Taco Salad is a show-stopper dinner, if you do it right. Plus it's healthy! I'll show you all my tips (and the best ingredients) for Taco Salad, Done Right. Plus two taco salad dressing recipes to choose from!
Start with the taco meat.** Brown 1 pound ground beef in a skillet on the stove, over medium heat. Break up the meat into small pieces. Once it is no longer pink (3-5 minutes), remove from heat. Tilt the pan and scoop the grease into a foil-lined bowl (then refrigerate and toss when solidified). Return the pan back to the stove and set over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup Premium McCormick's taco seasoning. (Or a regular taco packet will do. See notes for a homemade recipe.) Add 3/4 cup water to the pan. Let the mixture come to a simmer. Turn off the heat when there is still thickened liquid at the bottom of the pan. If you cook until all the liquid has evaporated, you will have dry taco meat; no thanks. Set aside and keep warm, covered.
Prep the lettuce and herbs. Chop the romaine into bite size pieces and dry in a salad spinner (or dry off with paper towels). Add 1/2 cup chopped green onions and 1 bunch of chopped cilantro. Spin to mix, or add to a large bowl and toss together.
Prep your toppings. Grate 1 and 1/2 cups cheddar cheese. Chop 1 and 1/2 cups tomatoes. Thinly slice 8 radishes. Dice half a red onion. Chop 2 avocados (or make a quick guacamole with them by adding a bit of lime and salt). Thaw out 1 cup of frozen corn (I usually stick it in the microwave for 20 seconds and then let it finish thawing on the counter). Slice 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers. Crush some Juanitas or Fritos, but leave some whole for garnishing.
Decide which dressing you want to make:
Creamy Tomatillo Cilantro Ranch (Dressing Option 1). In a blender, add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 package ranch seasoning, 1 serrano pepper (roughy chopped), 2 halved tomatillos, half a bunch of cilantro, and the zest and juice from 1 lime. Blend until smooth. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time if it is too thick. (Leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for 3 weeks!)
Creamy Salsa Dressing (Dressing Option 2). In a small bowl, combine 1 cup sour cream (OR Crema Mexicana!) with 1/3 cup Restaurant style salsa, 1 teaspoon taco seasoning,** and the zest and juice from 1 lime. (Leftover dressing will keep in the fridge for 3 weeks!)
Assemble the salad. Divide the lettuce mixture between 4 large plates or wide bowls. Add about a quarter of the taco meat to each bowl. Add about a quarter of each topping ingredient to each bowl. Cheese, tomatoes, radishes, red onion, avocados, corn, jalapeños, and crushed chips. Top with sour cream, salsa, extra whole tortilla chips, and dressing of your choice. And guacamole and extra avocados if you want. Squeeze a lime over the whole thing for an extra zing.
Alternatively, you can place all the toppings in bowls on the table, and guests can build their own salad. If trying to impress, it's actually really helpful to post a list of ingredients nearby for people to check as they build. There's nothing sadder than getting halfway through eating your salad only to realize you're missing the guac!
*Cheddar cheese is classic, but sometimes I like to mix it up by adding in Cotija cheese or Queso Fresco!**If you want to make your own taco seasoning, stir together 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 and 1/4 teaspoons cumin, 3/4 teaspoon oregano, 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon demerara sugar, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon cocoa powder. Add to the recipe as indicated. If you plan to make the Creamy Salsa Dressing, save out a teaspoon for your dressing. This taco seasoning makes a generous amount; your meat will still be tasty if you leave a teaspoon out. Other topping ideas: My husband called me a traitor when he saw that I had made this taco salad without sliced black olives. It's a Midwestern classic! Other ideas include using white onions (instead of red), homemade Pico de Gallo, adding black beans or pinto beans, using Doritos instead of tortilla chips/Fritos, etc. You can also drizzle the whole thing with this Cheese Sauce, or even with this Chili's Queso Dip. I've tried both and they are delicious. Why isn't Nacho-Style Taco Salad a thing, anyway? Let's make it happen!Meatless option: You can make this meal meatless by omitting the taco meat and replacing it with black beans or pinto beans. I would use two cans of beans. If you want them to be extra tasty, heat a bit of olive oil on the stove, toast a couple cloves of garlic and/or 1/4 cup chopped onion in it until soft, then add in the beans with about half the amount of the can liquid. Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup cilantro at the end.Meal Prep Instructions: Chop your lettuce and add in the green onions and cilantro, and get them as dry as possible. Wrap in a paper towel and place in a ziplock. Place your meat or beans in one container that can be heated up in the microwave. Then add all your other vegetable toppings EXCEPT tomatoes to a separate container. Add tomatoes to your veggie container the night before you plan to eat it. Add chips, dressing, salsa, and sour cream last minute.