When That Salad Lady launched back in May 2021, our “Healthy Taco Salad” with salsa yogurt dressing was one of the very first recipes featured here at ThatSaladLady.com. It’s been a favorite among our followers and friends ever since. This came as no surprise to us. Who doesn’t love a good taco salad? And, if you loved our Healthy Taco Salad, you’re really going to love our Vegan Taco Salad!
Like the original taco salad recipe, our Vegan Taco Salad includes tons of fresh veggies, high-quality grains and legumes, but we’ve swapped out all the animal-based proteins for plant-based ones and switched up the salsa yogurt dressing for a dairy-free blend. Absolutely craveable and loaded with savory goodness the recipe itself is 100% vegan, gluten-free and incredibly filling.
THE BALANCING ACT
Here at That Salad Lady, we’re all about inclusivity in recipe creation. Regardless of your eating style, we believe every bowl is an opportunity for you to build layers and layers of whole food nutrition for whole life wellness. While we packed our original taco salad recipe with plenty of fresh veggies and even offered up some “meatless” options for vegetarian eaters, given its popularity we wanted to create an even more plant-forward experience.
Take a glance at the recipe card, and you’ll see we don’t include any fake or faux meat alternatives. While it’s easy to just swap out the traditional beef, poultry or pork in classic taco recipes for meat alternatives, truth is, most popular brands on the market are heavily processed, sodium dense and, aside from protein, offer little real nutritional value.
If you follow a vegan diet or if you’re considering going vegan, using heavily processed foods that taste like meat can make easy to transition. However, we want you to appreciate the unique tastes and textures of real whole foods, rather than trying to make something artificial taste like something it isn’t. We’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy the clever collection of flavors in our Vegan Taco Salad bowl.
Notably, our recipe includes a combination of roasted chickpeas, black beans and quinoa to give you a good dose of plant-based protein. We also include all the classic fixings taco fans know and love including dairy-free cheese! It may look complicated, but this recipe is actually super simple to make. Whether you follow a vegan diet or you’re a meat lover through and through you’ll appreciate all the authentically rich flavors this recipe delivers.
Let’s talk more about all the ingredients in our Vegan Taco Salad and why we chose to include them.
The Triple Plant-Based Protein Swap
As we’ve already mentioned, our recipe includes roasted chickpeas, black beans and quinoa. Together, these layers supply a hefty dose of plant-based protein. If you’re watching your weight or carb intake, it probably won’t take long for you to notice that each is relatively starchy. Starchy foods have long been an enemy of weight-loss seekers as they tend to drive up calorie and carb counts.
Though chickpeas, black beans and quinoa are all starches and generally not “allowed” in certain diets, they’re still incredibly nutritious. Notably, each houses slow-burning starch, which means it’s “slowly” digested in a way that helps reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. Additionally, quinoa is one of only a few plant-based sources of complete protein. As with many whole foods, the key to eating starches lies in portion control.
Below we suggest sensible portions of each layer. Not too little. Not too much. Just enough to give our Vegan Taco Salad a seriously savory twist. Combined with our taco seasoning blend of herbs and spices (see recipe card), this trio delivers authentic flavor cues similar to those of traditional taco meat fillings – and you’ll do without the preservatives in pre-packaged mixes.
A Clever Base of Cruciferous Veggies
While leafy vegetables are generally just a topping for regular tacos, they’re a main base for our Vegan Taco Salad. Our recipe specifically calls for a fun and flavorful combo of kale and red cabbage. Mixed together, these leafy veggies bring delightfully crunchy texture, hearty goodness and superior nutrition to the salad bowl.
Both kale and cabbage boast high levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are potent antioxidants that help boost immunity and support heart health. As cruciferous vegetables too, they’re especially rich in cancer-fighting phytonutrients that are released and most powerful when they’re bitten into and chewed.
Classic Fixings for Authentic Flavor
Ingredients like avocado and tomato are synonymous with tacos. We totally understand why as the deliciously savory and sweet flavors of both really balance each other out. Needless to say, our Vegan Taco Salad calls for using both. Besides the rich flavors these berries bring to the salad bowl, they’re each chockfull of disease-fighting nutrients.
Avocado itself is loaded with fiber and good quality fats while tomato is among the richest dietary sources of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid antioxidant that gives tomatoes their brilliant red color. We use grape tomatoes for this bowl recipe, but cherry, vine or Roma tomatoes also work – and they’re equally nutritious.
Though this is a vegan recipe, “cheese” is another classic staple we simply had to include – vegan cheese of course. Our founder, Nina, generally uses Daiya shreds, but there are plenty of other brands on the market. Feel free to experiment with different varieties and see what you like. Vegan cheeses exist on a spectrum. Some versions are highly processed and have less nutritional value than others. Choosing varieties made from whole foods is your best bet and, as with any cheese, don’t load your bowl with it.
We round out the list of traditional layers with red and green onions, fresh jalapeño pepper and cilantro for garnish. In addition to being excellent flavor enhancers, these layers contain compounds that naturally help boost your body’s ability to burn fat.
Creamy Chipotle Sauce for the Finish
For a creamy finish, our Vegan Taco Salad is dressed with a homemade chipotle sauce (see recipe card). A savory blend of vegan mayo, coconut yogurt, chipotle peppers and authentic seasonings it really brings the whole bowl to life. For the mayo, you can’t go wrong with either Primal Kitchen Vegan Mayo or Sir Kensington’s Classic Vegan Mayo. Made with quality ingredients, both are naturally gluten-free and rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Some cooking is required for the: (1) chickpeas, (2) black beans and (3) quinoa. The process, however, is very straightforward. We’ve included That Salad Lady’s taco seasoning as part of the recipe (see recipe card). It’s best to make the seasoning first, as you’ll be using it to season proteins. Just add all the ingredients to a small bowl and whisk them together. You can also use a pre-packaged mix if that’s all you have.
Roast the Chickpeas
While freshly cooked and canned chickpeas are both great for roasting, our recipe specifically calls for canned. Aside from the sodium used in canning, there are no major nutritional differences between the two. Just choose canned varieties that are low in sodium or free of added sodium – organic too if you can spring for it.
Start by giving the chickpeas a good rinse and rubdown until their skins begin to fall off. You don’t have to remove all the skins, but they taste so much better when you do. Once you’ve removed the skins, let the chickpeas sit for a bit until they dry out (about 15-30 minutes). The longer you let them dry out, the more they’ll crisp up in the oven. Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Once dry, transfer the chickpeas to a bowl, drizzle on some avocado or extra-virgin olive oil, add a sprinkle of the taco seasoning mix and toss them to coat. From there, just pour them on the lined baking sheet and place them in the oven. You’ll want to let the chickpeas roast for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees F, stirring them halfway between. Well-roasted chickpeas will be golden brown and crispy, dry on the outside but soft on the inside.
Boil the Quinoa
Our recipe calls for using either black or red quinoa. Compared to white, both have stronger, nuttier flavors and more pleasant bite. Still, feel free to use white quinoa if that’s all you have – all quinoa is equally nutritious.
Just before cooking, place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and give it a good rinse under cold water. If you don’t have a fine-mesh strainer, just use a coffee filter. This is an important step as quinoa is naturally coated with compounds called saponins, which give it a bitter taste. Once the quinoa is all rinsed and drained, add it to a saucepan filled with water. For half a cup uncooked, you’ll want to use a cup of water. This’ll yield about a 1-1/2-cup cooked portion.
Over medium-high heat, bring the quinoa to a full bowl and then lower the temperature and cover it to simmer. You’ll want to cook the quinoa until it absorbs most of the water (about 10-15 minutes). At this point, remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork and set it aside.
Season the Beans and Quinoa
Finally, in a large skillet or pan, empty all the contents from the can of black beans including the liquid as there’s a lot of flavors in it. You’ll want to bring the beans to a boil, add the cooked quinoa, mix both ingredients well and then bring them to a simmer. At this point you’ll add 3-4 tablespoons of the taco seasoning blend (or more to taste) along with 3/4-1 cup of water.
Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer again and cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes with occasional stirring until there’s little to no moisture. That’s it for the cooking!
Our Vegan Taco Salad recipe calls for some chopping, slicing and/or shredding of the fresh ingredients including the kale and cabbage, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño pepper and avocado.
Start by shredding the cabbage and then finely chopping the kale. You can also give the kale a good massage using That Salad Lady’s recipe. Though not a necessary step, massaging kale softens and tenderizes the leaves, reduces their volume and even gives them a somewhat gentler flavor in much the same way that cooking them would.
If using grape tomatoes (as per the recipe) just slice those in half. You can then dice the red onion into bite size pieces, slice the green onions crosswise and finely dice the pepper. We suggest chopping everything but the avocado in one take as avocado tastes best when it’s freshly cut. You can either chop the avocado into small chunks or slice it into thin wedges.
Once the veggies and fruits are chopped up, set them aside until you’re ready to build your bowl.
Once you’ve prepped the fresh and cooked layers, all that’s left is the chipotle sauce. If using a blender or food processor, simply add the ingredients and start mixing. With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth. If you don’t have a blender or a food processor, no sweat! Simply whisk everything together in a bowl.
The ingredients for the dressing are super easy to come by (see recipe card). We’re sure you’ll appreciate the authentically rich, creamy flavor to complement the salad.
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
When you’re ready to build your Vegan Taco Salad, start by spreading out the kale and cabbage in a large bowl or on a large plate and then add layers of the seasoned beans and quinoa mix, shredded cheese, red onion and tomato. You can add the chipotle sauce in between layers and on top of the blend. We suggest adding freshly chopped avocado, green onions and roasted chickpeas just before eating or serving the salad as these ingredients tend to get soggy.
Finally, season the salad to taste with black pepper, and garnish the finished blend with jalapeño pepper and cilantro.
Our Vegan Taco Salad recipe is large enough for six deliciously filling servings. With a salad that’s packed full of protein, good fats and fiber, you’ll get plenty of nutrition bang for your bowl. Depending on your eating style, you can double your portions and eat less meals or store leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days.
For leftovers, simply arrange the beans and quinoa mix, cheese and fresh ingredients (except the avocado) in their own sections on a serving plate or in a to-go container, include separate containers of chickpeas and sauce, and you’ve got yourself a quick and convenient meal. Leftover ingredients make for great lettuce wraps too.
Simply fill 2-3 layered romaine or butter lettuce leaves with the beans and quinoa mix and top them off with equal portions of the cheese and fresh ingredient layers. Once your leaves are stuffed, top them with chipotle sauce, jalapeño pepper and cilantro. You can use the same filling method with tortillas, or your favorite grain wraps too. It’s all about building your bowl, your way!
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.