Quick and Easy Taco Fillings

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD

Let the taco tasting begin! Whether "traditional" or "21st century," tacos can be made tasty and quickly! Be certain to match your filling to your taco. If you are using hard shells, you'll want crunchier ingredients, such as fresh chopped veggies like bell peppers and onions, crumbled tempeh, fresh mushrooms, cut corn, whole beans (rather than mashed), shredded jack or cheddar vegan cheese, and shredded greens. If using a soft shell, such as a steamed corn or flour tortilla, you'll want to consider softer ingredients, such as mashed black or pinto beans, white or red potatoes, chopped steamed veggies, alfalfa or clover sprouts, salsa, diced and grilled onions, cooked chili, canned tomatoes, diced silken tofu, or steamed grains such as rice or quinoa.

A plain taco filling, such as cooked white beans or diced firm tofu, can be jazzed up with a creative salsa. Play with salsas, adding diced or minced olives, mushrooms, corn, bean sprouts, garlic, summer squash (such as zucchini), celery, carrots, or capers. Create a "sweet and sour" salsa by adding chopped dried apricots or raisins to traditional tomato salsa, as well as chopped fresh or canned peaches or even a spoonful of apricot preserves or orange marmalade. Try adding diced red onion and jalapeño to diced pineapple and mango salsa for a kick.

Utilize leftovers! Last night's lentil stew, cooked beans, steamed kale, green salad, or veggie loaf can be tossed with chopped or diced canned tomatoes or salsa and used for a fast taco filling. Leftover cooked mushrooms of any type can be combined with leftover cooked beans, sauce of your choice, and leftover "neat" balls. Or, crumble cooked tempeh, toss with a spicy or sweet sauce of your choice, and fill a taco!

Tacos are all about the toppings, so pile them on! Toppings can include shredded carrots, shredded raw red or green cabbage, shredded beets, shredded (raw) kale or Romaine, chopped red or sweet onions, chopped green onions, chopped bell peppers or chilies, diced or smashed avocados, chopped mushrooms, thinly sliced radishes, or sliced black or green olives. The "cherry on top" can be a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, vegan cheese, or a dollop of vegan sour cream. If you have the time, you might want to combine silken or soft tofu in a blender with some salsa for a creamy taco topping.

A quick guacamole can be made just by smashing an avocado with a fork, and adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Top with a few diced onions or fresh cilantro if you have it on hand.

Imagine last night's lentil stew or bean combo mixed with chopped cooked potatoes, and moistened with some salsa, tofu, or avocado topping a soft tortilla or filling a hard taco shell. Pile high with shredded greens and carrots, sliced radishes and onions, then top with vegan shredded cheese or sour cream. It's dinner time!

Scramble some extra tofu, flavored with soy sauce for dinner or breakfast. Add the scrambled tofu, hot or cold, to a taco shell with some mushrooms and veggies of choice and you have a fast taco. Do the same with leftover Chinese food for a "fusion cuisine" taco.

For a "pizza" taco, add a combination of chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, olives, peppers, onions, smoked tofu, and white beans or chopped extra-firm tofu to a taco shell, top with nutritional yeast or shredded vegan cheese, and heat in the oven or microwave until warm.

Leftover cooked potatoes, either diced or mashed, mixed with salsa or smashed avocado (or both) and seasoned with chopped onions, fresh cilantro or parsley from the garden, chopped chilies or bell pepper, and a dash of hot sauce make a hearty taco filling. If you have leftover corn on the cob, cut the corn off the cob and use as a topping; leftover cooked peas work also. Leftover cooked beans can be mashed and added to the mix as well!