Vegan Taco Salad (Restaurant-Style!)

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A zesty lentil walnut mix takes the place of meat in this scrumptious vegan taco salad. It’s totally meatless, dairy-free, packed with flavor, and served up in a crispy (baked!) tortilla bowl!

I don’t post too many salad recipes on this site. Although I eat a ton of salad, it’s not something I usually get excited about. In order for me to get really excited about a salad, it has to be pretty darn special.

This vegan taco salad is just about as special as it gets.

First, let’s talk vegan taco meat. I recently shared a recipe for some vegan tacos made with black bean and walnut filling. The texture is still one of my favorites when it comes to DIY meatless meats, so I decided to see how it would turn out with another type of bean, like lentils. Lentils actually worked really well to make a crumbly filling that’s perfect for taco salad.

Then there’s the bowls. In my younger years I waited tables at a handful of restaurants that served taco salads in fried crispy tortilla bowls. Could I recreate the bowls without frying? I did! I found a great little hack for baking crispy tortilla bowls.

It all gets topped off with a super creamy avocado lime dressing that’s good enough to eat with a spoon. (I tried, can confirm.)

Let’s talk about how these salads come together!

Jump to:
  • Ingredients You’ll Need
  • How It’s Made
  • Leftovers & Storage
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • More Vegan Salad Recipes
  • Vegan Taco Salad (Restaurant-Style!)

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Flour tortillas. You’ll need large (burrito-sized) tortillas to make the bowls. Smaller tortillas won’t be large enough to hold much salad!
  • Oil. You’ll preferably need a mister or cooking spray for the bowl, though you could also brush the oil on. The recipe calls for olive oil to make the filling, but canola, corn, avocado, or any other high-heat oil will work just fine!
  • Onion.
  • Garlic.
  • Walnuts. Pecans would work as a substitute. Sunflower seeds would probably make a good substitute if you need to keep the recipe nut-free. You could also skip the nuts if needed. They add texture, but aren’t crucial to the recipe.
  • Spices. We’re using ground cumin, ancho chile powder, and optionally some cayenne pepper.
  • Lentils. The recipe calls for cooked brown lentils. Another variety of firm lentil like black or green would work, but I don’t recommend using red lentils, as they’d probably be too mushy.
  • Tomato sauce.
  • Soy sauce. Tamari or liquid aminos can be substituted if needed.
  • Salt & pepper.
  • Avocado.
  • Non-dairy milk. Use something unsweetened and unflavored. Soy milk, almond milk, and cashew milk would all be great choices.
  • Lime juice. Use freshly squeezed juice to give your dressing the best flavor.
  • Fresh cilantro. Skip this if you’re not a fan.
  • Fresh chives.
  • Lettuce. The recipe calls for romaine lettuce, but you can absolutely substitute your favorite salad green.
  • Cherry tomatoes.
  • Black olives.
  • Salsa. Use your favorite homemade or jarred salsa. My mango salsa or pico de gallo would be excellent with this salad!

Tip: Feel free to take shortcuts! Skip the bowl and instead top your salad with crushed tortilla chips, or use your favorite store-bought salad dressing instead of homemade avocado dressing.

How It’s Made

The following is a detailed photo tutorial on how to make this dish. Scroll all the way down if you’d like to skip right to the recipe!

  • Start by making your bowls. You’ll need something to bake your bowls in. A medium-sized oven-proof mixing bowl like I’m using works great! You could also use a tortilla bowl pan.
  • Mist or brush both sides of your tortillas with a thin layer of oil, then place them into your baking vessel. For a mixing bowl you’ll want to create little pleats in the tortilla so it fits.
  • Bake your tortillas until they’re crispy and browned in spots. Let them cool in the bowls for a few minutes before removing them, and be careful not to burn yourself on the hot bowl! It’s easier to do than you’d think.
  • Make the filling while the bowls bake. Sweat some diced onion in olive oil for a few minutes, until it begins to soften.
  • Add garlic, finely chopped walnuts, and spices. Toast everything very briefly, stirring constantly to prevent anything from burning.
  • Add cooked lentils, tomato sauce and soy sauce to the mixture, bring the sauce to a simmer, and let it cook for about 10 minutes, until it’s nice and thick.

Tip: The vegan taco meat portion of this recipe can easily be prepared a day or two in advance.

  • Make the dressing while the filling simmers. Place your avocado, milk, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, chives and some salt into a food processor or blender and blend the mixture until smooth.
  • At this point you can thin the dressing with more milk if you’d like, or add additional salt and/or lime juice.
  • Assemble the vegan taco salads. Fill your tortilla bowls with lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and taco filling, then top each salad with dressing and salsa. Feel free to pile on any other taco toppings you’d like to include as well!

Leftovers & Storage

If possible, store each of the components of these salads separately. The filling and avocado dressing can be kept refrigerated in airtight containers for 3 to 4 days, although the dressing may turn brown over time. The best way to avoid this is by using very fresh avocados.

The bowls will keep in sealed bags or airtight containers if you can find ones that will fit them, but your best bet is probably to just make as many bowls as you plan on eating, then make more for the leftovers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can this vegan taco salad be made gluten-free?

I haven’t tried making a gluten-free version, but I don’t see why not! Use gluten-free tamari in place of soy sauce, and use gluten-free tortillas to make your bowls, or skip the bowls and serve your salads with tortilla chips or strips like I used for my vegan taco soup.

Is the filling spicy?

It has a slight kick to it. If you’d like to keep yours mild, simply skip the cayenne pepper and optionally use regular mild chili powder instead of ancho chile powder (which adds just a bit of heat).

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