How to Make Legendary Al Pastor Tacos

Did you know that the yearly consumption of tacos al pastor is steadily growing over time?

It's no wonder. Al pastor tacos are a delicious Mexican dish that has spread from its origin in Puebla, Mexico to countries all over the world.

What are al pastor tacos? They are usually made by combining marinated pork, pineapple, onions, cilantro, and salsa in a corn tortilla. You can purchase them on practically every street corner in Mexican cities.

But can you make tacos al pastor healthier? With our plant-based recipe, you can! Keep reading to learn how you can make vegetarian tacos al pastor in the comfort of your own home.

 

History of Al Pastor Tacos

You've probably eaten tacos al pastor before. But do you know where they come from?

You might expect them to be Mexican in origin...and you would be partially right. Tacos al pastor do originate from Puebla, Mexico, but the original creators weren't Mexican. They were Lebanese!

Lebanese immigrants brought shawarma to Puebla in the 1930s. (Shawarma is just roast lamb inside pita bread, or sometimes a flour tortilla.) They actually didn't call this tacos al pastor, but tacos árabes.

But one element is the same across both dishes: meat cooked on an upright grill. Instead of using a horizontal spit, this cooking method roasts meat on a vertical spit.

This spit, or trompo, gives a unique and delicious flavor and texture to the meat. That's because the juices drip down the meat, marinating and basting the meat as it becomes crispier in the heat.

Of course, originally tacos árabes used lamb, not pork. The lamb also wasn't marinated. Instead, cooks would season it simply and serve it on a flour tortilla.

Eventually, cooks began using marinated pork, and the recipe began to include additional ingredients like onions, cilantro, and even pineapple.

Pineapple isn't a traditional Mexican ingredient, so where did it come from? Nobody knows!

Can You Make a Plant-Based Al Pastor Taco Recipe?

If you know us, you know we're all about Latin food. But we're also all about healthy, plant-based alternatives to traditional meat dishes.

Obviously, meat is a big part of traditional tacos al pastor. The dish is originally defined by the way you cook the meat. But luckily, you can still make delightful tacos al pastor without any meat at all.

Vegetarian tacos al pastor means that you don't have to find a vertical spit or buy expensive pork cuts. Instead, you can use a delicious (and less expensive!) meat substitute.

We'll talk later about how to prepare your vegetable protein. First, let's handle the easier ingredients.

Gather Your Ingredients
Preparing the meat substitute is the most difficult part, so let's start with the other ingredients. The veggies are pretty simple. Here's your ingredient list:

  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced 
  • 1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
  • Approximately 20 corn tortillas 
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, minced 
  • Enough lime wedges for all the tacos (approximately 20)
  • Your favorite salsa
Why a sweet onion? We found that the sweetness creates a pleasant flavor and aroma, but you can use white or yellow onions. We would advise against substituting a red onion, but if you're feeling brave, go for it.

It's possible, of course, to substitute the freshly cut pineapple for the canned stuff. The flavor of canned pineapple isn't as good, and you just can't beat the taste of fresh fruit. But it will work in a pinch.

You need to make sure that you heat the corn tortillas and keep them warm before serving. You can use a steamer to do this, or you can sprinkle water on the tortilla and throw it into a hot pan.

When the tortilla is nicely warmed with some brown spots, stack the tortillas and cover them with a towel so they stay soft, supple, warm, and ready for the taco ingredients.

When it comes to the lime wedges, you can substitute a small bottle of lime juice. The tacos won't look as classy if you serve them without the lime wedges, but they will taste similar.

Have you gathered your tortillas, fruit, and veggies? Okay, good. Now it's time to tackle the "meat."

Meat Substitute Options

In this recipe, we recommend using TVP, or textured vegetable protein. Textured vegetable protein is a soy-based meat substitute, although it is sometimes made from ingredients like wheat or oats.

TVP has a lot of health benefits, including the fact that it is low in calories and high in protein. It also has many of the daily vitamins and minerals that you need.

Of course, you can also use other vegetable protein sources like beans or lentils. For example, our garbanzos al pastor uses garbanzo beans.

If you do decide to use TVP, you're going to need to do three things: first, rehydrate it; second, marinate it; and third, cook it. Let's take those one step at a time.

Step 1: Rehydrate
Start with two cups of dry TVP. Next, take an equivalent amount of water (two cups) and heat it on the stovetop or in a hot pot. You don't need the water to boil, but you should be able to see steam.

Combine the water and TVP. Imagine that you're making instant oatmeal. Stir until the mixture doesn't have any visible water.

It's as easy as that. The TVP is now ready to go.

Step 2: Marinate the Textured Vegetable Protein
Next, you're going to marinate the TVP in the same way that you would marinate any cut of meat. First, you need a good al pastor marinade recipe.

Different people are partial to different marinade flavors, so you can pick the recipe that best fits your flavor profile. Keep in mind that you want al pastor flavors, so you probably want a marinade that includes achiote paste.

Once you've made the marinade, combine it with the rehydrated TVP in a plastic bag. Put it in the fridge and leave it for 4-5 hours.

When you marinate meat, the marinade soaks in very slowly. That's why you usually have to leave the meat overnight. Vegetable sources take in the marinade more quickly, which is why you don't need to wait as long.

Your best bet is to throw the marinade and protein together in the morning. In the late afternoon or evening, you'll be ready to cook dinner, and so will your protein.

After the protein has spent some quality time marinating, you're ready to get cooking. Remove the bag from the refrigerator and move on to the next step.

Step 2: Cook the TVP
After the TVP is marinated, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium heat. (You can use vegetable oil or olive oil, but we recommend olive oil for its nutritional value.)

When the oil runs like water, it's hot enough to cook the TVP. Cook the marinated TVP for 7-8 minutes, stirring frequently. TVP is already cooked, so the pieces don't need to reach a certain minimum internal temperature.

If you choose to use beans, lentils, or a different protein, you will cook them similarly. Heat the alternative protein over medium heat, using your chosen marinade as an al pastor sauce.

Assembling the Tacos
When you've chopped the vegetables, heated the tortillas, and cooked your protein, you're ready to put everything together. Start by laying out the ingredients within easy reach.

To assemble one taco, lay down a heated tortilla on a plate. Place a scoop of protein onto the tortilla, then garnish the protein with chopped onions, pineapple, and cilantro.

To finish, squeeze a little lime juice over the taco and add salsa to taste. Assemble as many tacos as needed.

If you need to store some of the ingredients for future meals, make sure to place them in airtight plastic containers. The cilantro, onions, and pineapple can be stored together. Store the protein separately.

If you're meal prepping for the week, you can safely freeze the protein. Don't freeze the cilantro, onions, or pineapple; keep these in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble more tacos.

Discover More Plant-Based Recipes

Now you know several delicious ways to make vegetarian al pastor tacos that will delight your taste buds...and your family too! Try them with TVP, beans, lentils, or any other meat substitute that suits your fancy.

Looking for more plant-based goodness, but don't have much time to spend cooking? Check out our collection of pre-packaged meals!