Fiesta Pasta | Make a Plant-Based Dinner Meat-Eaters Will Love
Mains,  Meals & Planning,  Recipes,  Special Diets

Make a Plant-Based Dinner Meat-Eaters Will Love

Are you looking to add more plant-based meals to your diet, but are not sure where to start or afraid your family won’t like it?

Kid playing with tomatoes
Not sure how to work more plants into your family’s diet? It can be a challenge!

Believe me, I’ve been there! When I was a vegan for a few years, I constantly tried different dinner recipes, hoping that they would be easy, use “normal” ingredients, and – most importantly – be edible. Not just for me, but also for my kids and husband. After many fails, complaints, and even ridicule from my meat-loving family, Fiesta Pasta is one plant-based dinner that even has the meat-eaters going back for seconds.

Goal: Plant-Based Dinner That’s Easy and Delicious

The goal here is to make a plant-based meal that’s:

  • Plant-Based = Good for us, good for the Earth. The top reasons people choose to go vegan or cut down on meat consumption are: Health and nutrition, followed by environmental protection and animal welfare.
  • Try Something New. New and exciting options in the dinner rotation sounds good! Plus, maybe you’ll find a new food that you love.
  • As Easy (or Easier) Than Meat Dinner. Not wanting to create more work for ourselves, let’s keep it simple.
  • Delicious and Satisfying. It has to taste and feel as good as eating a meaty meal, especially for the skeptics!
Fiesta Pasta: the final product (side salad in the background).

We’ve set a high bar for this one recipe, and I’m excited to share it with you. 😋

Plant-Based Eating 101

What’s a plant-based meal, or plant-based eating? From the Harvard Health blog:

“Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans.”

Yes, plant-based eating is healthy because it has all those health foods listed above. It’s also easy on the environment because instead of feeding plants to (for example) a cow for a year or so, we’re going to cut out all that middle part (growing, watering, cleaning up after, butchering, transporting, etc. the cow) and eat the plants.

Here’s an important distinction between plant-based and veganism, also from the Harvard Health blog:

It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.

Whew! No commitments required.

So, when we think of a plant-based meal, we are sitting down to a mostly or all-plant culinary experience. But it’s OK to sprinkle some cheese on it, too – especially if you have kids or skeptical adults.

We want to go from this …
To this!!

Try a Couple of New Ingredients

If we’re going to go all-plant, there are two ingredients in this recipe that may be new to you. Both of them add depth of flavor. Think of them as stand-ins for the savory tastes of meat and/or cheese.

Miso Paste

  • What is miso paste? It’s a fermented soybean paste that has been used to flavor Japanese dishes (soup, udon, and others) for thousands of years. Miso comes in colors – typically white, yellow, and red. White is the most common, as well as the “sweetest” and mildest-tasting.
    • Most supermarkets throughout the US carry miso paste. I got mine at Safeway.
    • White or yellow miso work well in this recipe. Red miso paste will probably be overwhelming.
    • If you don’t have miso (and don’t want to buy any), substitute 1 tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari for the 2 tablespoons of miso paste called for in the recipe.
    • Buy miso paste online: Hikari is a well-known and trusted brand of miso, but the 17-oz package is overkill if you don’t use miso often. Muso from Japan Smart Miso comes in a convenient 5-oz squeeze pouch.
    • Cost: $4 – 18, for 5 – 18 oz. This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, or about 1 ounce.

Nutritional Yeast

  • What is it? Nutritional Yeast (affectionately called nooch) is a deactivated yeast, made from a specially selected strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
    • One of the benefits of nutritional yeast is that it comes in large flakes that are described as having a cheesy and nutty flavor, making it a great vegetarian or vegan ingredient and cheese substitute.
    • Most nutritional yeast is fortified with and an excellent source of B vitamins, including vitamin B-12, which is often lacking in vegan diets. Vitamin B12 is usually found only in animal products.
    • Nooch has a lot of protein! A quarter-cup serving provides 8 grams.
    • Buy nooch online: My go-to nooch is Anthony’s premium fortified. You can find nooch in any natural grocery store and most supermarkets.
    • Cost: $10 – 20 per pound. We’ll be using a half cup in this recipe, which is about 1 oz, or 1/16 of a pound.

Make it Easy

Here’s how the recipe is easy:

  1. No chopping!! All the vegetables in this recipe come in a can or are dehydrated (onion, garlic), so there is absolutely no reason to grab a knife or cutting board.
  2. This is a one-pan recipe. First, boil the pasta in a large saucepan. Then, while the pasta’s draining in a colander, mix up the rest of the recip in the same pan.
  3. Ready in 30 minutes (or less). Boiling the pasta water takes longer than all of the other steps combined, so this meal will be on the table before everyone asks “What’s for dinner?” (individually, repeatedly) If you want to reduce the prep time even further, go ahead and use two pans – one for the pasta and another for the sauce/final mixing – and boil the pasta while making the sauce.
Fiesta Pasta Ingredients
All the ingredients. Easy.

Make it Delicious and Satisfying

Fiesta pasta gets a hefty dose of flavor from the two new/secret ingredients – miso paste and nutritional yeast. Miso paste is salty, sweet, and full of umami flavor. Nooch is has a cheesy, nutty taste. Put them together with some tomatoes, green chiles, and spices; and you have one awesome sauce.

No one will go away hungry with this dish – it’s packed with satisfying protein (32 grams) and fiber (21 grams). Yes, there are a lot of carbohydrates, but don’t be afraid – all the protein and fiber will keep those blood sugars in check. And, if you’re an athlete, this is a perfect recovery meal after a long exercise bout.

Nutritionally, you can feel good about the fact that Fiesta Pasta has no added sugar, is gluten-free (as written) and vegan, but still contains 70% of the recommended daily iron intake for adults.

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Fiesta Pasta Closeup

Fiesta Pasta

  • Author: Brook Hagen
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 46 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


This is a plant-based, Tex-mex variation on mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s a great “gateway” dinner for kids (and adults) that want to eat more plants!

Bonus: it’s easy, quick, and oh yeah – delicious!


  • 8 oz of gluten-free pasta (I used lentil-based pasta for this recipe and nutrition info)
  • 2 Tablespoons white or yellow miso paste
  • 1 1/4 cup unsweetened, non-dairy milk (cow milk works, too)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons dried onion flakes or powder
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch (or arrowroot starch)
  • 1 10-oz can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles (or about a cup of your favorite salsa)
  • 2 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed


  1. Cook the pasta: In a large saucepan, cook your pasta according to the package directions. Drain it and set aside; I like to just let mine sit in the colander in the sink.
  2. Whisk the sauce: In the same pan (or a new one, depending on how many dishes you want to use), whisk together the miso paste, milk, nutritional yeast, and all the spices until mixed well. Then, add the cornstarch and diced tomatoes and continue to whisk until blended.
  3. Thicken the sauce: Heat the sauce over medium heat and continue to whisk until it reaches a simmer. Then, turn the heat down to low, continue to stir until thickened.
  4. Put it all together: Combine the beans, cooked pasta, and thickened sauce; mix until everything is well-coated with the sauce.
  5. Taste test: Taste it and add more salt, spices, or red pepper if desired.
  6. Serve with sides and add-ons, if any. 😋


Ingredient Notes

  • Miso Paste: Miso is a fermented soybean paste that has been used to flavor Japanese dishes (soup, udon, and others) for thousands of years.
    • Miso comes in colors – typically white, yellow, and red. White is the most common, as well as the “sweetest” and mildest-tasting.
    • Most supermarkets throughout the US carry miso paste.
    • White or yellow miso work well in this recipe.
    • If you don’t have miso (and don’t want to buy any), substitute 1 tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari for the 2 tablespoons of miso paste called for in the recipe.
    • Buy miso paste online: Hikari is a well-known and trusted brand of miso, but the 17-oz package is overkill if you don’t use miso often. Muso from Japan Smart Miso comes in a convenient 5-oz squeeze pouch.
  • Milk
    • If using non-dairy milk alternative (NDMA), make sure it is unflavored and unsweetened.
    • Dairy milk works well, too. That’s usually what I use, because all my NDMA is vanilla-flavored. 😉
  • Cornstarch substitutes
    • You can use arrowroot starch as a direct, 1-to-1 substitute.
    • Tapioca starch is another substitute that you can use, but you’ll need twice as much.


  • Topping suggestions:
    • Vegan: sliced green onions, chopped avocado, fresh cilantro, sliced jalepeños
    • Dairy: shredded cheese, sour cream, queso fresco
    • Meat: shredded chicken, bacon, pulled pork, ground beef (in my house, any leftover meat gets thrown on top)


Side salad with your favorite dressing (my favorite), tortilla chips, fresh fruit

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Mains
  • Method: Stovetop


  • Serving Size: 1/5 of recipe
  • Calories: 448
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Sodium: 1275 mg
  • Fat: 3 g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 75 g
  • Fiber: 21 g
  • Protein: 32
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg

Keywords: vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, high protein, high fiber, plant-based

In Summary …

To recap, here’s what we achieve with the Fiesta Pasta recipe. First, we have a plant-based dinner recipe that is somewhat new and different, but doesn’t stray too far from familiar dishes like macaroni and cheese. Additionally, the recipe is easy (one pan, no chopping) and takes less than 30 minutes to make. Perhaps most importantly, Fiesta Pasta is delicious, nutritious, and satisfies even the biggest appetites.

Now you have at least one kitchen-tested plant-based dinner recipe to try. It’s easy, healthy, and tasty. I hope that you and your family enjoy this recipe as much as we do! If you find it helpful or have questions, please leave comments down below. If you make it and remember to take a picture (I’m so bad at that!), share it on social media!

Helpful Resources: 

The Best Miso, According To Chefs

What is a plant-based diet and should you try it?

Nutritional Yeast

Salad Dressing Recipes: Peanut Salad Dressing, Magic Sauce, 2-Minute Vinaigrette

Other Plant-Based Main Dish Recipes: Spicy Peanut Stew, Creamy Broccoli Soup, One-Pan Italian Skillet (vegan variation)


Fiesta Pasta | Make a Plant-Based Dinner Meat-Eaters Will Love