Taco salad makes a simple, filling meal

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By: Mary Ann Lienhart Cross

Marshall V. King

Summer is the best time to make the most of our locally grown fresh produce. Everyone I know has been eating strawberries every way you can think of. Another great food that is ready for us to enjoy a variety of ways is lettuce.

I’m working with the Elkhart County Extension Homemakers for the group’s officer training. At the event, we decided to serve taco salad. I really enjoy taco salad – especially at potlucks, as you can have it prepared a variety of ways. So, as I was working with this great group of volunteers and heard the ideas they had for the ingredients we had to work with, the topic of this column was created. There were lots of ideas for how our taco salad could have been created, and we ended up with not all the lettuce being used.

But read the entire column to get the rest of the story.

So first, some history. Taco salad is a delicious and thoroughly satisfying meal. This delicious salad originated in Texas, and is just a combination of the Mexican taco and salad. It is a widespread dish which is served in many parts of the world and is admired for its simplicity and sometimes health benefits. Taco salad is basically a taco without a taco shell.

The Tex-Mex ingredients used in a taco salad include meat, cheese, chopped vegetables, beans and a dressing. Adding lettuce and tomatoes to the mix makes taco salad a “salad.” The ingredients in a taco salad can vary according to preference. Some people add condiments and seasonings to their taco salads such as guacamole, salsa, garlic and cumin. Although taco salad originally omitted the outer tortilla of a taco, people often serve it in a tortilla bowl. Sometimes, tortilla chips are added to the taco salad or served alongside it.

I found Sunset Magazine first published a taco salad recipe in May of 1968. The ingredients are what we use today, but the recipe doesn’t instruct the cook to stir it all together, which is what many like about taco salad  — all of the flavors are blended together. I also like using a variety of lettuces, like romaine and red leaf, as there is more nutrition and flavor than when you use iceberg. I really don’t see any reason to buy iceberg – the nutritional value is like drinking a glass of water. Yes, we need water, but when we are eating we need to receive nutrients from our food, and iceberg has very few.

So we were preparing taco salad for the 60 ladies attending the Elkhart County Extension Homemakers’ officer training. I make taco salad at home, and recently, I made it with a bagged vegetable salad mix of kale, broccoli, sliced Brussels sprouts, cabbage and chicory. It was wonderful. Since I was making this for others and for a large group, I thought I’d better have a recipe. So I did an old fashioned process and reviewed several recipes from my cookbook collection. I found many recipes, and they were all similar. As the ingredients were multiplied, I knew from experience we would have too much salad, so I adjusted accordingly.

Prior to us gathering to make the salad, the lean hamburger was seasoned, browned and cooled. A total of six yellow, red and orange peppers, 10 Roma tomatoes, three sweet onions (we used one) and an entire bunch of celery were chopped. The ladies also had four large heads of romaine and two red leaf heads to work with. The other ingredients were corn chips and Western-style dressing. From my reading, I learned a variety of dressing are used, but for many of us it has to be Western-style or it is not taco salad. I also would have added beans, but have learned many people don’t like beans.

The group decided it didn’t need all the lettuce, and there was romaine and leaf lettuce left in the refrigerator. There were two bowls, one with onion and one without. One of my biggest stresses when I am preparing food for a group is that there will not be enough, and I commented to one of the ladies, “I sure hope we have enough.” We ended up needing more lettuce, so it was added to bowl and mixed in until all of it was used and the last of the corn chips were added. In the end, we had about four cups left. So the moral of this is, just like adding more broth to a pot of soup, if more guests arrive you just add lettuce to your taco salad.

Taco salad recipe

  • 1 head of romaine or leaf lettuce, torn in small pieces
  • 1 lb. lean hamburger
  • 3 or 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 peppers, color of your choice, chopped
  • 1 can drained beans (black, red, your choice
  • 8-oz. shredded cheese
  • 1 small bag of taco chips/corn chips
  • Small bottle of Western-style dressing

1. Rinse lettuce and tear into small pieces into a large bowl lined with a clean towel. The towel helps absorb extra water from the lettuce. Remove before adding remaining ingredients.

2. Brown hamburger, season, drain and cool. Seasoning the meat with taco seasoning is one option, but to reduce the sodium content you can season it with chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and minced onion.

3. Chop the tomatoes, onion and peppers.

4. Rinse and drain the beans.

5. Add chopped ingredients and beans to lettuce.

6. Top with seasoned ground beef and shredded cheese and refrigerate until ready to serve.

7. Just before serving, crush chips and add to salad. Pour dressing over all and mix to combine.

8. Serve and enjoy! 

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