Top 25 Vegetarian Weeknight Meals: Spicy Quinoa Tacos

AAAAAND we’re back. It’s only been a mere five years since our last update. I’m sure no one noticed.

Anyway, a few things have changed for the AwK contributors, especially me: I’m now vegetarian! Everyone I tell that to usually asks me a lot of questions about becoming vegetarian (How long have you been vegetarian? How did you decide to become vegetarian? Do you miss bacon?) and I’m happy to talk about that at another time.


Right now, the only thing you need to know for this post is, while my need to cook chicken badly every single night of the week has changed, my need to find weeknight meals has not. The crusade has continued, but more successfully than when I was an omnivore. You’ll probably be surprised to hear that becoming vegetarian has forced me to become ten times as adventurous with my food!

I know. It was a surprise to me too.

Last year, my cooking goal was to complete a list of top 25 “Go-To Meals” that I could rely on for being delicious family favorites while being relatively fast that I could cook on a weeknight, after a long day of work. Ideally, I wanted many of these recipes to be great base recipes that I could add to and alter if I wanted to shake up the flavors. But since I’m a little nervous about straying from a recipe, that’s been an interesting stretch of my abilities.

After about ten months, I completed my Top 25 Weeknight Meals list but, because my household tastes and preferences changed as often as the seasons, I was periodically removing recipes from the list and adding in new ones. So the list is a bit of a revolving door. However, this first recipe is one that has stayed. I first found it in Vegetarian Times: Spicy Quinoa Tacos as a reader submission to the editor. There was no food photo, but the recipe was fast and simple, and the ingredients were a great switch from my typical Mexican dishes. I’ve since modified it to suit my tastes (I’m a Spice Wimp™ so I toned the heat way down) but if you’re interested in the original submission, you can also click the above link to the recipe on

Serving size 4

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced (1 cup)
  • 2 rib celery, diced (3/4 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 Tbs. ground cumin
  • 3/4 Tbs. chili powder
  • pinch tsp. cayenne pepper (add more if you want heat)
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 2 medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • your choice of flour or corn tortillas or hard taco shells
  • Garnishes: lowfat sour cream or nonfat plain Greek yogurt

From here on out, it’s pretty simple. Put your oil in the frying pan, get your frying pan nice and hot, and then go for it. Add onion and celery, and cook 5 minutes, or until soft.

Truth be told, I’m always torn on what kinds of photos to show you. I mean, do you really need to see what onions and celery in a frying pan are? Probably not. Probably you already know what that looks like. But until AwK can afford to hire stunt doubles frying vegetables while parkouring over NYC or while bravely skydiving into enemy territory, this will have to do.

Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with liquid. Cook 2 minutes, then stir in quinoa, carrots, and broth. Cover, and bring to a boil.

In case you’re wondering, this is what it looks like when our site admin thinks he’s allowed an opinion on what temperature to cook things. It’s a lot like when someone’s riding shotgun and decides they have control over your radio. BARRY MANILOW — NOOOOOOOO!

One important thing to note is that you really need to rinse your quinoa before you add it to the dish. If you don’t, it’s going to take more liquid and more time to cook, and the quinoa doesn’t taste as good. Why? Because quinoa is magic.

Special note about eating quinoa for you quinoaophobes (made up words are fun): Quinoa is super healthy for your bod though not everyone enjoys the texture. It’s small and weird. I get it. But in this particular dish, it’s tiny size and tender texture become hidden amongst the larger vegetables and beans, so, if you’re looking for a way to sneak quinoa into your diet, give this dish a whirl.

Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

As you can see, the last time I made these tacos I used spinach tortillas, though I really missed the salty crunch of hard corn tortilla shells. So, I’ll probably serve these in hard shells going forward.

Mix in black beans and corn. Serve in tortillas. Garnish with the toppings of your choice. I like plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and avocado. Before spreading the quinoa mixture into the tortilla or shell, I lay down a smear of whatever garnish I want, and then the quinoa goes on top.

Next: Stuff face. Be happy.


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