Picadillo is one of those dishes that is a staple in every Mexican household. This vegan picadillo made with lentils is super easy to make and kids tend to love it. It was one of my favorites growing up. In northern Mexico, it is traditionally made with ground beef, onions, garlic, chiles, and potatoes. In southern and central Mexico they add raisins, olives, and even fruit. You can also find picadillo in other Latin American countries. Perhaps the most famous is the Cuban version, which consists of ground or shredded beef, onions, peppers, potatoes, olives, and capers.

stainless steel pot full of lentils, onions, and broth on a wood background
tomato chipotle puree in a blender container over a wood background

Honestly, I was a little doubtful if this recipe would work with the lentils, but it works! As I was making it I could smell all the flavors coming together. My husband walked into the kitchen and got all excited, ” You’re making picadillo!” That is until I told him it was vegan and made with lentils. He hates lentils for some reason.

cooked lentils being mashed by a fork in a red bowl
cooked onions and lentils in a cast iron enameled pot with a wooden spoon
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It seems that people either love or hate lentils. I love lentils, and this is my favorite lentil soup ever!! The lentils are simmered with serrano chile, onion, tomato, garlic, and cilantro until tender. It is a spicy and incredibly satisfying vegan lentil soup.

sauce pot filled with brown lentils, water, onion, and bay leaf

In Mexico, you can find it being made during the cold winter months, and it is especially popular during Lent. Depending on the region of Mexico that you’re in they are prepared a little bit differently. In Oaxaca, they serve their lentil soup with pineapple and plantains!! In other states, the lentils are cooked in a tomato-based broth. The vegetables vary according to the region, but you can find variations of this easy lentil soup with carrots, potatoes, celery, and spring onion.

saute pan with a cooked mixture of tomato, onion, garlic and chile serrano

Traditionally, this sopa de lentejas includes bacon, but to make it vegan I have omitted it. However, if you like vegan bacon you can add it to the soup.

vegan lentil soup cooking in a sauce pot

How to Make Lentil Soup?

First you have to clean your lentils. Spread them out on a sheet tray or flat surface and check them for tiny pebbles, dirt, and broken lentils, remove them, and rinse the lentils.

Cilantro added to the cooking vegan lentil soup

Place the lentils in a sauce pot with water, and add ½ onion and a bay leaf. Simmer until the lentils are tender. While this is going one sauté onion, garlic, tomato, and chile until soft. Add this mixture to the lentils with a couple of sprigs of cilantro, and let them cook for 8 more minutes.

a ladle full of vegan lentil soup suspended on top of sauce pot full of lentils

Instant Pot Lentil Soup

If you want to make this in the instant pot, start by sautéing the onion, garlic, tomato, and chile using the SAUTE button on the Instant Pot. Once the vegetables are tender, add the lentils, cilantro sprigs, and water or vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer. Turn off the instant pot, and place the cover on top. Adjust the setting to “Manual,” and cook for 18 minutes. Let it stand to release pressure naturally, at least 10 minutes. (Try these Instant Pot Poblano White Beans.)

Mexican vegan lentil soup in a white bowl surrounded by tomato, cilantro and onion

The Recipe: Mexican Vegan Lentil Soup

  • Make sure you sort through the lentils looking for pebbles, and dirt, then give them a good rinse.
  • You can leave the chile serrano whole or you can mince it and add it the vegetable mixture (it is spicier this way).

Mexican vegan lentil soup in a white bowl surrounded by tomato, cilantro and onion

Mexican vegan lentil soup in a white bowl surrounded by tomato, cilantro and onion

Mexican Vegan Lentil Soup

Mexican Vegan Lentil Soup, an easy recipe for healthy, comforting, spicy lentils with tomato, onion, garlic, and serrano chiles
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: lentil soup, vegan mexican
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 225kcal
Author: Dora S.


  • 1/2 lb. (1 1/4 cups) Brown or green lentils, cleaned, rinsed
  • 8 cups Water or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 White onion
  • 1 Bay leaf, dry
  • 1/2 White onion, diced
  • 2 Roma tomato, diced
  • 2 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Chile serrano
  • 4 springs Cilantro


  • Place your lentils in a medium sauce pot, add water, onion, and bay leaf. Bring to a low simmer and let cook for 20 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, make a small incision using a sharp knife on the tip of the serrano pepper (like an X). Set a large sauté pan to medium heat and add the diced onion. Let the onions cook until translucent and tender, about 4-5 minutes. If it begins to stick to the pan add a little bit of water.
  • Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add diced tomato and chile serrano (whole) and cook until the tomato has broken down, about 6 minutes.
  • Remove the ½ onion and bay leaf from the lentils, and add the vegetable mixture, and cilantro sprigs to the pot. Simmer slowly for about 8 minutes.
  • Remove the cilantro sprigs, and serrano pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cut the chile serrano into rounds and add it back to the pot to make the soup extra spicy. (optional)


• Make sure you sort through the lentils looking for pebbles, and dirt, then give them a good rinse.
• You can leave the chile serrano whole or you can mince it and add it the vegetable mixture (it is spicier this way). •
You can make this in the instant pot as well (see post above for instructions)


Calories: 225kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 15g | Sodium: 8mg | Potassium: 737mg | Fiber: 18g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 685IU | Vitamin C: 14.6mg | Calcium: 47mg | Iron: 4.4mg


These vegan chiles en nogada will transport you to the city of Puebla in the fall. This dish is one of the stars of Mexican cuisine, because it perfectly embodies why Mexican cuisine was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. It is painstakingly laborious, but don’t worry I have adapted it so you can make it at home in less than an hour. A roasted poblano chile is stuffed with a picadillo of pork (lentils in this version), sautéed in onion, garlic, and tomato puree with almonds, apples, olives, plantain, pear, capers, and raisins. It is bathed in a walnut cream sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.


The earliest versions of this dish can be found in cookbooks as early as 1817, and there are several theories or legends as to where it originated. Some say that the Agustinian Recollects of the Convent of St. Monica  created the dish in honor of the emperor Agustin Iturbide who was in town and had played an important role in the recently won war for Mexican independence. The dish was meant to symbolize the three colors of the Mexican flag green, white, and red.

Another version says that three soldiers of Agustin’s regiment were returning home to Puebla after the war was won, and their girlfriends wanted to prepare a special dish for them. They each found an ingredient that represented the colors of the Mexican flag and said a prayer to our Lady of the Rosary and St. Paschal Baylon, thus chiles en nogada were born.


Regardless of their true origin, chiles en nogada today is a very popular dish only available in the fall, since it uses completely seasonal ingredients found in Puebla. Chiles in nogada season is highly anticipated in Mexico as it is a reflection of our national pride and the celebration of Mexico’s independence which is celebrated on September 16. Mexican cuisine is deeply integrated into the history, culture, and the community identity of the Mexican people, and this dish is only one example of the beauty and richness of it all.


The Recipe: Vegan Chiles en Nogada

You can add peach to the picadillo, but I prefer to leave it out. Traditionally the walnuts are peeled, but this takes insanely long, so instead I have just soaked them the night before. Instead of lentils you could use beefless crumbles, TVP or jackfruit. ¡Enjoy!

Vegan Chiles en Nogada, roasted poblano chile is stuffed with an aromatic picadillo, covered in walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.

Vegan Chiles en Nogada

Vegan Chiles en Nogada, roasted poblano chile is stuffed with an aromatic picadillo, covered in walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: chiles en nogada, chiles rellenos, vegan mexican recipes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 Servings
Calories: 446kcal
Author: Dora S.


  • 1 1/2 cups lentils dry
  • ½ Onion, large
  • 2 Garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
  • 2 Large tomatoes, (see note)
  • 4 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeds removed

Lentil picadillo:

  • ¼ cup Water
  • ½ Onion, minced (1 cup)
  • 3 cloves Garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup Pear, diced
  • ¼ cup Apple, diced
  • ¾ cup Peeled, diced green plantain
  • ¼ cup Slivered almonds
  • 2 ½ tbsp. Raisins
  • 8 Manzanilla olives, quartered
  • 1 tbsp. Chopped capers
  • 1/4 tsp. Clove, ground
  • 1/8 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
  • 1/8 tsp. Ground black pepper


  • 1 cup Walnuts, soaked in water the night before, drained
  • 1 cup Almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1 cup Baguette or bolillo, cut crust off, cut bread into cubes
  • 1 tsp. Sugar or sweetener of choice
  • 1 tsp. White wine
  • Salt to taste


  • 1 Pomegranate, cut, peeled, and seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup Chopped parsley


  • Fill a medium pot with water and add lentils, ½ of an onion, and 2 smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • While the lentils are cooking, place the two tomatoes and the poblano peppers on a sheet tray. Turn your oven broiler to high and place sheet tray on the top rack of the oven. Let them cook for a couple of minutes on each side until the tomato and the chiles begin to soften and have black spots all over. Remove from heat. Place the tomates and chiles in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 5 minutes.
  • Drain the lentils, reserve 1 cup of the lentil cooking liquid, and using a potato masher, mash them to break them up.
  • Peel the poblano peppers, make 1 cut lengthwise with a knife, and remove the seeds. Set aside.
  • Remove half of the skin off of the tomatoes, and using a blender process them into a puree. Set aside.
  • Set a large pot to medium heat, add ¼ cup of water, and add onion. Cook for 4-5 minutes until onion begins to soften and look translucent.
  • Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Add cooked lentils, mix well, and pour in tomato puree. Let cook for 3-4 minutes or until the puree begins to bubble and change to a darker red color.
  • Add clove, cinnamon, black pepper, plantain, apple, pear, almonds, olives, capers, and raisins. Stir mixture.
  • Add 1 cup of the liquid you reserved from the lentils, and simmer for 20 min or until the plantain is cooke through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • While the picadillo is cooking, soak the cut bread in the cup of almond milk for 5 minutes.
  • In a blender, place the soaked bread and milk, previously soaked and drained walnuts, sugar, and white wine, blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt. It should have the consistency of a cream sauce. If it is too thick, add more almond milk. Set aside.
  • Stuff the chiles rellenos with the lentil picadillo. Place the chiles seam side down on a plate. Pour walnut sauce over them, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.



To save time you can buy pre-cooked lentils, and substitute the tomatoes with 1 cup of pureed roasted diced tomatoes (canned). Do not heat up the walnut sauce. Instead of lentils you could use TVP, beefless crumbles or jackfruit.


Serving: 1chile en nogada | Calories: 446kcal | Carbohydrates: 70g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 374mg | Potassium: 1279mg | Fiber: 17g | Sugar: 24g | Vitamin A: 1630IU | Vitamin C: 127.7mg | Calcium: 198mg | Iron: 5.5mg

Nutrition Facts
Vegan Chiles en Nogada
Amount Per Serving (1 chile en nogada)
Calories 446 Calories from Fat 252
% Daily Value*
Fat 28g43%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Sodium 374mg16%
Potassium 1279mg37%
Carbohydrates 70g23%
Fiber 17g71%
Sugar 24g27%
Protein 17g34%
Vitamin A 1630IU33%
Vitamin C 127.7mg155%
Calcium 198mg20%
Iron 5.5mg31%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.