One of the meals I absolutely love that my mom always made is taco salad. She even had her own taco dressing. I loved her taco salad so much that any time I ever bought taco salad out to eat, I was always disappointed.
As I got older, I enjoyed making taco salad myself, because it was fast, easy, and tastes great. However, once I started cooking vegetarian at home (we still eat meat out sometimes), I no longer made taco salad, because I didn’t know what would be a good substitute for the taco meat.
Well, someone out there- not sure who originally- came up with the idea to use Mexican flavored lentils for “meat.” I loved this idea, but I ended up making my own recipe with less/different ingredients and a shorter cooking time, because I wanted to keep it simple.
Now, as someone who used to cook meat, I do admit that there are some recipes where you just can’t really imitate the taste of meat. BUT… with this recipe, I don’t miss the meat at all. The flavor and texture is quite fulfilling.
Even my mom, the founder of our original taco salad said she thinks even meat lovers will be happy with this.
Now that being said, if someone has a personal vendetta against all things lentils or taco salad, this recipe may not be for them. But anyone who likes, or is willing to eat lentils in general, will most likely enjoy this meatless recipe.
I have not tried this lentil ‘meat’ in tacos yet, so I can’t comment on how that would be. But, our family, even the kids love this for taco salad and my husband even asked me to make it 2 weeks in a row!
Don’t get intimidated by the long list of ingredients for the taco dressing. You literally just stir everything up for that.
So here is the recipe:
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Yields 6-8 servings | Cooking Time: 15-20 mins + 2-3 mins | Cooling Time: 5-7 mins | Prep time 10 mins (can be done while lentils are cooking)
Total Time: about 30 mins or less
LENTIL TACO “MEAT”
***Additional toppings you may desire: sour cream, olives, hot sauce, and/or other taco salad favorite toppings
***Please see important recipe notes below the instructions***
DIRECTIONS FOR EASY LENTIL TACO “MEAT”
1.) Immediately after lentils are rinsed, place them in a medium-large pot on the stove and cook according to package instructions (adding the amount of water recommended, which will probably be around 6 cups,) for about 15-20 mins. Don’t add salt or any other ingredients to the lentils until they are fully cooked, or it may take them twice as long to cook.
2.) After lentils are fully cooked/popped/soft, drain any excess water. Then add packets of taco seasoning, tomato juice, and cane/white sugar (add 2 Tbsp sugar at first, mix in, then add another Tbsp if it’s not sweet enough.) Stir and cook on low-medium for 1-3 mins, until everything is mixed in and heated through and taste. You can add a little salt if needed (you likely won’t need salt unless you used low sodium taco seasoning.)
3.) Allow lentils to cool to a safely edible temperature.
DIRECTIONS FOR TACO DRESSING:
1.) In a jar or dressing container that holds at least 1 3/4 cups, combine all dry ingredients- sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano, and chili powder.
2.) After mixing dry ingredients, add the remaining ingredients- vegetable oil, vinegar, and water and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
3.) Remember to shake or stir dressing well immediately before serving each time, as it will start to separate soon after you stop stirring.
DIRECTIONS FOR TACO SALAD:
1.) Place about 1/8 of your lettuce on each plate. (If desired you can spread some chips on the bottom of the plate first, or you can add them on top later.)
2.) Immediately after stirring or shaking, drizzle a Tbsp or more of taco dressing on each plate of salad. You can add more or less dressing to suit your preference. (If the salad doesn’t taste flavorful enough, you can always add more.)
3.) After they are done and have cooled a few mins (so they aren’t stifling hot,) spoon a few tablespoons of warmed lentils over the top of salad for each serving.
4.) Add tomatoes, onions, cheese, tortilla chips, and/or any other desired additional toppings you haven’t yet added. Then grab your fork and enjoy!!
1.) The amount of water needed to cook lentils will vary. It’s usually recommended to use 3 cups water for every 1 cup lentils (1 lb of lentils is about 2 cups lentils and 6 cups water) but I find using a little less water than that ratio I will still have a little excess water when they’re done- I cook them loosely covered. On the other hand you may need to add more water.
2.) The dressing can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Lentils can also be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Refrigerate/store other salad ingredients as you normally would and follow food safety recommendations.
3.) You can feel free to adjust the amount of ingredients in the dressing and/or lentils to meet your taste preferences.
4.) Depending on how much lettuce you use with your taco salad and what type you get, you may need more or less than 24 ounces.
5.) While the lentils are cooking, you should have enough time to mix up the dressing and prep all the other taco salad ingredients. I personally use the dressing right away but you could chill it first, if you so desire.
I am not a professional cook/baker; this is a hobby. It is up to you to decide what you will make and eat, to prepare your food safely, and to be aware of any allergies and/or health restrictions for anyone consuming food you prepare. See our full recipe disclaimer policy here. Happy eating!
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