This vegan tempeh walnut taco meat is packed with 26 grams protein per serving, making it the best plant-based protein addition to all of your favorite tacos, burritos, and burrito bowls. All you need is 6 ingredients and 30 minutes to bake in the oven! So savory and satisfying!
I really love Mexican-inspired vegan dishes, and this vegan taco meat is no exception! It’s super easy to throw together on a busy weeknight and holds up well in the fridge throughout the week.
The cooking method for this vegan taco meat is inspired by my Smoky Tempeh Bacon Strips that are cooked in a marinade in the oven. Tempeh naturally soaks up the liquid and the result is an extra flavorful, juicy, crispy vegan meat!
What is Tempeh?
Tempeh is a brick of fermented soybeans and originated in Indonesia. Tempeh is much firmer than tofu and has a slightly nutty after taste. It’s a great plant-based substitute for chicken or turkey because it is chewy once steamed and has roughly 20 grams of protein per serving. *If gluten free, make sure to buy a tempeh that is just soybeans like this tempeh by Lightlife. Trader Joe’s tempeh is not gluten free!
Why This Recipe Works
- Walnuts are a great source of plant-based fat and omega-3s, which adds flavor and prevents this vegan taco meat from being too dry without the need for added oils.
- Baking this vegan taco meat helps develop a deep flavor without requiring any stirring or hands-on time. Use the time it bakes to prepare your other burrito bowl or taco ingredients!
- Vegan, gluten free, oil free, and sugar free! This recipe is great for all eaters!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- tempeh – I don’t recommend substituting tofu in place of the tempeh as they operate very differently. Only tempeh is recommended here but you can use a plain tempeh or a tempeh with added grains.
- walnuts – Halved or whole walnut pieces will work, just be sure the only ingredient is walnuts. If the walnuts are roasted or flavored in any way, this will effect the flavor of your taco meat.
- salsa – Any salsa will work. I used a medium spiced, slightly chunky salsa but also love using mild salsas here!
- Chipotle in adobo – If you’re okay with trace amounts of sugar, I’ll use the brand Frontera! It is less spicy than traditional chipotle peppers in adobo sauce because it has added tomatoes, but it still gives a great depth of flavor and is made without soybean oil. If you love spicier foods and don’t mind added oils, you can use the traditional chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. If you’re doing a vegan whole 30, make adobo sauce at home with dates.
- taco seasoning – I love buying packets of vegetarian taco seasoning to make cooking dinner super quick and easy. If I’m doing a plant-based Whole 30, I always use Siete Foods Taco Seasoning. If you want to make your own homemade taco seasoning, try this Taco Seasoning by Gimme Some Oven!
- vegetable broth – I add a half cup of vegetable broth to the dish while it bakes to keep it super moist and add additional flavor! I use Kettle & Fire for a sugar free broth.
Step by Step Instructions
- Pulse your walnuts in the food processor until broken down into smaller crumbles – think ground beef crumbles for a walnut taco meat. Alternatively, chop the walnuts with a knife until a similar texture is reached.
- Break the tempeh bricks into small chunks with your hands and add them to the food processor. Pulse a few times, or until the tempeh is broken down into crumbles. Some large pieces are okay!
*Be careful not to over process or the tempeh will turn into a paste texture. A smaller cup food processor may have difficulty processing this without overdoing it. I use a 14 cup food processor and there is enough room to process without the tempeh getting stuck.
Alternatively, chop the tempeh with a knife/tear it with your hands until a similar texture is reached.
- Spread the vegan taco meat in a lightly greased 9×13 casserole dish and pour the ½ cup vegetable broth, salsa, adobo sauce, and taco seasoning overtop. Stir well to combine and completely coat the walnuts and tempeh.
- Bake for 30 minutes, tossing the tempeh taco meat half way through to encourage even browning. Serve vegan taco meat immediately as soft or hard-shelled tacos, wrapped in a burrito or over rice and beans as a homemade burrito bowl!
Yes, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and tofu is prepared with soy milk. The two have very different tastes and textures. Tempeh is much firmer, crumbles, and has a nutty taste. Tofu is much softer and more neutral in flavor.
Because their textures differ so much, I do not recommend substituting tofu. It will be a very different outcome.
Yes, you can! I prefer making this in the oven because I think it gets crispier and helps remove the bitterness from tempeh, but you can heat this on the stovetop as well if needed for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetable broth has been absorbed/cooked off.
If you don’t have any salsa, add half a cup of tomato sauce instead. It will give it a similar flavor and acidity.
- Be careful not to over mix the tempeh in the food processor. It is better to leave larger chunks and break them up with your hands than it is to over process it into a paste.
- Make a large batch of this vegan taco meat for meal prep! Tempeh walnut taco meat does well in the fridge and is easily reheated.
What to Serve Vegan Taco Meat With
- As a snack with Black beans or refried beans for extra protein.
- Stuffed in corn tortillas and topped with guacamole, corn salsa, and cashew sour cream!
- Over chopped romaine lettuce in a taco salad!
- Rolled in a Tex-Mex inspired vegan breakfast burrito with Silken Tofu Scrambled Eggs and tomatillo salsa!
More Mexican Inspired Vegan Recipes
Vegan Tempeh Walnut Taco Meat
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- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease a 9×13 casserole dish. Set aside.
- In a large cup food processor, process the walnuts into a small crumble (see photo in post for reference).
- Tear the tempeh bricks into several smaller pieces and add them to the food processor along with the walnuts. Process lightly until crumbled. Some larger pieces are okay! See photos in post for reference.
- Transfer tempeh walnut mixture to the lightly greased 9×13 casserole dish and spread evenly. Top with the salsa, vegetable broth, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and taco seasoning. Toss to fully coat the tempeh walnut mixture.
- Bake on the top oven rack for 30 minutes, tossing half way through to evenly brown.
- Serve immediately in tacos, burritos, burrito bowls and more!
- Allow the taco meat to cool completely before storing. This taco meat will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator.
- How to make Whole30 Plant-based compliant: Use this recipe and make your own adobo sauce at home with dates, use Siete Foods taco seasoning, and Kettle & Fire low sodium vegetable broth.
- Please note that depending on the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and salsa you use, the spice level can change dramatically. If you prefer less spicy foods, use mild salsa and this chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with roasted tomato. It is less spicy than the traditional canned version with whole peppers.
- This recipe is easily doubled or tripled! Adjust to your needs.
- Be sure not to over process the tempeh or the texture will turn into a paste.
General note about salt
Please pay attention to the type of salt called for in the recipe (if applicable). Not all salts are made equal and cannot be substituted 1 for 1. If you are substituting table salt for kosher salt, you will need to cut the amount called for in the recipe by at least half.
Disclaimer: The Nutritional Information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.