creamy taco mac

creamy taco mac 6

I rarely miss eating meat on weekdays. I was never big on “meat and three” types of meals, so vegetarian food suits me just fine. Besides, it’s usually easy to replace meat with a substitute, and by substitute, I don’t mean fake meat (“smeat”, as my friend calls it). I mean beans, especially black beans.

creamy taco mac 1

Making this recipe vegetarian was no problem, but I was also determined to make it all in the same pot. I’ve made Cooks Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna many times, in which the pasta is cooked right in the simmering sauce, so I adapted the same cooking method for taco mac. The different ratios of pasta to tomatoes complicated finding the right ratio of liquid to pasta, but after a few tries, I landed on the right amount.

creamy taco mac 2

What really gave me fits was how to make the sauce creamy in a healthy way – and if this was going to be a weeknight dish, it needed to be healthy. First, I tried Cara’s method of stirring in pureed cottage cheese. This worked fine, but I knew I was too lazy to puree cottage cheese for such a simple meal. Both unpureed cottage cheese and ricotta cheese looked curdled and barf-like. In the end, the answer, like it so often is, was Greek yogurt. It perfectly mimics the sour cream called for in the original recipe but with dramatically less fat and more protein.

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Finally then, this fills all my qualifications as a great weeknight dish. It’s vegetarian, it’s healthy, it’s nutritionally balanced – all that and the only dishes you need to dirty are a cutting board, knife, and the cooking pot. With meals as good as this, it’s no wonder I don’t crave meat on weekdays.

creamy taco mac 4

One year ago: Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce
Three years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Update: I changed the recipe to use ½ more water. Two cups might be enough, but it cuts it close. If your sauce is too liquidy at the end, it’s simple to simmer it down for a few minutes.

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Creamy Taco Mac
(adapted from Delish via Annie’s Eats and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Skillet Lasagna recipe)

6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 red pepper, chopped small
Table salt
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon ground chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
16 ounces dry pasta
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2½ cups water
1 (30-ounce) can black beans, drained
1 (7-ounce) container Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 avocado, diced (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the pasta, diced tomatoes with juices, water, and beans. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. In a small bowl, stir about half of the simmering pasta mixture into the yogurt. Stir this tempered yogurt into the pasta. Cover and simmer over low heat until heated, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and avocado, if using. Serve.


  1. mmmmm, this is definitely going on the to make asap list 🙂 im gradually trying to tempt my meat-obsessed family into trying more veggie meals (unsuccessfully so far!) but maybe this will be the one to convert them, it looks so flavoursome. Will let you know how it goes when i do!

  2. This looks great. I am also trying to break away from having meat at every meal but my husband just doesn’t consider it dinner without some meat. I’m going to make this tonight and see what he thinks.

  3. Oh, that looks so filling that I don’t think it lacking meat would upset too many people. Thanks for sharing it!

  4. I love this adaptation, Bridget. Can’t wait to try it!

  5. I’m definitely going to try this! YUM!

  6. dude. i’m totally making this for dinner tonight. thanks!

  7. Thank you for taking all the work out of adapting this to be simple and vegetarian! And yeah, as much as I love ricotta, the curdled and barf-like appearance it so frequently takes on does nothing for me.

    I don’t know if you ever want to take this a step farther and make it vegan, but I’ve made some pretty good cream sauce out of soaked cashews that seems like it would work well here.

  8. Craig says:

    Thankyou so much for another great vegetarian recipe. It is always a pleasue to visit your blog. This dish looks particularly appealing. Black beans are not so common/popular in Australia but I like them. I’m not used to ounces – is this recipe for 4 servings – a 30 ounce can sounded big.

  9. bridget says:

    Craig – Thanks! A 30-ounce can of beans, once the packaging liquid is rinsed off and drained, contains about 3.5 cups of beans. I forgot to include the number of servings in the recipe; I’d say this would serve six people.

  10. Greek yogurt is such a wonderful thing! I just used it as a substitute in a recipe and it worked beautifully. This looks really good and I can’t wait to try it!

  11. I’m very impressed at the use of yogurt here. Looks and sounds so delicious and comforting!

  12. This looks delicious! We love the regular Taco Mac, but this looks like a great twist! Have you tried this with kidney beans or would it not be as good? I have a bunch in my pantry I’d like to use up.

  13. bridget says:

    Ana – Kidney beans would definitely work! They’re not as sweet as black beans, but I like that they’re more similar in size to the pasta.

  14. Whitney says:

    Finally trying this out tonight! I made a few modifications – made carmelized onions, skipped the bell pepper, added sauteed portabella mushrooms, black olives and grilled corn that i cut off the cob. I also added oregeno and cinnamon! I read the instructions wrong and just ended up mixing the spices into the greek yogurt and going from there. It’s simmering now!

  15. What’s the fourth spice in your bowl?

  16. bridget says:

    matt – You are very observant! I’ve made this several times following the recipe I have listed here, but I must have added paprika (probably smoked) the first time I made it.

  17. I thought that might be it… made this last night, by the way. Enjoyed it quite a bit! Looking forward to trying it again, and mixing it up a bit.