summer chopped (taco-ish) salad

Chopped taco salad

9 July 2014

At the end of our friends’ visit to Ohio last summer, Paul left wistful for more pie, and Venus dreamed of Jeni’s ice cream. This year they came again for a longer stay, and we indulged in so much pie and Jeni’s that by the end, the only food they wanted more of was this chopped taco salad.

Funny how it’s hard to find a good salad at a restaurant, but it’s easy to make a great one at home. A home cook is unlikely to match the skill of a trained chef, but as Nancy Silverton points out, the salad-maker in a restaurant kitchen is typically a less-than-enthused newbie. To do better at home simply takes a bit of care.

Taco salad is as comforting as salad gets. It’s a salad, but it’s also a meal. You can have a pile of spicy taco meat on top, or a scoop of guacamole. It’s easy to eat – no knife needed. You can even eat it with chips.

The heart of this salad is a big bowl of marinated veggies – cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, olives and black beans – glossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and oregano, and topped with crumbly cheese. It’s a lovely summer chopped salad in its own right, ready to eat and wilt-free. And from here you’re only two steps – cold greens and warm taco meat – from an unbeatable taco salad.

marinating salad

I’ve been a fan of taco salad since I was a kid. On rare occasions, when my dad traveled for work, my mom would take my brother and I out to dinner at the Good Earth restaurant in Cupertino (which, I was amused to read a few years ago in his biography by Walter Isaacson, was Steve Jobs’s regular hangout). That taco salad was probably the only good one I’ve ever had at a restaurant, because the Good Earth was a crunchy, health-oriented California place that gave salads real respect.

Chopped salad is a handy munchie during the day, and in the evening all it takes is a skillet of ground meat to make a family taco meal. My boring-eater kids eat their meat plain in a tortilla, while the rest of us happily dig into a fully-loaded taco salad.

Start with a bowl of chopped vegetables, plus black beans and sliced olives.

taco salad veg

A simple dressing, with red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano and a bit of garlic.

dressing salad

Cojita cheese, or feta.

feta

Taco meat is quick and easy to make using ground turkey or beef. My sister-in-law Michelle never adds oil to the pan first, and guess what – you really don’t need it.

cooking taco meat

Add spices – chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper – plus garlic and onion, fresh or powdered. Simmer with some water until it evaporates.

taco meat

Once you have the chopped salad and the taco meat, you can add greens and toss together a bowl of taco salad whenever you like.

taco salad bowl

Taco meat or no, this makes a fresh summer supper. This is another version with leftover summer corn, cut off the cob. It would have been a perfect side salad as it was, but I had a lot of people to feed.

summer chopped salad

So I poured it over a bowl of chopped romaine.

chopped salad with romaine

I love the sweetness of grated carrot in this salad, but it’s not at all necessary.

grated carrot

More feta, or grated sharp cheddar is good too.

grated sharp cheddar

This is a fully loaded version, with corn, grated carrot, feta and grated sharp cheddar. If you don’t eat or want meat, you could top each serving with a dollop of guacamole and still call it taco salad.

taco salad

Even without taco meat, the olives and black beans make it taco-ish enough to serve with tortilla chips. It may not be great manners, but eating chopped salad on a salty triangle, with a cold beer, is just fine for a relaxed summer meal.

taco salad with chips

And afterward, maybe just a little more pie.

Chopped Taco Salad
I like the convenience of this wilt-free, marinated, chopped salad, great for eating on its own or ready to mix in with cold greens and warm taco meat for a killer taco salad.

Combine in a large mixing bowl

  • 1 bell pepper, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups diced cucumber
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (2 cups)
  • 1 8-ounce can sliced black olives
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup feta

Add dressing to marinate

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Stop here and enjoy a great marinated salad as it is, topped with avocado or chopped hard-boiled eggs and eaten with tortilla chips. It’s sturdy enough to last for a day or so in the fridge. Or use it anytime to make taco salad.

For taco salad, pile up fresh greens in a salad bowl (about 3 romaine hearts, chopped, or 12 ounces of lettuce). To dress greens (you don’t need much, as the marinating dressing will be added too): toss with a slight drizzle of olive oil and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper; then season lightly with balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice, or red wine vinegar. Mix in chopped salad, including extra salad dressing, and taco meat:

Taco meat
Garlic and onion powder are optional (they’re often in your chili powder as well). You can also substitute 1 clove garlic, minced and/or 1 small onion, diced.

  • 1 pound ground turkey or beef
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook ground meat until it is no longer pink (you can add some oil to skillet first, but you don’t have to). Add salt, pepper and spices to ground meat. Stir well and cook for a few minutes to heat spices. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Turn heat to low. Simmer for a few minutes until excess water is cooked off and taco meat is nicely moist. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed (use a little cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper for extra heat).

If you like, top with additional cheese (more feta, or grated sharp cheddar), diced avocado, or a dollop of guacamole. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes a generous taco salad meal for six, or a side dish for 10-12.

Notes

  • I love a little sweetness in my taco salad – grated carrot is fantastic anytime, and/or fresh corn kernels in season.
  • Taco meat seasoning is flexible. If you don’t have chili powder, you can make do with extra cumin and oregano, or vice versa. Throw in a canned chile in adobo if you have it, or smoked paprika.

Here’s the link to a printable version

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Venus 9 July 2014 at 12:39 pm

I’m thrilled to see the taco salad, my old friend, front and center. Salad, a comfort food — who knew!

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cg 20 July 2014 at 8:54 am

all you can eat taco salad! =)

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Wolfsbane 4 June 2016 at 7:07 pm

Actually I have the opposite problem. I get great salads in restaurants or delivery, but whenever I try to make them at home they aren’t nearly as good. The lettuce never seems to survive the trip home from the store well. Within a few days it’s starts to turn. So Usually have to have a salad-a-thon and finish it within a day or so.

The tastiest salad I’ve ever had was a 3 or 4 sausage salad at Tavern On The Green. No vegetables were involved.

Reply

cg 19 June 2016 at 10:32 pm

hi wolfsbane – true…we get lucky in california because the produce doesn’t ship so far. when i’m in ohio the greens are often tired to start. very often i’ll just settle for romaine hearts, which are not so exciting but they do tend to be durable. but hey, maybe sausage salad is the better solution. =P

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