Tempeh is the perfect base for a helluva tasty taco. Al pastor and birria devotees, stick with me here—unlike tofu, tempeh has a firm, very meat-like texture. That means this tempeh taco “meat” doesn’t require nearly as much prep work and tinkering to be a stellar swap for real meat. Once that plant-based protein is allowed to soak up a chili-lime marinade, it becomes so flavorful and meaty, even the most carnivorous of diners will enjoy these vegan tacos.

Why This Recipe Works

That smoky-spicy tempeh taco “meat” is tender and flavor-packed. Because the tempeh is smoky and slightly spicy, these  tacos really benefit from a fresh and crisp element in the form of a green apple slaw. A dollop of sour cream or Mexican crema in addition to avocado add a cool creaminess to balance out the spice.

Don’t forget the cherry on top: cream! If you’re looking for a sour cream substitute for vegan tacos, drizzle some cashew cream over top. Otherwise, Mexican cream, plain Greek yogurt, or sour cream work wonderfully.

Overhead photograph of tacos stacked in a line from the top to the bottom featuring marinated tempeh, slaw and avocado slices.



This popular Indonesian plant-based protein is made from fermented soybeans that are cured naturally and fermented in a way that brings the soybeans into a block-like form. (If you fall hard for tempeh, consider my Vegan BBQ Tempeh Sandwiches to use up any leftovers.)

Chipotle chili in adobo and adobo sauce

Seek out cans that include both the peppers and the sauce in Mexican cuisine or canned food aisle. Want to DIY? Try my Quick Red Adobo Sauce Recipe to complement the canned chipotle chilies. 

Honey or pure maple syrup

Opt for maple syrup to keep this tempeh taco recipe fully vegan.

White wine vinegar

If you don’t have this acidic ingredient on-hand for the slaw dressing, try apple cider vinegar. Extra lime juice can work in a pinch. 

Napa cabbage

Also known as Chinese cabbage, this leafy green is the most common type of cabbage used in kimchi. It a has mild flavor, crisp texture and is ideal for enjoying raw (like in this slaw) or cooked (it’s a star in stir-fries, soups, and stews). 

Granny Smith apple

This firm, tart, bright green apple is my top choice for the slaw that’s part of this vegan taco recipe. Pink Lady, Cortland, or Fuji will play nicely too.

Parsley and cilantro

If cilantro tastes like soap to you, skip it and double up on the parsley.


Stick with corn tortillas for tempeh tacos that fit a gluten-free diet, or if you love flour tortillas, use those.

Close up photograph of marinated baked tempe stuffed into a tortilla with red onion, avocado, slaw and cilantro.

How to Make Vegan Tacos with Tempeh Taco “Meat” 

  1. Steam the tempeh. Why? Steaming cuts down on the inherent bitterness of tempeh. It’s a very simple process that you can check off as you prepare and combine the tempeh taco marinade ingredients.
  2. Whip up the marinade in a medium bowl, then add the steamed tempeh and toss to coat. Marinate the tempeh for at least 2 hours (or up to 24 hours).
  3. Bake the tempeh in an even layer until it’s brown and starting to caramelize. 
  4. As the tempeh taco “meat” cooks, prepare the slaw. Chill until you’re ready to assemble.
  5. Lightly toast the tortillas over an open flame (if you have access to a gas stove) or under a broiler until warm and beginning to char.
  6. Build the tacos by stuffing tortillas with slaw, vegan taco meat, avocado slices, a dollop of cream, and few sprigs of fresh herbs. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing on top.

Test Kitchen Tips

  • Tip #1:  Plan ahead and allow for 2 hours minimum for the tempeh to marinate. As with nearly every marination process, the longer the better (up to 24 hours).
  • Tip #2: Store any leftover tempeh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Slaw will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you need the slaw to keep longer, consider using regular green cabbage instead of napa cabbage.


What other proteins could I try this strategy with if I don’t dig tempeh?

Chipotle Chicken Taco Filling: Use ½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast in place of the tempeh. Just skip the steaming, cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes, and marinate as directed. Either bake as directed or cook on the stovetop in a skillet with some oil.

Chipotle Beef Taco Filling: Use ½ pound ground beef in place of the tempeh. Skip the steaming and marinating. Cook beef in a skillet with some olive oil, a cup of diced  onion, one minced chipotle pepper, two tablespoons adobo sauce, and 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic. Season with some kosher salt to taste.

And in case you need a reminder, cheese would be off-the-charts if you don’t need these tempeh tacos to be 100 percent vegan. Crumbled queso fresco would be my top pick here.

Can I try this slaw for beyond-taco uses? 

Absolutely, this taco recipe features a super simple and refreshing slaw that’s a terrific side dish for just about any main dish, including grilled meats and fish, sandwiches, and crab cakes.

Serve Tacos With…

Spicy Chipotle Tempeh Tacos with Green Apple Slaw

4.75 from 4 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Marinating Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Yield 4 servings + 5 cups slaw
Category Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine Mexican
Author Lauren Grant


These vegetarian Chipotle Tempeh Tacos are smoky, spicy, and incredibly satisfying. The tempeh is marinated in a sweet and spicy sauce, gets baked to perfection, then is piled into tortillas with a fresh, crisp green apple slaw. This is healthy eating at its finest.



  • 8 ounces tempeh
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo, minced
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • kosher salt and black pepper


  • 1 lime zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
  • 3 teaspoons honey or pure maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon grated fresh garlic
  • 3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
  • 1 cup julienned Granny Smith apple
  • ¾ cup halved and thinly sliced red onion
  • ¼ cup halved, seeded, and thinly sliced jalapeño
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro

To Serve

  • 6-inch corn or flour tortillas
  • 1 avocado, thinly sliced
  • Greek yogurt or cashew cream
  • Lime wedges



  • Fill a skillet with 1-inch of water and add tempeh. Bring water to a simmer over medium heat and cook tempeh 12 minutes, flipping once halfway through. Remove tempeh, pat dry, then transfer to a cutting board. Slice tempeh in half lengthwise (into two thin halves) then cut each rectangle into 16 bite-sized pieces.
  • Whisk oil, chipotle, adobo, lime juice, honey, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt together; add tempeh pieces and toss to coat. Cover tempeh and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 24, stirring occasionally.
    Photograph of tempeh marinated in a red sauce in a cream-colored bowl
  • Heat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange tempeh on sheet in an even layer, and bake until tempeh is caramelized and deep golden brown, about 25 minutes, flipping halfway through. Remove from oven and cool slightly.


  • Whisk together 2 tablespoons lime juice, vinegar, oil, honey, 1 teaspoon lime zest, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage, apple, onion, jalapeño, parsley, and cilantro; toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve.
    Overhead photo of green apple slaw in a small metal cup

To Serve

  • Lightly toast tortillas over an open flame on stove top or under broiler just until warm and charred on both sides. Scoop slaw into tortilla, arrange 4–5 tempeh pieces over slaw, top with avocado slices, greek yogurt or cashew cream, and additional herbs. Serve with lime wedges.


Prep and cook time does not include marinating time. Allow for at least 2 hours marinating time, but the longer the better.


Calories: 259kcalCarbohydrates: 27gProtein: 12gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 575mgFiber: 3gSugar: 18g
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
Overhead photo of vegan tempeh tacos arranged in a line across white paper with limes and a creamy sauce off to the side

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This recipe post was originally posted on September 22, 2017. It was updated with additional information and more concise instructions on October 21, 2019.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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  1. I love this idea! Tempeh is my favorite vegan protein. And I’m with you on the “eat this, not that” rules. They change so often… I just eat what I like (within reason)!

  2. It is crazy that I haven’t tried tempeh yet, but this is inspiring me. IT looks soo good!

  3. These are 100% my JAM! I love tempeh, and the marinade you made for this sounds scrumptious! Definitely making this for my next taco night.

  4. 5 stars
    This is one of the best tempeh marinades I’ve ever tried!! I didn’t make the tacos for lack of ingredients, but I made the tempeh for a “taco salad” and the marinade was flavorful enough to carry the salad without any added dressing – just a spoonful of salsa for moisture. I doubled the chipotle (because I gotta use it up and I like spice) and halved the maple syrup, and marinated for almost 24 hours. The maple syrup was key to helping it carmelize, as you note, and I thought it worked well even with half the syrup. Steaming the tempeh beforehand was also critical. Thank you for sharing this!