat

Warning, this recipe requires a food processor and some prep time. You will soak your walnuts in water overnight. I make a triple batch of this to ensure there is enough for leftovers and list the amounts I use below. The quantities listed below are approximations; feel free to improvise (it’s hard to screw up this recipe). In the morning (or after a good soak), drain and rinse your walnuts before using. A powerful blender might work just a well. But, I’d add a food processor to your wish list if you are doing plant-based eating. It’s convenient for all the nut-based recipes.

1 cup walnuts (soaked in water overnight)
2 cups cooked brown lentils (I use the microwave in a bag kind)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
6 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chili powder (more or less based on personal preference)
1-2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, combine everything listed above. Pulse until the mixture resembles ground meat.

Vegan, Dairy-Free Queso

Once you have your vegan taco meat, it’s time to make tacos. Fill them with whatever you want. I generally use corn tortillas, some lettuce, salsa, and of course, cheese! If you’d like a vegan cheese option, I love this vegan queso. I also found this recipe in Simple Green Meals. One word of caution, this recipe is spicy. If you need a more mild version, half the chili powder and skip the jalapeno.

This recipe uses cashews. Cashews make creamy sauces and spreads! Make sure to soak the cashews in ~2 tablespoons lemon juice and a little water for at least 2 hours prior, and then rinse and drain well.  If you haven’t heard of nutritional yeast, it’s a great parmesan cheese alternative and a staple for plant-based cheesy spreads and sauces.

1 cup cashews (soaked in 2 tablespoons lemon, water as above)
1-4 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons lemon juice (divided, save 1 tablespoon as below)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon tamari
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 jalapeno pepper (ribs and seeds removed)
1 garlic clove
Sea salt and ground pepper (to taste)

In a high powered blender or food processor, combine the cashews, nutritional yeast, chili powder, tamari, cumin, garlic, one tablespoon of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Puree until smooth, adding one tablespoon of water at a time until the consistency is of your liking.

What Do You Think About Vegan Taco Meat?

I hope you found this info useful.  Do you have a great vegan taco meat recipe?  If so, please share it in the comments below!  As always, reach out if you have questions or suggestions that could make this blog more helpful.