Growing up in the deserts of Southern California, I was lucky to always have plenty of incredible, authentic Mexican food at my fingertips. My family didn’t eat out much, but when we did, it was usually takeout from our favorite local Mexican restaurant, Las Carretas.
I would’ve enthusiastically devoured almost anything off their menu, but the carne asada tacos with homemade corn tortillas and fresh pico were some of my absolute favorites. I developed this vegan carne asada recipe to experience a little taste of that nostalgia.
What is Carne Asada?
In Mexican cuisine, carne asada refers to beef — typically skirt or flank steak — that is marinated, grilled to impart a charred flavor, and then sliced. It can be enjoyed on its own or added to other dishes like tacos or burritos.
“Carne” means “meat” in Spanish, so “vegan carne asada” would seem like a contradiction of terms. But if you’ve gone vegan or simply wish to incorporate more plant-based meals into your week, soy curls make a great high-protein, affordable meat substitute for this dish.
What are Soy Curls?
If you’ve ever tried the Louisville Vegan Jerky, it’s made of soy curls! They’re essentially just strips of soy protein with the fat removed. That may not sound super appealing, but trust me: they’re a fantastic meat substitute, and as an added bonus, they’re much more affordable than other vegan meats on the market.
I like to buy mine in bulk directly from the Butler website. Sometimes they throw in free samples of their jerky or other products, too! You can also buy them on Amazon. You might be able to find them at some health food stores or vegan specialty shops, but online is your best best.
Soy curls come dehydrated, so you will need to soak them in hot water to reconstitute them first. They have a nice chewy texture and a very neutral flavor, so they’re a great canvas for any of your favorite spices and sauces.
Ingredients for Vegan Carne Asada Soy Curl Marinade
- Orange juice: Fresh-squeezed or store-bought are both fine. Orange juice adds sweetness and a nice citrusy flavor to the marinade.
- Lime juice: To brighten up the flavor of the marinade.
- Apple cider vinegar: For a little extra tang. If you don’t have it, the best substitute would be red or white wine vinegar.
- Fresh cilantro: The source of so much flavor in this recipe! There’s not really a good substitution for this.
- Jalapeños: Remove the ribs and seeds if you aren’t the biggest fan of spicy food. On the other hand, if you’re a spice fiend, add extra jalapeños or even experiment with hotter peppers like serranos or habaneros.
- Soy sauce: This adds a ton of umami to the soy curls, which taste pretty neutral on their own.
- Garlic: Lots of it!
- Ground cumin: You can add more or less to preference!
How to Make Vegan Carne Asada Soy Curls
- Rehydrate the soy curls. Cover the soy curls with boiling water and allow them to soak for at least 10 minutes. You can go ahead and prepare the marinade during this time. Once they’ve soaked, you’ll wring out the excess liquid so they’ll absorb as much of the marinade as possible.
- Prepare the marinade. You can easily blend everything together in a food processor or blender. If you don’t have either, no worries! Simply mince the garlic and chop the jalapeño and cilantro. Whisk these together with the remaining ingredients.
- Marinate the soy curls. Pour your delicious marinade over the soy curls and give them a good toss to coat evenly. Allow them to marinate, ideally for a few hours or overnight. Give the soy curls a toss occasionally to make sure they’re marinating evenly.
- Cook on the stove. Cook the soy curls on a hot cast iron pan or other skillet until just slightly charred in a few spots.
Can This Recipe Be Made Gluten-Free?
Yes! This recipe is extremely easy to make gluten-free. All you have to do is swap out the soy sauce for a gluten-free alternative such as tamari. That’s it! Everything else in this recipe is gluten-free as is.
Storing & Reheating Vegan Carne Asada
Leftovers will stay good in the refrigerator for up to 5 days in an airtight container. When you’re ready to reheat them, all you have to do it either throw them in the microwave or toss them in a pan and heat on the stove. Either way, they’re super easy to reheat and make fresh tacos with!
You can also freeze leftovers for up to a month. Just thaw them as you would other frozen leftovers and reheat them in the microwave or on the stove.
More Recipes Featuring Soy Curls
Vegan Carne Asada Soy Curls
- cheesecloth or nut milk bag
- nonstick or cast iron skillet
- 1 8 oz bag soy curls
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup packed fresh cilantro
- 1-2 jalapeño peppers remove seeds and ribs if you don’t like spicy food
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2-4 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Place soy curls in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for at least 10 minutes, then drain and allow to cool. (You can rinse with cold water to speed this process up.)
- Use a clean kitchen towel, a nut milk bag, or a few layers of cheesecloth to squeeze out as much extra liquid from the soy curls as possible, so they can absorb the marinade. It helps to work in smaller batches here. Set aside.
- In a blender or food processor, combine all marinade ingredients and blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can simply chop all the ingredients and stir them together for a chunkier marinade. Pour over soy curls and toss to coat.
- Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge. You can get away with just marinating for 30 minutes, but at least 4 hours or overnight is ideal! Give the soy curls a stir once or twice while marinating so they’re evenly coated.
- Heat a skillet (cast iron works great here) over medium-high heat. Work in batches if your skillet is small. Stir fry soy curls until they start to brown. A little char in a few spots is okay too.