Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taco Salad Revisited

Do you remember your first introduction to taco salad? I don't, but it was way back in the early-married years. It must have been love at first bite for it seems I've prepared it and loved it forever. Taco salad is the easy answer to no time/quick prep dinners. I remember an evening, no make that a very early morning long ago, when the TGIF crowd arrived, woke me up to join the party... and make them dinner/breakfast. You guessed it, a giant taco salad to the rescue. I think I was even good natured and joined the continuing party.

Taco salad is such an old standby that it hardly needs a recipe, it readily handles substitutions and variations. No two versions are the same, but it doesn't matter once you cover the basics. In my galley that means salad greens, salad fixins', tortilla chips, shredded cheese, ground beef, Mexican spices and salsa. Add some dressing, serve with taco sauce on the side and Ole! it's taco salad. Now about those fixins'. Tonight a fresh, sweet pepper joined a tomato, black beans, black olives and some scallions. That's what was available in the galley. On other occasions I have added corn kernels, jalapenos, shredded carrots, red onions, avocado, et al. Substitute shredded chicken for the ground beef and it's a pollo taco salad. Offer some sour cream and guacamole and it's fancy. Make your own tortilla bowl, garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges and wow! it's over the top.

Salad dressing is a matter of individual taste. I season the meat heavily with chipotle chile, cumin, cilantro and Mexican oregano and don't like to mask those flavors with a heavy dressing. Seasoned rice wine vinegar and a splash of oil works for me, but go with your favorite.

So that's my taco salad story. What's yours?

A Taco Salad Narrative
For the salad:
Prepare a large bowl of your favorite greens - romaine or iceberg are traditional
Add a variety of chopped vegetables - tomatoes, onions, avocado, corn, etc.
Scatter other fixins' on top - sliced olives, jalapenos, whatever!
Add shredded cheddar or pepper jack cheese
Add a few handfuls of your favorite tortilla chips - we like the lime-flavored ones

For the beef:
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook lean (not extra lean) ground beef until the pink disappears, stirring occasionally to break it up into small bits. Add some minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add chipotle chili or cayenne, cumin, cilantro and Mexican oregano to taste, OR use a chili powder mix, and cook a few minutes longer. Add 1/4 cup water and some canned black beans (rinsed and drained) to the skillet; stir until well combined and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in a few tablespoons of chunky salsa to taste.

For the dressing:
Mix a tangy 1:1 vinaigrette of acid to oil. I typically use seasoned rice wine vinegar and lime juice with canola oil.

Just before serving:
Toss the salad with the dressing; add the beef and toss some more. Scatter any additional toppings over the bowl and serve with bowls of taco sauce, sour cream, guacamole, more salsa...

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