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Salad 101: Taco Salad

Before I liked salads, I liked taco salad. Not the going-for-broke kind you find at the end of a Taco Bell menu—those volcanic eruptions of meats and cheese and sauces—the kind I fell in love with was introduced to me in junior high by my friend Radhika. Ra was a vegetarian, dancer, mathlete (she might kill be for saying that), who is now a mom and still a great buddy of mine. As kids we had many things in common, but highest on that list was a passion for snacking. After 9th period we’d walk to my house (it was closest), put the dog out, throw our stuff on the floor, and start ravaging the kitchen. Our favorite concocotion was definitely Ra’s version of taco salad, which we’d then eat while doing homework (watching General Hospital). It’s an easy and delicious way to eats lots of vegetables, and so satisfying that even teenagers will gobble it up…just like we did.This dish is all about two things: assembly and the dressing.
We used to use Kraft Catalina dressing—do they even make this anymore?
A sweet, red, thick “French” dressing that was honestly, really good, but definitely not homemade. So now I try and make my own version: a tangy vinaigrette mixed with tomato paste, which gets pretty close to that original, without all of the unpronouncable preservatives.
The rest of this salad is all about your tastes; but I can’t say enough about using a good quality, sharp cheddar for sprinkling on top, and don’t skip the crushed tortilla chips for texture. It’s like a Mexican crouton and you deserve them.

Ra’s Taco Salad
You will need the following but feel free to improvise:
-One head of romaine, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces.
-1/2 a can of rinsed kidney beans.
-One peeled cucumber with the seeds scooped out and chopped.
-Two carrots, shredded.
-1 ripe tomato, chopped.
-1 avocado, sliced.
-1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated.
-2 handfuls of crushed tortilla chips
*optional: sliced jalapeno, sliced black olive, 1/4 cup diced red onion
To assemble:
On the platter layer the lettuce first and then top with beans, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, avocado,
-Crush tortilla chips on top and then sprinkle with grated cheese.
-Drizzle on French dressing.

Recipe for French Dressing (adapted from Gourmet Magazine)
-Whisk together: 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 2 tablespoons dijon whole grain mustard, 2 tsp honey, 1 tsp pressed garlic, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Slowly drizzle in a 1/3 cup canola oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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