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When I first stopped eating meat, I was surprised by how few things I actually missed. Every now and then I thought about a steak, or a burger, or barbecue, but the thoughts passed quickly, and I realized that being a vegetarian still allowed me to eat almost all my favorite things.

There was one exception to all this: tacos.

Oh, I’ve had several kinds of excellent vegetarian tacos — tacos with black beans, tacos with zucchini, tacos with lentils, tacos with refried beans and rice, etc., etc. But none of them were quite like the rustic tacos made from beef in a bright red sauce that saturated the tortilla underneath. Served with simple toppings — and generally excellent without any toppings at all — they were one of my favorite foods prior to going meatless, and they’re not the kind of thing that gets recreated on vegetarian menus.

So when Emily and I decided to start a cooking blog, my goal was to begin with a great taco recipe. After a bit of trial and error, I settled on a tempeh filling braised in a simple chile sauce. It takes some extra time to make — it’ll likely take about an hour — but it takes surprisingly little prep work, and I think the flavor is worth the wait. Besides, all the waiting just gives you an excuse to eat some good tortilla chips and salsa in the interim.

I served the tacos with a simple corn and scallion slaw, lettuce, and salsa, but the taco filling itself is quite flavorful and could be served on its own in tortillas — in fact, some might prefer it that way.

tempeh tacos

About 1 hour

Makes 12-18 tacos

The recipe calls for two ancho chiles and one guajillo, but feel free to experiment with other chiles. For a smoother sauce, strain the chile sauce after blending.

for the tacos

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 ancho chiles, wiped clean
  • 1 guajillo chile, wiped clean
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin seeds, toasted and ground (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
  • ¼ torn bay leaf
  • 8 ounces tempeh, cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pineapple or cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon vegan worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

for the slaw

  • ⅔ cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 2 green onions, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons safflower or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
  • Juice from ¼ of a lime
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

for the rest

  • 6 corn tortillas
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Salsa (optional)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Shredded cheese (optional)


Add 3 cups of water, anchos, and guajillo to a small sauce pan and bring to boil over medium high heat. Turn down heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool until chiles can be handled comfortably.

Stem and seed the chiles. Add chiles and sugar to a blender jar with the cooking water and blend until smooth. Alternately, you can grind chiles into a rough paste with a mortar and pestle and add back to the cooking water. Set aside.

In an 8-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When pan is warm, add garlic, ground pumpkin seeds, oregano and cumin and saute for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add chile mixture, tamari, worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and bay leaf to skillet along with tempeh. Add salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until liquid has thickened into a thick sauce. Turn down to low, remove the bay leaf, and keep warm.

for the slaw

Add water to a small saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Add corn and bring back to boil. Turn heat down to medium and let simmer for six minutes.

Drain corn and return to pan. Add 2 teaspoons of oil, scallions, lime juice, and chopped cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

assembling the tacos

Heat tortillas in microwave for 30 seconds. For each tortilla, add tempeh filling, cheese (if using), and corn slaw. Top with lettuce, salsa, and any other toppings you desire. The recipe will make 18 small tacos or 12 generously sized tacos.