Tacos al Pastor
The completely vegan offerings look, cook, and taste an awful lot like beef. (Photo: rudisill/iStock)

How to Cook with Plant-Based Beef

Spoiler: it isn't all that different from real ground beef

Tacos al Pastor
Christine Byrne is a journalist and soon-to-be registered dietitian.

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Plant-based beef from brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods is quickly becoming a new staple. If it’s not already on the menu of your favorite fast-food chain, odds are good that it’s coming soon, and it’s most likely already in the meat section of your local grocery store.

Sure, you might be able to tell the difference between an Impossible burger and one made with Angus beef. But if you’re crumbling the plant-based stuff into a recipe or seasoning it heavily for taco meat or kebabs, you’d probably be able to trick even the staunchest carnivore.

This is by design. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have engineered their products to be almost identical to real beef in every sense. Jonathan Valdez, a dietitian and founder of Genki Nutrition, explains that both of these companies’ products are fortified with vitamins and minerals that aren’t naturally found in plant foods but that are typically found in beef, like iron and vitamin B12. Their total and saturated fat content is similar to ground beef that’s 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat. That’s a choice the companies made, not for the sake of nutrition—the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, regardless of whether it comes from plants or animals—but so the faux beef better mimics the real stuff. 

Thanks to that careful formulation, you can substitute the same amount of plant-based beef in just about any recipe that calls for ground beef. (Although Valdez warns that plant-based beef is higher in sodium, so you might want to go easy on the salt.) If you’d like to follow a recipe that’s been developed and tested with plant-based beef, here are three to try.

Pineapple Tacos 

“I love this taco recipe, because it’s approachable, bright, and satisfying,” says Jasmine Shimoda, chef and owner of Jewel, a plant-based restaurant in Los Angeles. She explains that imitation ground beef browns in a skillet just like the real stuff and actually packs a tastier punch than most store-bought ground beef, thanks to yeast extract that lends it ample umami flavor. 


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 pound plant-based ground beef
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder 
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce (from a can)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or less, to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, divided 
  • 1 small jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 5 radishes, thinly sliced 
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, thinly sliced 
  • ¼ cup raw red onion, thinly sliced 
  • 1½ tablespoons Vegenaise 

For serving: warm corn tortillas, warm black beans, vegan crumbly cheese, cilantro, lime wedges


Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the plant-based beef, and break up with a large spoon or spatula. Spread it out in the pan to ensure the maximum amount of caramelization. Once the plant-based beef is browned, about four to five minutes, transfer to a plate and set aside somewhere warm, leaving most of the fat in the pan. 

Return the pan to the stove. Cook the yellow onion in the remaining fat until translucent, three to four minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes, then add the chili powder, chipotle, salt, and pepper, and stir everything together. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and toss in the diced pineapple, cooking for two more minutes until the pineapple is heated through and slightly soft. Add the imitation beef and one tablespoon of lime juice. Stir everything to combine, then remove the pan from the heat. 

Meanwhile, mix together the jicama, radishes, and cilantro, as well as the remaining two tablespoons of lime juice, the red onion, and the Vegenaise in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble tacos by topping tortillas with the beef-pineapple filling, jicama slaw, and garnishes. Serves four.

“Beef” and Barley Stew

This veggie-filled soup recipe puts a spin on classic beef and barley stew, with the addition of chili powder for a pretty serious kick. And instead of hulled barley, it calls for pearl barley, which is softer and cooks more quickly because the tough outer layer has been removed. The recipe is reprinted with permission from Adams Media’s The Spicy Plant-Based Cookbook, a collection of simple dishes flavored with everything from fresh chili to homemade hot sauce. 


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium stalks celery, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 2½ cups tomato juice (like Mott’s or V8)
  • ⅓ cup uncooked pearl barley
  • 1½ teaspoons chili powder
  • 1½ teaspoons dried parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound plant-based ground beef
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish


Place a large soup pot or stockpot over medium heat, add the oil, and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, and bell pepper until almost soft, about four to five minutes. Add the water, tomato juice, and barley, stirring well to combine, then add the chili powder, parsley, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the plant-based beef and cook uncovered until the barley is soft, about another five minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

To serve, remove bay leaves, and ladle soup into bowls. Garnish each bowl with parsley, and serve with crusty bread for dipping. Serves six.

Chiles Rellenos

Traditional chiles rellenos are battered and deep-fried, but San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins prefers to roast them instead, which means that her version is easier and a little lighter. “Without all that fried batter, you really taste the interplay of the chile and the filling,” Des Jardins says. She included this recipe in Impossible the Cookbook: How to Save Our Planet, One Delicious Meal at a Time, which she helped author.


  • 8 fresh poblano or pasilla chiles 
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 12 ounces plant-based beef
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin 
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon 
  • Pinch of ground allspice 
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • ½ cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons raisins 
  • 1½ cups chopped fresh parsley leaves (about one small bunch)
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted 
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted 
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper 


Preheat a broiler. Place the chiles on a baking sheet and broil, turning every few minutes, until blackened on all sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chiles to a large mixing bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or place in a zip-top plastic bag. Let steam for about five minutes to help loosen the skins.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Rinse the chiles under water, removing the charred skin. Make a two-inch slit on one side of each chili, so you can open them up a little bit. Using a teaspoon, carefully remove the membrane and as many seeds as possible. Place the chiles on the lined baking sheet. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm one tablespoon of oil. Crumble the plant-based beef into the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about three minutes. Add the oregano, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, and mix well, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the onion, garlic, and canned tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the onions soften, about ten minutes. Add the raisins, and cook for another two minutes. Add this to the meat mixture, and stir. Set aside one tablespoon of parsley, one teaspoon of almonds, and some sesame seeds for garnish, then add the remaining parsley, almonds, and sesame seeds to the meat mixture. Mix well. 

To assemble, spoon the picadillo mixture into each chile through the slit in the center, filling it as much as possible. Transfer the chiles to another parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast until heated through, 15 to 20 minutes. 

Serve garnished with the remaining parsley, almonds, and sesame seeds. Serves four.

Lead Photo: rudisill/iStock

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