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.
Table of contents
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.
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.
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.
How to Make Vegan Tacos with Tempeh Taco “Meat”
- 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.
- 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).
- Bake the tempeh in an even layer until it’s brown and starting to caramelize.
- As the tempeh taco “meat” cooks, prepare the slaw. Chill until you’re ready to assemble.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Serve Tacos With…
- Serve these tacos up with tortilla chips and our favorite Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde.
- Finish the meal with out Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Raspberries and Millet for something sweet.
- Serve up our Mezcal Old Fashioned (Oaxaca Old Fashioned) for a fun cocktail to go with dinner.
Spicy Chipotle Tempeh Tacos with Green Apple Slaw
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This recipe post was originally posted on September 22, 2017. It was updated with additional information and more concise instructions on October 21, 2019.