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A taco salad is both a fun and healthy dish. It is prepared with a fried flour or corn tortilla shell as a base, then it is filled with your favorite salad and Mexican food ingredients. It can be made with a variety of ingredients to suit your preference.
For those who eat meat, spiced ground meat is prepared as you would for a taco. The main spices are chili powder, cayenne and cumin. A little grated chocolate adds a special authentic Mexican taste. These ingredients are sautéed into a “magic,” which is any medley of spices, cooked individually in oil within the same pan.
Once they are cooked, the sauces are swirled together to make the “magic.” Onions and garlic are usually included with the taco salad meat. Some prefer adding tomato sauce to create a meat sauce. For those who do not eat meat, there are varieties of ground veggie meats available that serve the same purpose.
Separately, refried beans, or pinto beans are prepared. The pinto beans need to be cooked, mashed and refried plain or with your favorite Mexican spices. Pumpkin seeds (pepita) add a unique taste and are roasted until they “pop.”
Tomatoes are made into a salsa consisting of chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeno chilies, cilantro and lemon juice. Chopped lettuce, green onions, corn, jicama, olives and Spanish rice are options to add to your taco salad. A variety of grated cheeses can be included.
Queso blanco is similar to a Monterrey Jack or Mozzarella cheese. Chihuahua is similar to mild cheddar and cotija is comparable to strong Italian Parmesan. There are several other Mexican cheeses but between these three, a taco salad will be complete.
The final touches are fresh cilantro, avocado, sour cream and your choice of dressings. The avocado can be plain or made into a guacamole and used as a topping. Guacamole involves avocado, onions, chilies, salt and lemon or limejuice.
The American and European versions of a taco salad often use a ranch, blue cheese, oil and vinegar or lemon-tahini dressings. There are some wonderful more authentic Mexican dressings, using combinations such as pepitas and cilantro.
As with most salads, the dressing is usually responsible for the majority of fat in the dish. If you prefer a low fat dressing you can go with an olive oil and lemon or red wine vinegar, drizzled over the taco salad. With the spices involved in the ground meat and refried beans, additional spices for this dressing are unnecessary.
In most cases, if you have spiced your meat, bean and rice ingredients, you will want to have a simple dressing. If you have plain ingredients, then a more colorful, spicy dressing will be preferred. A taco salad can be prepared finely chopped and placed in layers or tossed into a medley of colors and textures.
I like fajita taco salads, which means the meat used is grilled as for fajitas, and with onions, tomato and maybe green pepper. I don't use any dressing other than the salsa, a little sour cream and some guacamole.
Taco salads can also be made with tortilla chips and Ro-Tel dip (Velveeta melted with Ro-Tel tomatoes). In fact, an upscale restaurant makes them in just this way because it is so popular. It's a "ladies who lunch" kind of place and this dish satisfies the macho men who have been roped into eating there. They don't have to eat chicken salad on croissants. Instead, they can dig into a cheesy taco salad with their fingers. So it works. My hubby and I often split one if we eat there.
A squeeze of lime juice over a fajita taco salad is also a tasty addition. Now, I'm making myself hungry.