Veggie Food for Nerdy People

Amazing Mushroom Tacos


Tacos de hongos: a vegan taco just as juicy and flavorful as carnitas or barbacoa.


Go to any good taco shop in America, and you will find piles of slow-cooked, deeply seasoned meats, dripping with sauce, exploding with spices and chilies, tender with crispy edges. At so many of these same taco places, there is one taco for vegetarians: “veggie taco.” No description of its contents provided, no tantalizing images of tender and juicy fillings. And more often than not, I find myself looking at a tortilla full of refried beans, shredded iceberg lettuce, perhaps a few stray vegetables.

I have nothing against refried beans. But the fact is, this is the veggie taco presented as the only option in countless restaurants. So I asked myself, why not make a singular taco filling that has all of those meaty characteristics: slow-cooked, saucy, tender, with bits of crispness poking through, packed with spices and chilies. And what did I discover? It’s no trouble at all to make vegan tacos that are unbelievably flavorful, and hit all of the same notes as a great carnitas or barbacoa taco.

Love Me Tender

The primary textural concern with these tacos was tenderness, with just a little crispness around the edges, when cooked. And I knew exactly what could give me all of those elements: mushrooms.


At first, when testing, I tried using king oyster mushrooms—I had some laying around after making some bacon and pepperoni. They have long, stringy stems, which I hypothesized could be pulled like pork or chicken and make a great taco filling. The problem was, it took forever to pull the slippery cooked mushrooms, and then the individual bits failed to become all that tender: one bite into the taco, and you pulled out all of the pulled mushrooms. Yikes. I tried cutting the mushrooms down to one-inch lengths before cooking and pulling, but this increased the amount of time it took to pull them, and king oysters are expensive anyhow. So I finally went with plain old cremini mushrooms. And wouldn’t you know? They had the perfect tender texture and meaty flavor for the job.

Building Flavor

I knew that shaking taco seasoning over the top of these mushrooms was not going to do it in the flavor department. No, we needed some serious sauce to make this stuff sing.


The first trick for full-punch flavor is to use whole dried chilies as our base flavor. I love the flavor and aroma of ancho peppers, so that formed a good starting point. Adding the anchos to a bath of vegetable stock to reconstitute them provided a base for the sauce. Ancho chilies go ridiculously well with citrus: chilorio is a pulled pork dish in an ancho-orange sauce. However, I wanted a bit more acidity and less sweetness than could be provided by oranges alone, so the juice of one lemon, lime, and orange all joined the party. To round out the sauce flavor, a chipotle chile provided heat and smokiness while cumin and oregano filled out the flavor profile.


Blended up, this was a seriously rich and tangy sauce.

Get Cooking

We start cooking with a medium diced onion to bring in our aromatic flavor in a generous bit of oil (remember, mushrooms have none of their own fat). Once those are translucent and aromatic, we begin the process of cooking down our thinly sliced mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a unique food: they are neither meat nor vegetable. However, they have many convenient advantages of both, and one unique characteristic: You can’t really overcook them. You can keep cooking and cooking a mushroom, and it will just eventually become dehydrated before it breaks down into mush or becomes tough. You can also just give it a quick sautĂ© or roast and your mushrooms will still be tender, juicy, and delicious. I decided to use this property to my advantage in our tacos. First, cook down the mushrooms with the onions, salt, and some garlic. They’ll at first give up a lot of water, which will evaporate. As soon as the water’s gone, we add our sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes over low heat to ensure the sauce fully adheres to our mushrooms. Finally, another 10 or so minutes and we can reduce away all that extra liquid and be left with a thick sauce coating our slightly crisped mushrooms.


Taco Assembly

I decided to fill out the flavor and texture profile of the final tacos with rajas, roasted poblano pepper strips, which provide an additional smoky note and give the tacos more bulk (those mushrooms really cook down). Then all you need is your toppings. For these guys, I really like the bright punch of quick-pickled red onions, as well as, of course, salsa verde.


See? It wasn’t so hard to build a vegan taco just as packed with flavor and textural interest as any of the best meat-based tacos. Now, I can just sit back and wait for this to become the staple veggie taco at my local taco shop….