Move over taco salad, there’s a fresh new Tex Mex recipe in town!

Out with the old

In the early 1960s, the world was booming. Americans were excited about discovering other cultures (even if they weren’t as sensitive about it as we now know they should have been) and Hawaiian and Mexican food were all the rage. New “convenience” foods like canned soup and TV dinners that you “only” had to pop in the oven for an hour or so were becoming commonplace. The intentions were good, the results often less so.

Taco salad is one of those slightly-ethnic-but-actually-not-so-much inventions of the 60s. Yet like many other retro recipes, it has become an American staple for home cooks and family diners alike. But I’m here to say once and for all, an oversized tostada filled with iceberg lettuce and ground beef just isn’t the best we can do. It’s time for an update!

In with the new

I have completely rethought each element of a taco salad, while keeping the overall experience intact — Latin flavors, creamy, crunchy, and tangy. Let’s take a look:

Lettuce

Taco Salad: Iceberg

Fajita Salad: Romaine

Why it’s Better: I have yet to discover the point of iceberg, romaine has just as much crunch, but tastes like something more than water.

Meat

Taco Salad: Ground Beef

Fajita Salad: Grilled Chicken

Why it’s Better: Ground beef is okay in American style tacos or enchiladas, but it just doesn’t hold up well in a salad where the rest of the ingredients are cold.

Cheese

Taco Salad: Cheddar

Fajita Salad: Mexican Blend

Why it’s Better: I love some nice sharp cheddar, I do, but with Mexican food it is too overpowering. Adding some jack to the mix will give a much better balance. Try queso fresco instead for an even more authentic flavor.

Veggies

Taco Salad: Raw Onions

Fajita Salad: Sauteed Onions, Peppers, and Corn

Why it’s Better: This is probably my favorite update of all. For a salad, taco salad is severely lacking in the produce department. A few tomatoes and raw onions just doesn’t cut it. In general, I can’t stand raw onions (something about literally chopping onions for 8 hours straight for days on end while 2 months pregnant, but that’s another story). There is just so much delicious flavor that the world of Mexican food has to offer, I wanted to find a way to punch it up without too much extra work.

Crunch

Taco Salad: Flour Tortilla Bowl

Fajita Salad: Corn Tortilla Chips

Why it’s Better: Sure those bowls make for a fun presentation, but they aren’t really edible, it’s way too much work. Also, fried flour tortillas are much better for sweet dishes than savory. You can break up some storebought chips or cut corn tortillas into tiny strips and fry them yourself.

Dressing

Taco Salad: Ranch Dressing

Fajita Salad: Sour Cream and Lime Juice

Why it’s Better: I have always had one question about taco salad that has bothered me more than anything else: “Why ranch? Just why?” I don’t love ranch as a dressing anyway. It’s okay as an ingredient (like an instant white sauce for cheesy pizzas) or a dip (for fries and chicken strips, not so much for veggies) but I much prefer vinaigrettes, and I always have. But on a supposedly “Mexican” salad? It’s just not right. There is so much flavor in all of the other ingredients, you hardly need dressing at all, just a dollop of sour cream (or a drizzle of table cream) for substance and a squeeze of fresh lime for zing.

And just like that, this classic dinner is not only infinitely more delicious, but more authentic and healthier as well!

Fajita Salad

Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Bell Peppers
  • 1 pound Chicken - boneless, skinless
  • 1 cup Corn - frozen or canned (drained) kernels
  • 1 Tomato - roma
  • 1 bunch Cilantro
  • 1 head Lettuce - green leaf or romaine
  • 2 Limes
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 cup Cheese - shredded Mexican blend
  • 1 cup Tortilla Chips

Instructions
 

  • Slice the peppers and onions. Saute in a skillet on high heat until they are lightly charred. Add 1/2 c water and cook, covered, until the water is evaporated and the veggies are soft.
  • Season chicken with salt and pepper, grill, and slice.
  • Saute corn on high heat until heated through and slightly blackened.
  • Chop tomatoes, cilantro, and lettuce. Cut limes into wedges.
  • Assemble salads and top as desired.