Mexican food is a staple in my house. Most of what I cook is vegetarian, and it’s a challenge to come up with things that even my kids will like. I’ve recently discovered that they both love tacos. When I was growing up my mom made taco “meat” with textured vegetable protein (TVP) instead of ground beef. TVP is high in protein and has no fat, but it’s a highly processed food often made from soy, which my son can’t eat. For a less processed, soy-free alternative, we’ve found that quinoa is a great option.

If you’re not familiar with quinoa (pronounced keen’-wa), you are missing out. This gluten-free, grain-like food originated in the Andes, and has an unusually high protein content (12 – 18%) for a plant food. With a full set of essential amino acids, it’s also considered a complete protein (something else that’s unusual for a plant). Quinoa is much lower in sodium and saturated fat than ground beef, has no cholesterol, and is also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, and folate. If you’re looking to add some veg options to your diet, this would be a great food to start with!

To make the best taco filling, you have to make your own spice blend, too! I mixed the following in an airtight container:

3 T chili powder
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
black pepper to taste
cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Of course you can adjust any of the quantities to make your own secret spice blend! Set this mixture aside while you cook your grains. I used red and traditional white quinoa for appearance (I think the darker grain is more appealing in a taco). I also used bulgur for texture, but you can replace this with additional quinoa.

1/4 cup red quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup traditional quinoa, rinsed
1/4 cup bulgur
1 3/4 cup water

Rinse quinoa until water runs clear, then combine with bulgur and water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer at low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in 3 tablespoons of your secret spice mix, then simmer for an additional 5 minutes. That’s it!

Then comes the fun part: add to corn taco shells or spread on soft tacos, then top with cheese, lettuce, black olives, tomatoes, chilies, onions, salsa, sour cream (I substitute plain yogurt), or guacamole. Use it in taco salads or to fill burritos. Add to a plate of nachos. Stir into rice with black beans and salsa. I could go on all day. My kids LOVE this, and we hope you do, too!