Nourishing Taco Pasta

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(Note: this post was originally published on March 25, 2021. The date above reflects migration to the new platform.)

Taco Meets Pasta, Falls in Love

Taco pasta... a surprisingly delightful and fun dish that I originally thought was crazy. Here's how to do it in a good-for-the-body, colorful, veggie-filled way.

I started seeing a bunch of "taco pasta" creations on Instagram this winter and I thought "wow that's just so bizarre". Clearly, I adore Mexican-inspired cuisine (ha! so many of the dishes on this blog have Mexican flavors). But for me, the hang-up was the pasta. I'm Italian by descent, and pasta for me was always how my grandma made it: traditional semolina pasta (often homemade), red sauce (always homemade), and a dollop of ricotta. The thought of putting Mexican flavors in pasta just seemed absurd.

Absurd, but intriguing. I just couldn't let it go, and eventually decided I needed to make my own taco pasta. And let me tell you, it's darn delicious and really fun. The flavors here are all Mexican (chili powder, cumin, black beans, some beautiful charred veggies, spicy peppers, avocado, cilantro) but in an Italian format. Maybe this dish represents my culinary perspective... an Italian falls in love with Mexican cuisine??

Another great part about this dish is that you can really go all-out with the garnishes. I kept things pretty simple with just avocado, fresh cilantro, and pepitas. But this dish would be a blast with a drizzle of crema, some crumbled queso fresco, a drizzle of your favorite hot sauce, or even some tortilla chips. The garnishes are always the fun part, right??

A More Nourishing Take

Many of the taco pastas I saw around Instagram seemed really heavy, with stuff like ground beef and loads of cheese, almost more of a pasta casserole. This version is much fresher and lighter, is entirely plant-based, and is more like a pasta primavera in its preparation. It's also highly customizable, so you can really use what you love.

My version is loaded with fresh veggies and charred/spicy flavor. I start with caramelized red onion (such a flavor powerhouse!), add delicately spicy poblano peppers, then a bunch of other colorful veggies like cabbage, corn,  and bell peppers. Black beans add protein and give it even more of a taco vibe, and a bunch of fresh garnishes pull it all together. A squeeze of lime juice at the end works magic. These ingredients are all in my culinary comfort zone, but putting them with pasta (rather than, say, on a taco...) was such a fun change of pace.

My Rediscovered Pasta Love

The other reason I was inspired to work on this recipe is that I've recently fallen in love with bean-based pastas. I was such a pasta lover as a kid, but I really haven't eaten much of it in the past 15 or so years... it just wasn't really doing much for me nutritionally. But there are such wonderful bean-based options available now that are loaded with protein, delicious, and usually just have one ingredient- lentils or chick peas. They've been transformative for me.

Here I used red lentil rotini. I like to make this dish with a less traditional pasta shape, just to distance it a bit from Italian cuisine. Of course any shape you use would taste great, but my Italian genes just won't let me put chili powder on ziti (the horror!). I'd recommend rotini or another fun, squiggly cut. If you're not into the bean-based pastas, you can of course use a semolina or even whole wheat pasta.

Serving Suggestions

Thanks to the black beans and bean-based pasta, this dish is actually loaded with protein and makes for a great, hearty meal. I'd just pair it with a Mexican-inspired salad, like my Blistered Shishito Pepper Salad. But if you want to make this feel like a more traditional meal, you can easily add your grilled protein of choice. You could also toss it with your preferred melty cheese (cheddar would work great flavor-wise), dump it into a casserole dish, and serve it like a baked ziti.

This dish works great for leftovers too. If you want to go that route, make a big batch and keep the garnishes (cilantro, avocado, pepitas, etc) on the side. Just garnish individual portions before serving so that everything stays fresh.

Speaking of garnishes, you can really go all-out with them. I kept things pretty simple, but this dish would be a blast with a drizzle of crema, some crumbled queso fresco, a drizzle of your favorite hot sauce, or even some tortilla chips. The garnishes are always the fun part, right??

Make-Ahead Tips

This dish is really friendly for make-ahead applications thanks to its robust ingredients. You can make the entire thing in advance, put it in a container, and pull it out of the fridge the next day! It's a miracle!

If you go that route, keep in mind that you can serve it cold (like a pasta salad) or hot (like a pasta primavera), so choose what works best for your event and menu. If you go the cold pasta salad route, this is a wonderful option for a BBQ, potluck, or even a picnic; these ingredients can walk for miles without getting damaged!

Just treat the garnishes gently! Any garnishes (avocado, fresh cilantro, pepitas, etc) should be added just before serving (and definitely after re-heating, if you go with the hot option).

Let's Talk Ingredients

Here's what you'll need for this recipe, as well as some thoughts, tips, and possible substitutions. If you make any substitutions, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

  • Short-cut pasta of choice. I'm absolutely in love with red lentil pasta right now! Choosing a shape like rotini keeps this dish fun. Given the flavors, I think it makes sense to choose a less-traditional cut (rather than something super-Italian like ziti).
  • Oil of choice for cooking
  • Red onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • Poblano peppers. Poblanos have a very subtle heat. Feel free to sub in green bell peppers if you want to heat at all, or to throw in a couple jalapenos if you really like heat.
  • Red cabbage. You definitely don't need much here! So either buy a partial head (some stores will cut it if you ask) or buy a full head and make a slaw with the rest. For this recipe, just use a couple slices worth.
  • Red bell pepper
  • Corn. Either frozen or fresh is fine. If you use frozen, thaw it first. I generally use frozen for this dish since it's so easy, I'm often making this out of corn season, and there are so many other flavors going on.
  • Black beans
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Deglazing liquid. You'll need a dash of liquid for deglazing the skillet after toasting the spices. Water is fine. Veggie stock is a bit more flavorful, if you have some on-hand anyways. My preference is to use an ounce or two of tequila, which imparts a lovely flavor!
  • Lime juice
  • Garnishes of choice. I've shown fresh cilantro, avocado, and pepitas, but you can use whatever taco toppings you love. Other great options would be a sprinkle of cheese, a few dollops of sour cream, pickled jalapenos, and/or hot sauce. Go crazy, this is the fun part of this dish!

Closing Thoughts

Well, have I convinced you? Mexican flavors in an Italian format?? This pasta is really so fun and interesting, we can't stop making it. I hope you'll have as much fun with it as we have!

This is one of those dishes that can become whatever YOU want it to be. A pasta salad for a summer picnic? A gooey cheesy winter comfort food dish? A quick, nourishing meal? With so many options, you can really make this dish work for you. You could even set up a toppings bar and let everyone top their own portions with a whole assortment of taco garnishes.

Just remember that this dish is all about fusion and fun. It doesn't take itself very seriously, and neither should you!

Share It!

It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.

Suggested Pairings

Blackberry Coconut Margarita

Tropical Guacamole

Blistered Shishito Pepper Salad

Orange Jalapeno Brussel Sprouts

Mexican Street Corn Stuffed Peppers

Nourishing Taco Pasta

A much more nourishing take on the fusion dish "taco pasta", this version is loaded with colorful veggies and Mexican-inspired flavors. Since this pasta is so versatile, it makes for a great party or picnic dish.

Author:
Lee

Ingredients

  • 12-oz or 16-oz box short-cut pasta of choice
  • Oil of choice for cooking
  • Medium-sized red onion
  • Very generous sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Two poblano peppers
  • Few slices of red cabbage
  • Red bell pepper
  • 2 c frozen corn kernels
  • 15-oz can of black beans
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Dash of water, veggie stock, or tequila to deglaze the pan
  • Juice of a lime
  • Garnishes of choice such as fresh cilantro, avocado, and pepitas

Instructions

  1. Cook your pasta of choice according to the box directions, drain it, and set it aside. You can do this while you prep the veggies, or beforehand if you're not into multi-tasking.
  2. Dice up the red onion. In a very large skillet with your cooking oil of choice, sautee the onion with generous salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, dice up the poblano peppers. When the onion is just barely beginning to caramelize, add the poblanos to the skillet and cook for a few more minutes.
  4. Dice up the red cabbage and red bell pepper. Add them to the skillet once the poblano has a bit of a head start.
  5. Once the red cabbage and red bell pepper are tender but not soft, add the corn, black beans, and spices. Cook it all in the dry skillet for a minute or two to toast the spices, then deglaze with a dash of water, veggie stock, or tequila. Let everything simmer for a minute until the liquid has evaporated and all of your flavors have come together.
  6. Just before serving, add the pasta and lime juice and give it a final toss. If your skillet isn't big enough to combine the pasta and veggies, you can transfer everything to a large mixing bowl.
  7. Transfer your pasta to a serving dish and add the fresh garnishes on the top, or serve them on the side for adding to individual portions.

Leave a Comment

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you make this recipe? Did you make substitutions? How did you serve it? Any helpful tips? Please share your thoughts, since these insights are really useful to both me and to other readers.

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Lee
April 10, 2021
Pamela- The tomatoes are a great idea, thanks for sharing! I expect some pico de gallo or a few spoonfuls of salsa could be a fun (and easy) addition too. Or maybe some enchilada sauce? Or salsa verde??
Pamela
April 9, 2021
This was a fun dinner, full of flavor. Ours turned out a bit dry, so a suggestion is add some tomatoes. And that “splash” of tequila- make it a big one ☺️