Mexican cuisine is known for its complex and flavorful dishes that often contain meat, cheese, and other animal products. However, many classic Mexican recipes can be easily adapted to be vegan by using plant-based substitutes. With a little creativity, Mexican food can be just as delicious and satisfying without any animal ingredients.
What is Mexican Food?
Mexican food refers to the traditional cuisines native to Mexico. It is a blend of indigenous Mesoamerican cooking, combined with European, African, and Asian influences. Mexican cuisine varies by region but commonly includes ingredients like corn, beans, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash, avocado, cheese, pork, chicken, beef, fish and an array of fresh herbs and spices.
Some of the most popular Mexican dishes include tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tamales, mole sauce, pozole, chilaquiles, and guacamole. Many Mexican recipes rely heavily on meat, cheese, cream, and other animal-derived ingredients. However, Mexican cuisine also utilizes a wide variety of plants, vegetables, grains and legumes that provide a great foundation for veganizing traditional recipes.
Why Go Vegan?
There are many reasons why someone may choose to follow a vegan diet:
- Environmental impact – Animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gases than all transportation combined and is a leading cause of deforestation, pollution and water consumption.
- Ethics – Vegans often wish to avoid contributing to animal cruelty and exploitation.
- Health – Plant-based diets are linked to lower risks for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
- Sustainability – Plant-based diets make efficient use of natural resources and food systems.
While veganism continues to grow in popularity, many people find it challenging to give up their favorite ethnic cuisines, like Mexican food. Luckily, there are now endless vegan substitutes that mimic the taste and texture of meat, cheese, and dairy. With some adaptable cooking techniques, Mexican classics can be just as bold, comforting and flavorful without any animal products.
Making Traditional Mexican Dishes Vegan
Many quintessential Mexican entrees and appetizers can be made completely plant-based with just a few tweaks. Here are some tips for “veganizing” popular Mexican recipes:
Tacos are one of Mexico’s most famous foods consisting of a corn or wheat tortilla filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro and salsa. To make vegan:
– Replace ground beef or shredded chicken with soy protein crumbles, sautéed mushrooms, jackfruit or cauliflower
– Use vegan cheese shreds or slices
– Top with guacamole, beans, rice or vegan sour cream instead of regular sour cream
Traditionally made with chicken, beef or cheese filling rolled up in corn tortillas and smothered in sauce. To veganize:
– Fill tortillas with sautéed vegetables, tofu, beans or a vegan meat substitute
– Use enchilada sauce that doesn’t contain chicken or beef broth
– Top with vegan cheese, avocado or cashew cream sauce
Large flour tortillas stuffed with meat, beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, salsa and more. Make them vegan with these swaps:
– Vegetarian refried or black beans instead of pork or beef
– Rice, grilled veggies, tofu or vegan crumbles for the filling
– Vegan cheese shreds, guacamole or salsa
Savory masa dough stuffed with meat, cheese or chilis, then steamed. Create vegan tamales by:
– Filling with mole sauce, vegetables, beans, avocado, olives
– Making the masa dough with vegan shortening or oil
– Omitting cheese and meat fillings
Tortilla chips simmered in salsa and often topped with cheese and meat. Make it vegan with:
– Plant-based protein like soy chorizo
– Vegan cheese or cashew cream
– Avocado instead of sour cream
Flour or corn tortillas stuffed with cheese then cooked until the cheese melts. Veganize them by:
– Using vegan cheese shreds, slices or cream cheese
– Adding sautéed vegetables, beans, rice or vegan crumbles
– Serving with guacamole, salsa and cashew cream
Vegan Substitutes for Key Mexican Ingredients
Certain ingredients are central to Mexican cooking, but can be replaced with plant-based alternatives:
Cheese brings a creamy, rich element to many Mexican dishes. For vegan recipes, use:
– Nut-based cheeses like cashew or almond
– Vegan cheese made from tapioca or arrowroot
– Brands like Daiya, Chao, Miyoko’s, Follow Your Heart, Violife
Ground beef, chicken and pork are featured in many Mexican recipes. Replace with:
– Extra-firm tofu and edamame – crumbled to mimic ground meat
– Jackfruit – can replicate shredded pork or chicken
– Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
– Beans, lentils or soy protein crumbles
Used as a topping or sauce base. Substitute with:
– Tofu-based vegan sour cream
– Cashew cream
– Coconut yogurt
Used for frying and adding flavor. Instead use:
– Vegetable or avocado oil
– Vegan butter or shortening
– Coconut oil
|Non-Vegan Ingredient||Vegan Substitutes|
|Cheese||Nut-based cheeses, vegan cheese brands, tapioca/arrowroot cheeses|
|Meat (Beef, Chicken, Pork)||Tofu, jackfruit, TVP, seitan, beans, lentils, soy crumbles|
|Sour cream||Tofu sour cream, cashew cream, coconut yogurt|
|Lard/Bacon grease||Vegetable oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, vegan butter/shortening|
Widely used in sauces, rice dishes, braising liquids. Replace with:
– Vegetable broth or vegan chicken-flavored broth
– Mushroom broth
– Water sautéed with onions, garlic, celery
The spicy sausage is used in many recipes. Substitute with:
– Soy chorizo
– Meatless crumbles seasoned with chili powder, paprika, garlic
– Sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers and onions
The creamy, tangy Mexican condiment. Vegan swaps:
– Cashew cream
– Vegan mayo thinned with non-dairy milk
– Tofu-based sour cream or crema
By harnessing the ample variety of plant-based ingredients available today, it’s easy to recreate classic Mexican dishes without animal products. With flavorful chilies, spices, beans, tortillas and veggies at the foundation, the possibilities for vegan Mexican food are truly endless.
Traditional Mexican Dishes That Are Already Vegan
Luckily, some quintessential Mexican foods are traditionally prepared vegan:
Mexico’s most famous appetizer requires no substitutions – just ripe avocados, lime juice, onion, tomato, cilantro and seasonings to taste.
This hearty pinto bean stew is flavored with tomatoes, chilies, garlic, onions and epazote herb.
Grilled corn is tossed with chili powder, lime, cilantro and mayo or crema. Omit crema for an easy vegan snack.
Fire-roasted corn on the cob is slathered in spicy mayo, cotija cheese and chili powder. Replace mayo and cheese with cashew cream and nooch (nutritional yeast).
Mexican red rice gets its color and flavor from tomato paste and spices.
Frijoles de la Olla
Tender beans are simmered with onion, garlic, epazote and bay leaves.
Roasted poblano peppers are traditionally stuffed with cheese – but can also be filled with veggies, beans or meat substitutes.
Mexico’s salsas come in infinite varieties, but are generally vegan – highlighting chilies, tomatoes, pineapple, mango and spices.
Pico de Gallo
This fresh salsa is made from chopped tomatoes, onions, chilies, cilantro and lime.
A creamy avocado sauce spiked with green chilies and lime juice.
Marinated seafood dish, but mushrooms or hearts of palm make flavorful vegan substitutes.
Corn and flour tortillas are traditionally vegan and perfect for making tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, flautas and more.
With so many meat and dairy-free options already embedded in the cuisine, Mexican food has incredible potential to be veganized.
Incorporating More Plants
Beyond swapping animal products for substitutes, there are many ways to healthfully incorporate more vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes into Mexican cooking:
Base dishes on beans, rice and tortillas
The trilogy of frijoles, arroz and tortillas can form a hearty, protein-packed Mexican meal without needing meat. Fill tortillas with rice and bean mixtures, served with salsa, guacamole, lettuce, onion and lime wedges.
Load up on fresh produce
In addition to classics like tomato, onion and cilantro, add more veggies like mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, radishes, jicama, nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) and calabacitas (Mexican zucchini). Fresh fruit like mango, pineapple, avocado and lime also shine.
These Mexican small plates or snacks let you sample more plant-based foods family-style. Try veganized esquites, sopes (thick, fried corn tortillas) topped with beans and salsa, elotes, and garnachas (fried tortillas) with guacamole.
Explore vegan salsas and moles
With their complex layers of chilies, spices, nuts, seeds and chocolate, these sauces add loads of flavor without meat or dairy.
Add Mexican side dishes
Incorporate more veggies with sides like cactus salad, rajas con crema (roasted poblano strips in cream sauce), calabacitas con elote (zucchini and corn) and spicy street corn esquites.
With a few easy substitutions, additions and cooking techniques, traditional Mexican recipes can be made completely plant-based and still full of authentic flavor. The core ingredients of chilies, beans, tortillas and produce shine in vegan cooking.
Vegan Versions of Popular Mexican Dishes
Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy quintessential Mexican meals – 100% plant-based:
– Jackfruit Carnitas
– Soy Curl or Walnut Taco “Meat”
– Cauliflower Al Pastor
– Grilled Vegetable Fajita
– Bean and Rice
– Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas
– Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Cashew Crema
– Three-Chili Enchiladas with Walnut Taco Meat
– Spicy Black Bean Tamales
– Sweet Potato and Poblano Tamales
– Corn Husk Tamales Stuffed with Tomatillo Rice
– Roasted Vegetable Burritos
– Bean and Rice Burritos with Cashew Queso
– Ultimate Veggie Burritos
– Zucchini Quesadillas with Cashew Mozzarella
– Roasted Poblano and Potato Quesadillas
– Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas with Guacamole
– Chilaquiles Rojos with Soy Chorizo
– Chilaquiles Verdes with Mashed Avocado
– Chilaquiles with Cauliflower
– Loaded Nachos with Cashew Cheese Sauce
– Nachos with Refried Beans, Guacamole and Salsa
– BBQ Jackfruit Nachos
With full flavor and vibrant nutrition, these vegan Mexican recipes celebrate the iconic ingredients and spices of regional cuisines. From Baja fish tacos to Oaxacan moles, classic Mexican dishes translate deliciously to plant-based cooking.
Where to Find Vegan Mexican Food
Luckily, it’s easier than ever to enjoy vegan Mexican cuisine:
Vegan-friendly Mexican restaurants
Many traditional Mexican restaurants will modify menu items or offer vegan choices if asked. Look for rice, bean and avocado tacos, fajita vegetables, and corn tortilla dishes. Mole, vegetable soups and fresh salsas are good vegan options.
Vegetarian and vegan taquerias
Specialty meatless taco shops now exist in some cities, serving up vibrant, plant-based tacos, burritos and more. Popular chains like Del Taco and Taco Bell have also expanded their vegan menus.
Make it at home
Get creative in your own kitchen reinventing family favorite recipes. With some simple vegan swaps, it’s easy to DIY Mexican food at home.
Meal delivery kits
Companies like Purple Carrot offer vegan Mexican meal kits containing recipes and pre-measured ingredients delivered to your door.
Vegan Mexican cookbooks
Cookbook authors have developed creative recipes for vegan entrees, snacks and desserts with authentic Mexican flavors.
Food blogs and sites like PETA, Choosing Chia and Vegan Mex offer reinvented Mexican recipes using plant-based ingredients.
Mexico’s flavorful chilies, spices, corn, beans, rice, avocado and tortillas lend themselves perfectly to vegan cooking. With a plant-focused approach, Mexican food is just as rich, comforting and satisfying meat-free.
Mexican cuisine can most definitely be enjoyed on a vegan diet. With clever use of protein-rich beans, grains and vegetables along with vegan substitutions for cheese, sour cream and meat, traditional Mexican dishes can be adapted to be completely plant-based without sacrificing taste or texture. Mexico’s indigenous ingredients like chilies, avocado, beans, squash and corn complement vegan cooking beautifully. From street snack antojitos to elaborate moles, rice dishes and tamales, Mexican food offers incredible diversity to veganize. With authentic flavors and appeal, vegan Mexican recipes celebrate cultural traditions while benefiting human health and the environment. ¡Buen provecho!