These Spiced Chickpea Tacos with Cilantro Pesto are the perfect weeknight meal when you’re pressed for time but still craving a delicious taco night.
Here, charred corn tortillas are lathered with a citrusy cilantro pesto, then topped with pan-fried canned chickpeas dressed up with a Mexican-inspired spice blend. They’re finished with a dollop of salsa and diced avocado for creamy goodness (and healthy fats).
With a little multitasking, you’re looking at a gourmet dinner with fresh and bright flavors in just 20 minutes. Bonus: you’ll have leftover pesto, so you can whip up another batch of chickpea tacos in a couple days in lightning speed.
Watch: How to make Chickpea Tacos!
Roasted nuts: I use pre-roasted cashews for this pesto recipe to keep things quick, but if you only have raw nuts, roast them first (roasting nuts draws out their essential flavors). Add the nuts to a sheet pan, spread out, and roast at 350ºF/175ºC for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Pistachios and walnuts also work well in this pesto.
Cilantro: Cilantro is the base ingredient for the pesto, so you need a fair amount. Use the leaves and tender stems (they are edible and flavorful!), but omit any thick stems, usually towards the bottom as they don’t taste great. If you have that gene that makes you think cilantro tastes like soap (so sad, I’m truly sorry), use flat-leaf parsley instead; if it’s summer, use fresh basil.
Jalapeño: The pesto uses one small jalapeño pepper for a moderate heat. If you can’t tolerate spice at all, feel free to omit. If you want just a tiny bit of spice, remove the membranes from the pepper.
Chickpeas. Canned chickpeas keep this recipe very quick, but if you’re in the habit of cooking chickpeas from scratch, it’ll make these chickpea tacos even better :)
Corn tortillas. To give new life to store-bought tortillas, char them over a gas flame or in a hot cast iron pan so they get chewier and a little smoky in flavor. Instructions are in the FAQ section below, and the recipe card.
Rinse the chickpeas and dry them well in a towel. Heat a bit of oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, add the chickpeas and spread out in a single layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes to allow some browning. Toss, and cook 3 more minutes until starting to blister in spots.
Add the spice blend and salt and toss quickly to prevent spices from drying out. Coat the chickpeas and cook for another 2 to 4 minutes. Take off the heat, then squeeze a bit of lime juice into the chickpeas.
While the chickpeas are cooking, start on the pesto. Blitz your toasted or roasted nuts in a food processor until they’re in tiny pieces.
Add the remaining pesto ingredients—cilantro, garlic, lemon or lime zest and juice, jalapeño, salt, and pepper. Blend until a paste forms. Then stream in the olive oil with the motor running until you have a relatively smooth and thick sauce, scraping down the sides as needed.
Slather some pesto onto charred corn tortillas, top with a handful of chickpeas, and a couple spoons each of your favorite salsa and diced avocado.
Tips for making these chickpea tacos
Make sure your chickpeas are dried well. When you pan-fry chickpeas in hot oil, they need to be well-dried so (1) the hot oil doesn’t splatter and (2) they can get browned and blistered and a tad crispy.
Taste the cilantro before you make your pesto. Occasionally, I’ll get a bunch of cilantro that’s really bitter, at least the stems. I recommend tasting a bite before making the pesto to be sure. If the stems are bitter, (1) use only the cilantro leaves and (2) use a lemon in the pesto instead of lime, as lemon is better able to counteract bitter flavors. If you taste the pesto and it’s a bit bitter, add more lemon juice and salt and a couple pinches of sugar or agave nectar to balance.
Multitask. To ensure you get dinner on the table in 20 minutes, you’ll need to multitask. While the pan is preheating, get started on the pesto, while the chickpeas are cooking, make the pesto, etc.
Make a double batch of the pesto. The pesto will stay good in your fridge for at least a week and is such a versatile sauce. You can use it to make another batch of tacos later in the week, or drizzle it on any number of savory meals: other tacos, burrito bowls, grain salads, fried or baked tofu, roasted cauliflower or winter squash, etc.
Feel free to jazz these tacos up. If you’re not limited to a 20-minute window, you can add more pizzazz to these tacos. A few options.
- Make my homemade Pico de Gallo (the 5th recipe card in that post) or Mango Avocado Salsa instead of using store-bought salsa.
- Supplement the spiced chickpeas with crispy roasted mushrooms (find the instructions in this post) or roasted cauliflower.
- Instead of diced avocado, make Guacamole (the 6th recipe card in that post).
- For a little zing, serve with pickled red onions (the 7th recipe card in that post).
- If it’s summertime, grill some corn, bell peppers, or zucchini and add along with the chickpeas.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can sub with roasted/toasted pistachios or walnuts. If you’re allergic to tree nuts, try pepitas instead.
You have two options. First, if you have a gas stove, turn a burner to medium-low and use tongs to place the tortilla directly over the flame, 10 to 20 seconds per side until charred, in spots.
Or, you can add each tortilla to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 15 to 30 seconds per side. Stack and wrap charred tortillas in a dish towel to keep them warm.
A week! Store in a sealed jar in your fridge.
If your food processor is large enough, you can easily double the pesto all at once. To double the chickpeas, you’ll want to cook them in two batches so that they can spread out enough and get blistered and browned (this improves their texture).
If you’re looking for a side dish, either this Grilled Corn Salad or Charred Corn Salad would be great accompaniments. If it’s summer and you want to fire up the grill, some grilled vegetable skewers would be great (the 4th recipe card in this post). For something a little unconventional but delicious with a similar flavor profile, serve this Avocado Gazpacho as a starter.
That’s all you need to know about this easy and quick Spiced Chickpea Tacos. If you love this recipe, please rate and review the recipe below :)
- 1 (15-ounce/425g) can of chickpeas, drained
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Squeeze of lime juice
- ½ cup (70g) roasted cashews (or pistachios or walnuts)
- 2 ½ cups (36 to 40g) loosely packed cups of cilantro leaves and tender stems (no tough stems)*
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 small jalapeño pepper, roughly chopped**
- 1 medium lemon or 1 large lime, zested and juiced***
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- 6 corn tortillas
- Your favorite store-bought salsa****
- 1 large avocado, diced
- If your nuts are raw, spread them out on a sheet pan and roast for 7 to 10 minutes at 350ºF, tossing halfway through.
- Transfer the chickpeas to a clean dish towel or a layer of paper towels and gently pat dry as much as you can without smushing them. They need to be well-dried before cooking.
- Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat with the 2 teaspoons of oil and spread the oil out with a paper towel to evenly distribute it. Once hot, add the chickpeas and spread out in a single layer. Cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes to allow some browning. Toss and cook for another 3 minutes, or until chickpeas are golden brown and blistered in spots.
- Add salt and spices, and toss well to coat the chickpeas. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes to allow flavors to blend, then take off the heat and hit with a squeeze of lime juice.
- Meanwhile, make the cilantro pesto. Add the nuts to a food processor and blitz until in very tiny pieces.Add the cilantro, garlic, jalapeño, lemon (or lime) zest, 2 tablespoons lemon (or lime) juice, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and blend until a paste forms. Scrape the paste towards the middle. Turn on the motor and stream in the olive oil until it comes together into a sauce. If needed, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to bring it all together, or add it for a thinner sauce. Taste, adding more lemon juice or salt as needed.
- To char corn tortillas: If you have a gas stove, turn a burner to medium-low and use tongs to place the tortilla directly over the flame, 10 to 20 seconds per side until charred, in spots.Or, you can add each tortilla to a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for 15 to 30 seconds per side. Stack and wrap charred tortillas in a dish towel to keep them warm.
- To assemble the tacos, spoon some cilantro pesto into the center of each tortilla. Add a handful of the spiced chickpeas. Top with diced avocado and salsa.