In partnership withCalifornia Walnuts

These Nostalgic Hard Shell Tacos Have a Secret Plant-Based Ingredient

published May 15, 2023
Sponsored by California Walnuts
Classic Hard Shell Tacos with Walnut Meat Recipe

Walnuts and black beans are delicious replacements for ground meat in these classic hard shell tacos.

Serves4 to 6

Makes12 tacos

Prep15 minutes

Cook20 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Christopher Broe; Food Stylist: Tyna Hoang

When you picture classic hard-shell tacos, one clear image comes to mind: taco-seasoned beef stuffed into crispy U-shaped shells. But who says the filling has to be made with traditional ground meat? In this vegetarian version of the nostalgic taco night favorite, California walnuts form the base of a brilliant plant-based meat.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Broe; Food Stylist: Tyna Hoang

When finely chopped in the food processor alongside black beans, taco seasoning, and olive oil, the walnuts transform into a hearty replacement for beef, ready to win over every family member at the table. It’s incredibly satisfying, texturally spot-on, and perfectly-melded in terms of flavor. Plus, it’s ready to go in less than five minutes!

Here, the protein-packed filling (it’s packed with fiber and omega-3s, too!) is mixed with salsa, stuffed into taco shells, then baked until warmed through. But the versatile crumble can be used for all sorts of nutritious meals, including hearty taco salads, cheesy stuffed peppers, and vegetarian burritos. It will keep in the fridge for up to four days, so you can make it on Sunday and use it all throughout the week.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Broe; Food Stylist: Tyna Hoang

Pro Tip: Line Your Taco Shells with Cheese

We’ve all been there: you take your first bite into a crispy hard shell taco and half the filling tumbles out the other side. And while we can’t guarantee an entirely mess-free taco, we do have a trick that will help: Sprinkle half the grated cheese into the empty taco shells, then bake until the cheese melts. Add the walnut meat, top with more cheese, then return to the oven until warm. The walnut meat will stick to the melty cheese, securing it inside the shell.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Broe; Food Stylist: Tyna Hoang

Warming up the shells also renders them more pliable, making them easier to arrange in the baking dish. And who doesn’t love more cheese? We recommend this trick no matter what type of tacos you’re making. Trust us: Your family will thank you.

Classic Hard Shell Tacos with Walnut Meat Recipe

Walnuts and black beans are delicious replacements for ground meat in these classic hard shell tacos.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes

Makes 12 tacos

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


For the walnut meat:

  • 1 1/4 cups

    California walnuts (about 4 1/2 ounces)

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    black beans

  • 2 tablespoons

    taco seasoning, homemade or store-bought

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

For the tacos:

  • 12

    crispy taco shells

  • 4 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 3/4 cup

    homemade or store-bought blended tomato salsa, plus more for serving

  • 1

    medium romaine lettuce heart

  • 1

    medium tomato

  • Sour cream, pickled jalapeños, and hot sauce, for serving


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Make the walnut meat:

  1. Place 1 1/4 cups California walnuts in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Drain and rinse 1 (about 15-ounce) can black beans. Add half of the beans (about 3/4 cup) to the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, about 6 (1-second) pulses.

  2. Add 2 tablespoons taco seasoning and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is finely chopped and resembles ground beef, about 10 (1-second) pulses.

Make the tacos:

  1. Arrange 12 crispy taco shells in a 9x13-inch baking dish with their openings facing up.

  2. Grate 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup). Divide half the cheese between the taco shells. Bake until the cheese melts and the shells are heated through, about 5 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the walnut meat and remaining black beans. Cook, stirring often, until browned and slightly crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Add 3/4 cup salsa and cook, stirring, until thoroughly mixed in, about 1 minute more. (The mixture will look wet but will re-crisp in the oven).

  4. Spoon the walnut meat into the taco shells, about 1/4 cup per shell. Top with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, finely shred 1 medium romaine lettuce heart until you have 1 1/2 cups. Dice 1 tomato.

  5. Top the tacos with the lettuce and tomato. Top with sour cream, pickled jalapeños, hot sauce, and more salsa, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Salsa: Use a smooth tomato salsa; avoid chunky salsas or pico de gallo.

Vegan tacos: To make these tacos vegan, use dairy-free cheese and sour cream.

Storage: Leftover walnut meat can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.