Hard-shell tacos, or tacos dorados, have a long history in northern Mexico and immigrant communities in California and Texas. In the late 1940s, Glen Bell added them to the menu of his drive-in stand in San Bernardino, Calif. He would go on to found (you guessed it) Taco Bell, the fast food chain, which would help popularize hard-shell tacos in the United States. While the typical hard-shell taco is made by piling spiced and saucy ground meat and a party of toppings into a shattery-crisp shell, this vegan version calls for tempeh. Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked soybeans into a spongelike cake with a porous structure that browns, crumbles and soaks up big flavors incredibly well. Here, it’s seasoned with well-toasted tomato paste, ground cumin, chili powder and smoked paprika, as well as nutritional yeast for added umami. That said, the recipe can also be made with vegan store-bought meat crumbles if you prefer.
- Serves: 4 persons
- 2tablespoons neutral oil (such as grapeseed or sunflower), plus more as needed
- 2(8-ounce) packages tempeh, crumbled into roughly ½-inch pieces
- 1large yellow onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3tablespoons tomato paste
- 2teaspoons ground cumin
- 2teaspoons chili powder
- 1 ½teaspoons nutritional yeast
- 1teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1teaspoon red hot sauce, plus more to taste (optional)
- 12hard taco shells, warmed
- Desired toppings, see Tip
Step 1In a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the tempeh and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, undisturbed, until deep brown, 2 minutes. Stir and cook until browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes. Add more oil as needed if the pan looks dry.
Step 2Add the tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, nutritional yeast and smoked paprika. Season with salt and cook, stirring constantly, until brick red and beginning to stick to the skillet, 5 to 7 minutes. Try not to rush this step; if it begins to burn, deglaze with a bit of water and reduce the heat.
Step 3Add 1 cup water and the hot sauce, if using. Cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits, until thickened and the mixture is sizzling, 2 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and hot sauce.
Step 4Divide the filling between the taco shells, then top with chosen toppings.