These vegan tempeh tacos are easy to whip up with simple ingredients for a quick and healthy meal the whole family will enjoy.

Close up of a tempeh taco topped with pickled red onion, cilantro, cashew cream sauce and hot sauce.

Really good! We’re trying to do more vegetarian meals and these were still really hearty and “meaty” so we didn’t miss anything. 

—Paige

About the Recipe

Looking for meatless option for taco night? Tempeh makes a great choice!Tempeh boasts a chewy, meaty texture that makes it ideal for vegetarian and vegan tacos.

When crumbled and cooked with taco seasoning, it bears a resemblance to ground beef, for tacos will surely impress even meat eaters.

Making these vegan tacos is a breeze and preparing the tempeh taco meat takes less than 20 minutes.

If you’re making the optional pickled onion and cashew crema you’ll need a little extra time but feel free to customize your toppings with any other taco fixings you prefer.

For more favorite tempeh recipes, you’ll have to try these BBQ tempeh bowls, tempeh stir fry and marinated tempeh next!

What is Tempeh?

Tempeh is a made from fermented soybeans packed into a firm, cake-like block. It’s a popular source of plant-based protein and has a earth, nutty flavor and chewy texture.

Tempeh is created through a natural fermentation process where cooked soybeans are inoculated with a specific type of mold. This mold binds the soybeans together and the fermentation process helps break down some of the soybean components, making it more digestible and nutritious.

This recipe uses store-bought tempeh, though you can also make your own. Tempeh is easy to find in well-stocked grocery stores and usually located alongside tofu.

Ingredient Notes

All ingredients needed for making a vegan tempeh taco recipe. Each ingredient is labelled with text.

This list is not complete. Please see the recipe card at the end of the post for the complete ingredient list with measurements and detailed instructions.

  • Tempeh: Look for a plain block of tempeh with no added flavourings. It should be beige in colour but if it has some black spotting on it, that’s normal. This recipe also works well with chickpeas or tofu.
  • Onion: You can use white, yellow or red onion. Shallots would work as well.
  • Bell Pepper or Poblano Pepper: Any colour of bell pepper or a poblano pepper works.
  • Tomato Paste: Tomate paste works best for flavour and consistency but you could substitute tomato sauce if needed.
  • Nutritional Yeast: Adds umami flavour to the tempeh. If you’re unsure what is is, you can read more about nutritional yeast here. Nutritional yeast is common in grocery stores or readily available online.
  • Spices: You’ll need ground cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder.
  • Tamari: If you don’t have tamari on hand, soy sauce works too.
  • Tortillas: Any small corn tortillas or flour tortilla you enjoy work. You could also use hard taco shells to make crunchy tacos.

Toppings & Variations

  • Toppings: Try the fresh cilantro, the quick pickled onion or radish, garlic lime cashew cream, guacamole or avocado, and hot sauce.
  • Other toppings that work well are shredded cheese, refried beans, black beans, pinto beans, tomato, purple cabbage, lettuce, jalapeno or whatever else you like on your tacos.
  • You could also use this BBQ tempeh recipe to make BBQ tempeh tacos.
  • Use tempeh taco “meat” for nachos, salads, burritos, burritos bowls, stuffed sweet potatoes and more!
  • Add the tempeh mixture with shredded cheese to half of tortilla, fold over and pan-fry until the cheese melted and the tortillas are crispy to make quesadillas or small crispy tacos.
  • Quick Sesame Slaw: A simple slaw made with store-bought coleslaw mix. I also sometimes just mix coleslaw mix with a little vegan mayo and vinegar to make a creamy slaw. This lentil
  • Beet Apple Slaw: I think this would be interesting on the tacos or you could serve it on the side.
  • Chipotle Sauce: This cashew-based sauce calls for adobe peppers for a chipotle vibe. Perfect for tacos!
  • Spicy Mayo: This is a fan-favourite sauce and I think it would be pretty tasty on these tacos!
  • Avocado Sauce: This simple lime and cilantro avocado sauce would be delicious too.

Sometimes simple is best though, so don’t feel like you have to overload them! Just the tempeh filling and classic taco toppings like onion and cilantro is delicious.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Before You Start: If you’re making the garlic lime cashew cream, the cashews need 1-hour of soaking time, though you can soak for 30-minutes or less in hot water if you have a high-speed blender. You can soak them up to overnight, so feel free to do this in advance.

Step 1: Optional, but recommended! Make the pickled red onion or radish.

Start these now so they can pickle while you prepare the tacos. You can make this with radish, red onion or shallot. I usually use red onion just because it’s easier and I have them on hand more often, but radish is really nice too.

  • Boil some water on the stovetop or in a kettle, once it boils, mix with the sugar, salt and vinegar in a heat-safe container like a glass jar.
  • Add the thinly sliced radish or red onion and let them sit for at least 30 minutes to “pickle”. You can do less time but they’ll be softer and more flavourful the longer they sit.
Jar of thinly sliced pickled red onions.

Step 2: Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the tempeh, onions and peppers and season with salt.

Cook for 6-7 minutes until the tempeh is browned, stirring occasionally.

Chopped onion, bell pepper and crumbled tempeh cooking in a pan.

Optional: If you’re making the garlic lime cashew cream, you can blend that up while the tempeh is cooking. This tofu-based crema offers a nut-free alternative to the cashew crema.

You could also use this cashew chipotle queso recipe as an alternative to this garlic lime sauce.

Pouring creamy sauce from a blender container into a small dish.

Step 3: Add tomato paste, nutritional yeast, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder.

Cook the mixture for 3-4 mins, stirring constantly, until toasted and dark red in colour.

If the pan begins to dry out, reduce the heat a little and stir in 1-2 tbsp water.

Onion, green bell pepper and tempeh cooking in tomato paste and spices in a skillet.

Step 4: Add ¾ cup water. Cook for another 2-4 min, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until mixture is reduced and thickened.

Then stir in the tamari and season with salt and pepper if needed.

Crumbled tempeh cooked in taco seasonings in a pan.

Step 5: Warm tortillas and assemble tacos.

If you’d like to warm the tortillas, heat them briefly in a pan or the microwave then divide the tempeh mixture between the warmed tortillas.

Add your favorite toppings, like cilantro, pickled onions and cashew cream, and enjoy!

Small spoon adding garlic lime cashew cream sauce to a tempeh taco.

Recipe FAQs

What kind of tempeh should I buy?

Look for a plain block of tempeh labelled Original or Plain Tempeh. Tempeh is usually found alongside tofu and other plant-based products.

Avoid seasoned tempeh like tempeh bacon, smoked tempeh or otherwise flavoured (these are fine for other recipes or just eating).

Are tempeh tacos gluten-free?

Yes, this recipe is gluten-free as long as you use gluten-free tamari and corn tortillas instead of soy sauce and flour tortillas.

What if there are black spots on my tempeh?

Black spots on tempeh are typically not a cause for concern. In fact, they are often a sign that the fermentation process is working correctly.

The black or grayish spots you may see on tempeh are usually clusters of the mold used in the fermentation process. These spots are perfectly normal and safe to eat. In fact, they can add a pleasant, slightly umami flavor to the tempeh.

However, if you notice any mold that looks different from the characteristic black-ish discolouration or if the tempeh smells off or has an unusual texture, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard it.

In summary, black spots on tempeh are typically a sign of the natural fermentation process and are safe to consume. Just be sure to use your judgment and discard tempeh that shows signs of spoilage or any mold that looks unusual or off-putting.

3 tempeh tacos with pickled red onion and cashew cream sauce on a plate.

Storing

  • The tempeh taco meat can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Reheat leftover tempeh in a skillet or in the microwave.
  • Leftover tempeh would be good in this cauliflower burrito bowl or taco salad.
  • Pickled onion or radish will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days in an airtight container.
  • Cashew sauce can be stored up to 4 days in the fridge. It may thicken after storing but you can adjust the consistency by stirring in a little water.

Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Scroll down to the comment section to leave a star rating and review.
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Three vegan tempeh tacos topped with pickled onion, cashew crema and hot sauce on a plate.

Vegan Tempeh Tacos

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 4 reviews
  • Author: Deryn Macey
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Vegan
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Description

These tempeh tacos are super easy to make and have a hearty, meaty texture and are super flavourful for a delicious meatless taco option!


Ingredients

For the Tempeh Tacos

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
  • 225 g (8-ounce ) package tempeh, crumbled into bits
  • 1 small onion, cut into ¼-inch pieces (1 cup/110 g)
  • 1 bell pepper (or poblano), cut into ¼-inch pieces (1 cup/125 g)
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste (58 g)
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (7 g)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp tamari or low-sodium sauce (15 ml)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 46-inch corn or flour tortillas, warmed
  • ½ cup cilantro, roughly chopped 

Quick Pickled Radish or Red Onions

  • 1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced, or 810 radishes, very thinly sliced into rounds
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp sugar

Garlic-Lime Cashew Cream

  • ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in boiled water for 1 hour (72 g)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. For the Pickled Radish or Onion (Optional): Mix the vinegar, salt and sugar together in a glass jar. Add 1/2 cup boiling water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the onion or radish, mix and set aside to pickle for 30 minutes. This can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.
  2. For the Garlic Lime Cashew Cream (Optional): Cover the cashews in boiled water in a bowl and soak for 30-60 minutes. Drain then blend with the rest of the ingredients, starting with 1/4 cup water, scrapping down the sides and adding more water as needed. This is best done in a small or single-serve blender container or mini food processor as the volume is too small for a large blender
  3. Cook Tempeh, Onion & Pepper: In a large non-stick pan, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the tempeh, onions and peppers.  Season with salt.  Cook for 6-8 mins, stirring occasionally, until browned all over.  
  4. Add Seasonings: Add tomato paste, nutritional yeast, cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika and garlic powder. Cook for 3-4 mins, stirring constantly, until toasted and dark red in colour. If it begins to burn at this stage, reduce heat a bit and add 1-2 tbsp water.
  5. Add Water & Reduce: Add ¾ cup water. Cook for another 2-4 min, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, until mixture is reduced and thickened. Stir in the tamari.  Taste and season with salt, if needed.
  6. Serve: Warm the tortillas in a pan or in the oven, if desired, then divide the tempeh mixture between the warm tortillas and top with desired toppings. If you’re not making the cashew cream and pickled onions, the tempeh mixture is delicious on it’s own or with simple toppings like black beans, shredded lettuce or cabbage, tomato, onion, hot sauce or whatever else you enjoy on tacos.

Notes

See post above for alternative sauce recipes. Nutrition facts include the tempeh taco meat and tortillas.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2 tacos
  • Calories: 237
  • Sugar: 4.3g
  • Sodium: 924 mg
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Carbohydrates: 35 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 8 g