Buttery spiced black lentils make a tasty and easy swap-in for ground beef in this vegetarian taco recipe! You will love how rich and creamy these Mexican style black lentils are with all your favorite taco toppings. With precooked lentils this can be ready in 30 minutes!
Why Black Lentils Make Great Tacos
Black lentils, also known as beluga lentils or caviar lentils, are more often associated with Indian style dal recipes but they are so at home in Mexican cuisine too!
I’ve made lentil tacos before with green or brown lentils, and those work well, but there’s something special about black lentils. They have a firmer texture, but they’re so soft and creamy inside. Kind of like teeny tiny beans, but being so small they can take in so much more flavor. In this recipe they’re cooked in butter to make them extra rich and give them a little hint of the fattiness you’d expect from taco meat.
My original intention with this recipe was to create something clever and fusion-like. But ultimately after several tries, I enjoyed these tacos best in an American Mexican style. With a packet of seasoning and all the Tex Mex toppings (shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream and salsa).
Ingredients: What you need to know
Your five key ingredients for these Black Lentil Tacos are…
- Onion: Red, white, yellow, brown, any ol’ onion.
- Black lentils (beluga lentils). I have found that the availability of these can be patchy versus some of the more common lentil types. This will vary from country to country of course, but if you’re having any issues then I’d suggest a) a health food or zero waste shop, or b) an Indian supermarket. Failing that, you should have no trouble sourcing a bag on Amazon. You can use canned black lentils if they’re available – the flavor is a lot better if you cook them from dried, and it’s pretty easy with an Instant Pot, but let’s face it, nothing is as easy as a can sometimes!
- Salted butter: I can’t get out a bag of black lentils without getting out the butter, I blame the Dishoom Dal recipe for this strong association! In this recipe the butter not only helps to add richness and flavor to the taco filling, it adds a fattiness that you expect from this kind of Tex Mex taco. It’s still nowhere near as fatty as meat tacos, but it doesn’t have the dryness you might fear from a vegetarian option.
- Taco seasoning: I am all for packaged seasonings for this one! I use the Herdez brand. I know many are concerned with the excess sodium in pre-made seasonings, but the excess sodium is exactly what this recipe needs. Lentils need to be given sooo much flavoring to taste like their best selves and in my experience, my homemade blends are never quite punchy enough. If you’re determined to use a homemade blend, just be sure to add lots of salt.
- Tortillas: Soft corn tortillas are my preference here, and I like to lightly fry them for this recipe. If you’re a hard shell fan, go for it – this is the kind of Tex Mex recipe that suits the hard shells quite nicely.
And for toppings…
I went for the Tex Mex classics here: shredded lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, pickled onions, cilantro and lime wedges. You can pick and choose what you like here, of course.
This is a quick and easy 30 minute dinner
Quicker if you have canned or precooked lentils! Otherwise, you do need to cook your lentils but that time overlaps with preparing your toppings so it doesn’t add a huge amount. Once you have your lentils cooked and your toppings prepped, it comes together in a flash:
What to do with the rest of your black lentils..
Some of these recipes were written with green/brown lentils in mind, but cooked black lentils can be used interchangeably.
Black Lentil Tacos
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cups (400 g) cooked black lentils
- 1 packet taco seasoning
- 3 Tbsp (45 g) salted butter
- 10-12 corn tortillas, or hard taco shells
- sliced lettuce
- sour cream
- pickled or sliced red onions
- If your lentils are not already cooked, cook them while you prep the toppings. Instant Pot – 1 cup of dried black lentils + 1 3/4 cups of water. High Pressure for 9 minutes. Quick release.Stovetop – Simmer 1 cup of dried black lentils + 3 cups of water for 20-25 minutes until soft but al dente. Drain if necessary, but no need to rinse.
- In a large frying pan or saute pan, saute your onions in olive oil over a medium heat until soft.
- Add the butter and the spices and saute over a low heat until the spices are just starting to release their scent – then take off the heat. We want to make sure the butter and spices don't burn.
- Add the lentils to the pan and continue to simmer over a low heat for a few more minutes. I like to smush some of the lentils with a wooden spoon while cooking to add some creaminess, but this is optional. If it feels too dry for your liking, you can add additional butter or a little vegetable stock.
- Heat your tortillas – for this recipe I like to lightly fry mine in oil until slightly crisp but still malleable. You can heat in the microwave or in a dry pan if you prefer.
- As soon as the tortillas are heated, it's time to serve! Add a scoop of lentils and your desired toppings to each tortilla, and dive right in.