Cauliflower Tinga Tacos are filled with tender smoky cauliflower and a homemade avocado sauce you make yourself in minutes. Use my easy technique for frying the corn tortillas and every bite will be crunchy, creamy, and one thousand percent delicious.
After discovering so many vegan followers, I developed these cauliflower tacos based on the Chicken Tinga recipe I learned in Jalisco, Mexico. Some of my favorite sides (which also happen to be accidentally vegan or easily adapted as such) are Mexican Rice, Chipotle copycat black beans, and copycat pinto beans. This guacamole is also a favorite!
This is an amazing plant-based Mexican recipe that is definitely worth working into your weekly rotation. It uses a couple different authentic techniques (roasting peppers, blanching tomatoes) for salsas and sauces I learned in Mexico. They're not hard, but they do level up your culinary game.
At first making your own salsas seems like a lot of steps. But trust me: when you bite into the end result, a taco that is as interesting as it is delicious, you'll be absolutely glad you took the time.
Cauliflower shows up a lot in vegetarian/vegan recipes, but here it absolutely shines in the smoked pepper adobo sauce. I got the idea from Chicken Tinga, a spicy recipe I make for tacos and tostadas. The fresh chopped mint adds amazing taste too--to the relief of all the cilantro haters!
Making Cauliflower Tinga Tacos for a weekend get together? You might need more--they have a way of disappearing! Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Special ingredients to make this recipe:
I'm not going to list everything you need here, just the ingredients that you may not already have, or that need a little extra explanation. See the recipe card at the bottom for all the details.
- Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Search it out in Hispanic markets or in the aisle of the grocery store that has the hot sauces, beans, and salsas. This mighty little can of peppers and sauce is spicy and super flavorful. Smoky chipotle peppers are the star of the show in my recipe for Chicken Tinga, too. Even though the can is small, it packs some serious heat, so you'll almost always have extra. Good news: you can freeze the leftovers in a little baggie, so you'll have it ready to go next time.
- Serrano peppers. These spicy guys are slightly thinner, straighter, and spicier than jalapeño peppers, but I love their heat. If you can't find them, grab a jalapeño pepper instead.
- Corn tortillas. The freshest you can find, about 8" in diameter for a good size taco.
- Fresh mint. Grab some out of your neighbor's garden! Mint stands in for cilantro in the tacos and you'll love it! Use cilantro if you can't find mint.
Even if you're not a fan of peppers, don't skip this step. It's the best way to give the avocado sauce a smokiness, and remove any raw pepper taste, too.
When I'm planning to grill, I usually throw a couple peppers onto the hottest part of the grill, to take advantage of the grill's real estate. That way I have roasted peppers during the week for a hot sauce or salsa. It doesn't always make sense to turn on the grill only to roast one pepper, though, so in that case I use the flames on my gas stovetop's burner.
Turn the stove on HIGH, then position the pepper directly over the flames, turning with tongs until the pepper's skin is black and blistered.
No matter if you're doing this on the grill or on the stove, once the pepper is roasted on all sides, immediately put it in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to "sweat." The steamy heat will loosen the pepper's outer skin and make it easier to peel.
Make the avocado sauce:
The sauce is key with these vegan tacos!
Purée the avocados up with the whole roasted pepper, lime juice, and some salt and pepper. If the sauce looks too thick, add a tiny bit of water to the blender to thin it out. It should be smooth and silky.
How to make Cauliflower Tinga:
- To start, drop the tomatoes in boiling water until the skins burst, only 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs or a slotted spoon. To a blender, add tomatoes, chipotle chiles, onion, garlic, and a little of the water the tomatoes were blanched in. Blend this up until smooth--it's the salsa that the cauliflower gets cooked in.
- Then pour the sauce into a pan and add the cauliflower florets. Over medium-high heat, cook the cauliflower until tender--10 to 15 minutes. Give the florets a little salt and pepper, and you're ready.
How to fry taco shells:
You can turn corn or flour tortillas into crisp taco shells right on the stove with a skillet and a little oil. Just make sure the oil is hot enough (350 to 365 degrees) otherwise the tortillas will soak up too much oil. Also, work one at a time until you get the hang of it. Once you do, you'll never go back to store-bought taco shells!
- When the oil is hot, use tongs to place one tortilla into the oil. It should sizzle immediately. Cook the tortilla for about 10 to 15 seconds, then flip over and fold the shell in half, holding in place with the tongs until crispy, another 15 seconds or so.
- Sprinkle with salt while still hot. Keep the fried taco shells on the wire rack in a low oven to keep them warm and crispy until it's time to eat.Use these for tacos right away, or they may become chewy. Leftovers may be heated in the oven for crisping.
How to make crispy taco shells in the oven:
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Working with several tortillas at a time, wrap in a barely damp paper towel and microwave until steamed, 20 to 30 seconds. This makes them more flexible and manageable.
- Lay the tortillas on a clean work surface and lightly brush both sides with oil. Next, carefully drape each tortilla over two bars of the oven rack. Bake until crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Use immediately.
Putting it all together:
Gather your taco bar ingredients: sliced radishes, shredded lettuce, mint, even more avocado, and the avocado sauce. Maybe some non-dairy yogurt, to cool things off. Lime wedges, chopped onion, and scallions.
Then make a little lettuce nest in the bottom of the taco shell for the cauliflower. This will keep it from softening the shell before you eat it. Spoon a few pieces of cauliflower into the taco, then top with sauce, mint, sliced radishes, and anything else your vegan-taco loving heart desires!
Tacos are made even better with a few fantastic sides:
- Mexican green rice (Arroz Verde)
- Chipotle's famous black beans
- Pico de gallo
- Tofu sofritas, in case you didn't make enough cauliflower
- Mango salsa and homemade tortilla chips
- Strawberry Margaritas
Cauliflower Tinga Tacos Recipe
For the avocado sauce:
- 2 avocados halved, pitted, and peeled
- 1 serrano chile roasted (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice from 1 lime
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tinga tacos:
- 3 roma tomatoes
- 1 cup water (reserved from boiling tomatoes if desired)
- 1/4 medium onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce or more to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large large head cauliflower cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
- vegetable oil to fry the tortillas
- 8 (8-inch) corn tortillas
- shredded lettuce for serving
- 6 ounces radishes thinly sliced, for serving
- 2 avocados pitted, peeled, and thinly sliced, for serving
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint for serving
To make the avocado sauce:
- To a blender, add avocados, roasted serrano chile, and lime juice. Blend until smooth (add water as needed to blend smoothly). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make the tinga tacos:
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.
- In a medium saucepan bring 4 cups water to boil. Add tomatoes and boil until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Reserving 1 cup of cooking water, remove tomatoes and transfer to a blender.
- To the blender with the tomatoes, add 1 cup water (reserved from boiling tomatoes if desired), onion, garlic, and chipotle chiles in adobo. Blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- In a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat, add sauce and cauliflower florets and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until florets are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add about 1/2 inch vegetable oil and heat to 350 degrees. Add one tortilla to the skillet and cook until it is blistering but still soft, 10 to 15 seconds. Using tongs, turn tortilla over and then immediately fold to form a taco shell.
- Once the tortilla is holding its shape, turn until crisp and golden all over, 15 to 30 seconds longer. Transfer to wire rack and keep warm in oven while repeating with remaining tortillas.
- To assemble the tacos, line the bottom of a shell with lettuce. Top with cauliflower tinga, sliced radishes, avocado sauce, and fresh mint.
To roast peppers over an open flame:
- Turn the flame of a gas stove to HIGH. Using tongs, place chilies directly in or over the flame until the skin is charred and blistered but not ash white, turning occasionally, about 2 to 3 minutes. Or, roast over a very charcoal or gas grill for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand until the skin starts to loosen and the peppers are cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.
- Wearing gloves or using a clean kitchen towel, carefully rub off and discard the blackened skin. Leave the stem and seeds intact if desired for your recipe; otherwise, remove and discard them.