Cochinita pibil tacos are a beloved traditional Mexican dish from the Yucatan Peninsula. Made with marinated pork meat in achiote paste, bitter orange and aromatic spices, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow cooked until fork tender. You’re going to love my vegan spin!
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What is Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita pibil is a one of the most popular native and traditional dishes of Southern Mexico that goes back to pre-Hispanic times.
Though this pork dish is very popular in places like Mexico city and across other parts of Mexico, the true cochinita pibil is only found in the Mayan lands of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Some other names this dish is sometimes referred to are: cochinita, cochinita con achiote, puerco pibil, and in English I’ve also seen it called Yucatan-style barbecued pork.
Cochinita refers to a suckling pig (in other very sad words, baby pig) and pibil is a Mayan word that refers to the earth oven in which food is cooked. (Traditional tamales are also cooked in a pib.)
Just so you know, most of the cochinita you’ll eat at a Mexican restaurant, be it in Mexico or The United States, will not be suckling pig but rather pork shoulder or pork butt…Not that it makes things any better.
The traditional cochinita pibil is made by seasoning the pork meat with a bright red sauce made with recado rojo which is a paste made from ground annatto seeds (aka achiote seeds), herbs and spices, and the juice of sour oranges.
Nowadays most people buy the recado rojo paste which they then blend with more spices and sour orange juice to create the marinate sauce that goes on the pork.
Banana leaf is used to cover and cook the meat. The traditional way to cook cochinita is by placing in a pit on the ground that uses hot stones and covered with more banana leaves or other natural materials to create like an oven.
Nowadays modern yet still traditional recipes will place banana leaves in a baking dish then the marinated meat is placed on it, it’s covered and slow roast for several hours.
Once cooked the cochinita can be served as pork tacos or a filling for everything from salbutes, panuchos and tortas. One of the most popular toppings for cochinita are the traditional pickled red onions and a spicy habanero sauce made either with lime juice or blended tomatoes.
From the first time anyone tastes this delicious dish, it’s love at first bite. Cochinita was one of my favorite dishes before going meatless, so needless to say it was high on my list of meat dishes to create plant-based versions of.
I’m so thrilled to finally share my vegan cochinita pibil tacos recipe with you – I’m sorry it took me so long, but alas here it is and I just know you’re going to love it as much as I do.
Vegan Cochinita Pibil
So as previously mentioned, the traditional recipe is made using pork but we are going to go the cruelty-free route and make a completely plant based cochinita using only vegan ingredients.
In case you’re worried that we’ll need to sacrifice the traditional flavors, don’t be. The marinade recipe I’m sharing here is exactly the same one that I used when I would make the traditional pork version.
Amigos, my vegan version will not only delight plant-based eaters, but also meat eaters. Yes, of course it doesn’t taste exactly like the traditional cochinita, but we don’t want it to anyways, because we aren’t going to use meat. Even so the dish stands strong on it’s own and every time I’ve shared it with meat eaters, they have all enjoyed it and complimented me on the delicious flavors.
With my vegan cochinita pibil tacos you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious dish that still celebrates the authentic flavors of the traditional dish.
I replace the pork meat with oyster mushrooms and they work perfectly! You probably already know that I’m a huge fan of these mushrooms and use them all the time to make vegan versions of so many traditional recipes.
But don’t worry if you’re not a fan of oyster mushrooms, I’ll provide you with some other protein alternatives that will work perfectly fine too.
Why You’ll Love Vegan Cochinita Pibil
- Vegan cochinita pibil tacos offer a plant-based twist on the traditional Mexican dish.
- It’s cruelty free! 🌿🐷
- Oyster mushrooms are excellent meat alternatives for creating a similar texture.
- The marinade, made with achiote paste, orange juice, vinegar, Mexican oregano, garlic and other spices, adds authentic flavors.
- Enjoy these vegan tacos with traditional Yucatan-Style pickled onions and habanero peppers for added tanginess and heat.
- Serve as tacos warm with corn tortillas or fillings for salbutes, panuchos, quesadillas, tortas, or even plant-based tamales.
- Oyster Mushrooms: This main ingredient and plant protein is how we’re going to replace the pork. If you don’t like mushrooms you can use jackfruit instead, it will mimic the shredded meat texture. Other alternatives are soy curls, shredded seitan or tofu. Lastly even chickpeas would work well here. Keep in mind that each vegan protein will have different tastes and textures.
- Regular Orange Juice: We will combine it with vinegar to emulate the unripe bitter seville oranges. I’m giving you this option because outside of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico it’s quite difficult to get.
- Vinegar: I like to use apple cider vinegar but you could regular white vinegar.
- Olive Oil: This is to give the mushrooms a little extra fat and flavor.
- Garlic Cloves: Fresh is best instead of powder.
- Achiote Paste: You can buy this at your local Mexican market or on Amazon. I use either the El Yucateco or La Anita brands.
- Spices: I use Mexican oregano, crushed bay leaf, cumin seeds or ground, and salt.
- Banana Leaves: They help give the dish a distinct flavor that is so delicious and the dish does not taste the same without it.
- Yucatan-Style Pickled Onions: I’ve already shared that recipe and it’s a must for topping your vegan cochinita pibil tacos.
- Habaneros: You can use them to cook the mushrooms or make a simple salsa with just lime juice and salt.
- Corn Tortillas: For serving, either homemade or store-bought.
How to Make Cochinita Pibil Tacos
Ok amigos now let me show you just how easy it is to make this flavor packed cochinita pibil tacos with a vegan spin!
Step 1: Make The Marinade
To a blender cup add the achiote paste, garlic cloves, all of the spices, olive oil, vinegar and orange juice. Blend until the achiote pastes is completely broken down and you have a smooth mixture.
Step 2: Marinate The Mushrooms
Shred the oyster mushrooms into long even-sized strands then place them in a very large bowl – make sure it’s glass so that the vinegar and citrus juice don’t react with metal or plastic. Then pour the marinade over the shredded mushrooms and toss until they are evenly coated. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Step 3: Prepare The Banana Leaves
Preheat your oven then prepare the banana leaves.
I buy my banana leaves at the mercado here in Campeche, and they sell them already toasted and prepped for all or your needs. But I understand that may not be an option for you.
So to prep the banana leaves first thoroughly rinse them then pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Cut off the hard stem and discard it. Then place on a hot comal or large pan and toast just until you see it go from a vibrant green to a darker shade. It will only take a minute or two, don’t over cook it otherwise it will turn dry and brittle and not be pliable.
Step 4: Roasting The Mushrooms
Line a baking pan with the prepared banana leaves making sure there is plenty of overlapping space so they can be folded over the top. (I used a 9×9 glass baking dish.) If you don’t have banana leaves you can use aluminum foil.
Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the banana leaf or aluminum until well coated. Pour in the marinated mushrooms, including any juices released, drizzle some olive oil over the mushrooms. Then fold over the banana leaf on top to cover the mushrooms.
Place in the center of oven and roast covered for 30 minutes. After this time is up, carefully uncover and rip off the excess banana leaf then give the mushrooms a good stir. Roast for another 40 minutes or until nearly all of the juices have been absorbed.
Instead of oven roasting you could also cook in a large non-stick pan until nearly all of the marinate liquid has evaporated.
How to Serve Vegan Cochinita Pibil Tacos
Now the best part, eating your vegan cochinita pibil tacos!
Heat up corn tortillas over the open flame or your stove burner, or on a hot comal or griddle, until warm and pliable.
Place a couple of tablespoons of the mushroom mix onto your warm corn tortillas. Then top with some chopped pickled onions and habanero salsa for an extra kick.
Then dig in and buen provecho amigos!
Other ways to serve: This delicious and easy recipe also makes a great filling for panuchos, salbutes, quesadillas and even tamales!
What Do Plant-Based Cochinita Pibil Tacos Taste Like
The combination of the tender oyster mushrooms, with the zesty pickled onions, and the fiery habanero creates a culinary masterpiece bursting with flavor. Every ingredient works in perfect unison to create a spectacular plant-based version of one of the most popular Mexican food around.
How to Store Leftovers
Allow leftovers to come to room temperature and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. More than that and the mushrooms start loosing their texture.
I don’t suggest freezing because mushrooms do not freeze well at all.
Cochinita Pibil Tacos Made Vegan
- 2.2 lbs. oyster mushrooms shredded*
- 2.5 teaspoons achiote paste
- 3 to 4 whole garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 large bay leaf crushed
- 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons salt adjust to taste
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup orange juice
- Banana leaves
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- warm corn tortillas
- pickled onions
- habanero salsa
- Shred the oyster mushrooms into even sized strips and place into a large glass bowl.
- In a blender cup add the achiote paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, black pepper, salt, 1 Tablespoon olive oil, apple cider vinegar and orange juice. Blend until completely smooth and the achiote paste has broken down completely.
- Pour the sauce over the mushrooms and allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
- After the mushrooms have marinated, preheat the oven to 390F or 200C. If your banana leaves have not been toasted then place them over a hot griddle or pan for a minute or two until they turn a darker green color and become more flexible.
- Lay the banana leaf or leaves over a baking dish (I used a 9×9) then drizzle a little bit of olive oil and rub the banana leaf with the oil. Pour in the marinated mushrooms, drizzle a little more oil over them. Then cover the mushrooms with the banana leaf. Try to push them down to create a cooking pocket.
- Roast in the center of oven for 30 minutes. Then open the banana leaf pocket, cut away the excess to expose the mushrooms. Give the mushrooms a good stir, then place back in the oven and roast another 40 minutes or until the marinate liquid has mostly evaporated and the mushrooms begin go brown a bit.
- Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
- Serve on warm corn tortillas with chopped pickled red onions and habanero hot sauce for extra heat. Enjoy!
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Nancy Lopez is a food blogger and author of the cookbook Mexican Tamales Made Meatless. Born in Mexico, raised in the US, and currently living in Southern Mexico, she has followed a meatless diet for almost 10 years. It is her passion and mission to share all she has learned about vegan Mexican cooking and vegetarian Mexican recipes. Mexican Made Meatless is a blog dedicated to preserving the authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine just without the meat. It’s a place to celebrate Mexican culture and all it’s delightfully delicious traditional foods. Read more…