Taco Salad is SOOOOOOO good! And this is the best you can get…..
I grew up with wonderful food. Countless meals to make you drool from my mom, my grandmothers Honey and Maw-Maw, Mrs. Roos, Barbara Doyle, Zip Zummo (recipe coming soon), Mrs. Romero, so many others. In our town of Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast of Texas (we were half Louisiana, to be honest) there truly never was a bad meal. As an adult, when I meet people who grew up with bland or simply bad food, my heart hurts. How awful.
I loved the food of my hometown from the time I was born. I was eating fried shrimp, gumbo and jambalaya at the age of 3. (It should come as no surprise I’ve battled my weight my entire life!) While I certainly helped out in the kitchen when asked, I never cooked much, other than to fry an egg, bake a potato or pour milk into a cereal bowl. Then, the summer between 9th and 10th grade, a huge realization dawned. I was about to enter High School and “college,” this amorphous concept that always seemed infinitely far in the future, suddenly became real. It hit me: when I go to college, I’m not going to have any of this food!
As we say in Texas, “Oh, Shit!”
I went to my Mom and told her she needed to start teaching me how to cook. I wanted to be sure that when I left home after graduation, I knew how to make all this great food. It wasn’t about the cooking, which has become invaluable to me. It was about the eating! I needed to learn to cook the food I loved so I could keep eating it.
We started relatively simple with what was then and now still remains one of my favorite meals: Mom’s Enchilada Casserole (next week) and her version of Taco Salad. I mastered these pretty quickly and though I kept learning more, this meal became my High School go-to, particularly for dates. When we had a school dance, if it was fancy, we’d save up and go to Mama Colichia’s but other times I’d invite friends and their dates to gather at our house before the dance and I’d make Enchilada Casserole and Taco Salad.
What is it about Taco Salad?? For me, it’s not only the flavors, yum, but the textures. You get a little bit of everything: soft, crispy, crunchy, cold, hot… if you make it right, every bite of Taco Salad is an explosion of wonderful in your mouth.
I’m here to tell you how to make it right!
TACO SALAD (serves 3-4 as a main dish, 5-6 as a side or starter)
1) Classic Taco Salad uses ground beef taco meat. But you can also use diced grilled chicken. For the vegetarians and even vegans, it still makes a delightful and relatively fresh salad without any meat. Those on the meatless side can also add a little bit of Taco Seasoning to the salad dressing to get that killer taco flavor.
2) In most of my salads I use Romaine or Iceberg because I love the crunch. But with this salad, I love the feel, texture and taste of red and green leaf lettuces. You get enough crunch from other ingredients and these lettuces are lovely. Trust me.
3) I see a lot of recipes that add a lot more ingredients, such as sour cream and salsas. But if you add too much, it becomes too much, there’s no real differentiating anything. The salad also becomes quite heavy rather than light and fresh. Even more important, the more wet ingredients you add, the soggier the salad. So no sour cream and no jarred salsa… we have fresh tomatoes and onions and spice anyway!
4) It’s relatively easy to make your own taco seasoning, yes. But the packets are excellent, giving you that classic taco flavor we all love, and I’d rather spend those 5 minutes making my own Catalina Dressing, a must for a fresh taco salad (see below.) For me, Catalina Dressing (a riff on French, recipe below) is a must. If you absolutely don’t like it, use my homemade vinaigrette instead.
5) Use Fritos in this salad rather than tortilla chips. The “Scoops” version. Fritos have a crunch and a saltiness that is perfect for this salad. Again, trust me. Damn.
1 lb ground beef
1 packet Taco Seasoning (I’m partial to Lawry’s but all are fine)
1 head Red Leaf Lettuce
1 head Green Leaf Lettuce
1 carton cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
5 – 6 green onions, diced, white and green parts
1/2 red onion, diced
1 – 2 avocados, diced
1 cup pitted black olives (I love Kalamata) halved
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 package of shredded cheddar or shredded Mexicali cheese
3 handfuls of Fritos Cornchips (Scoops version!)
1 ear of fresh corn, kernels shaved off (optional)
Catalina Dressing (recipe to follow)
Prepare the Taco meat according to the directions on the package. Cook it down a little longer than normal to thicken the sauce. As it cooks:
Prepare your lettuce: Tear the lettuce into bite sized pieces. Then, not only wash it well but dry it well. Wet or damp lettuce kills a salad. A salad spinner is the best way to dry lettuce. It also keeps from using too many paper towels. Get it dry.
In the bottom of a large salad bowl place the cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, green and red onions, avocado, black olives and red kidney beans. (Also add corn if using.)
Put the torn lettuce on top.
When the taco meat is ready, dump it into the bowl. Scatter the cheese over the lettuce, then with your hands crunch the Fritos up a little bit and also scatter over the top.
Add 2/3 cup of your dressing (to start) and begins to toss. Toss the salad 20-30 times minimum, making sure everything is mixed and coated and covered. Taste… do you need a little salt and pepper? A touch more dressing? Add and toss again.
Serve in bowls, or on a plate with Norma’s Enchilada Casserole (next post)… You can add a little more cheese and crushed Fritos on top, and also a few sliced pickled Jalapeños, if you like them.
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey
juice of one small lemon (or half regular lemon)
1 T Dijon mustard
1 dash Wooster (Worcestershire sauce)
1 t paprika
1 t celery seed
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt
1 t pepper
Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend on high speed until well mixed. This will store in the fridge easily for at least a week.
What do you like in your taco salad??