Jun 30, 2012

Taco Salad; Two Ways

Taco Salad

one large bag tortilla chips
one pound ground beef prepared with taco seasoning pack
one cup cheddar cheese
7 pieces of chopped tomatoes
9 pieces of chopped onion
4 pieces of white lettuce...er...iceburg lettuce
1 small jar salsa
2 Tablespoons low fat sour cream (wouldn't want to be unhealthy by using the full fat stuff...meanwhile chips are the main ingredient of this entree....)
Serves 4

Just kidding! I couldn't resist starting off with this.

Unfortunately this is pretty close to the standard way of making taco salad. I suppose it's possible it never occurred to you that taco salad should be healthy. And no criticism to you if you actually prefer your taco salad this way. (Who doesn't love tons of chips?) But I think most of us would agree this is probably not the most healthy way it could be prepared. 

It's always my goal to make healthy food taste great too, so I give you not one, but TWO tasty and healthy ways to make taco salad: Taco Salad with Fresh Salsa and Taco Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette. The fresh salsa method requires more ingredients and has more of a restaurant-y flair, while the cilantro-lime vinaigrette method is cheaper and faster to prepare.

For both salads there are three things you have to have: lettuce, ground beef, and cheese. You then top your salad with either the fresh salsa or the cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Then you add any number of extra toppings of your choice, or whatever you simply have on hand. 

"But wait! Where are the chips?" you say.

Sorry guys; to be totally Nourishing Traditions approved there are no chips allowed. But that doesn't keep me from adding a few to my salad. If I am trying to lose weight or something I won't have any or I might just crumble two or three on top for flavor and crunch. Otherwise I usually have a handful with my meal. 

(Cheer up, you with the long face. Just think of all the money you will save by not having chips as the main ingredient! Good chips are expensive!)

Okay, on to our healthy taco salad. First you need to start with the basics:

The lettuce:

Lettuce needs to be the main part of the salad. And when I say lettuce, no; iceburg doesn't count. It probably isn't surprising just how much more nutritious romaine or leaf lettuce is than iceberg. Here are a few cool facts about romaine lettuce: it is a source of protein, calcium, omega-3 (for real!), and has more vitamin C than an orange. (If you need more convincing, here's a good article on the amazingness of romaine. 10 Surprising Nutrition Facts About Romaine Lettuce.)

I know iceburg is cheaper, but relatively speaking lettuce in general is not a high cost item for the volume. If you usually eat iceberg lettuce, choosing a darker green is an easy and inexpensive way to up the nutrition you are getting. I shop at Aldi and purchase their Tanimura and Antle Artisan Lettuce for just $1.99 for four small heads. I've seen this same brand of lettuce at Wal-Mart for $2.99, which is still a good deal. (Wal-Mart and your local grocery stores do of course have other options for good lettuce.)

The ground beef:

Next you have ground beef. If you really like the taco seasoning packs, there's nothing essentially wrong with them. I just think they don't have enough flavor and I always end up adding a bunch more spices. In generally I prefer to use my own unique seasonings and don't use premixed seasoning packets. In the long run you will end up saving money by not using the seasoning packets.

The cheese:

Finally there is the cheese. Cheddar is fine, or Colby Jack, but my personal favorite for taco salad is a Mexican blend.

These three items are the backbone to your taco salad. What you do from here will depend on what ingredients you have on hand on a particular day.

So here are the recipes:

This is my basic taco meat recipe I use for all of my Mexican American dishes.

Taco Meat
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped, or 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/4 teaspoon chipote pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves), or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup water

Place meat in a medium sized skillet. Turn the heat to medium. Break up the ground beef with a spoon or stiff spatula. Mix in the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir every 3-4 minutes until no pink is left (about 10 minutes). Drain excess fat, if necessary. (I use a metal spoon and scoop that grease into an empty tin can. When the fat is cool I throw away the can and the congealed fat.)

After the meat is fully cooked return to medium heat and add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Simmer until all the water has evaporated (about 10 minutes).

The salsa and guacamole recipes are easy to make but have excellent flavor. They are also great to use just as a dip for chips.
Fresh Salsa

1 to 1/4 cup finely chopped tomato (about 3 Roma tomatos)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup bell pepper, any color 
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (long stems removed)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon each salt, freshly ground black pepper, cumin, and chipotle pepper
2 Tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving.

Easy Guacamole

1 avocado, mashed
1 Tablespoon lime or lemon juice
A pinch each salt, cumin, and chipotle pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh salsa (above), optional

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until serving.

This is one of my favorite dressings It's also great over regular salad. 

Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

3-4 Tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)*
3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro lives, long stems removed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 salt
1/4 pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Blend together in a blender or food processor until cilantro leaves are finely chopped. Refrigerate until serving.

*Lemon juice can be substituted for the lime when you don't have any limes. Obviously this would make it cilantro-lemon vinaigrette, but the flavor is still great.

And this is how it's done:

Method One:
lettuce (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped lettuce per person)
taco meat
cheese (about 1/4 cup per person)
fresh salsa
guacamole (optional)

Method Two:
lettuce (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped lettuce per person)
taco meat
cheese (about 1/4 cup per person)
chopped tomatoes 
(halved grape tomatoes add a sophisticated flavor)
cilantro-lime vinaigrette

(Each method serves 4-6 people, depending on how many extra toppings you have).

Suggested Extra Toppings:

sour cream*
Greek yogurt (a great way to add extra protein to the meal)*
chopped bell peppers
sliced black olives
corn - canned or frozen
chopped onion - white, red, or green onions
Beans - I usually use pinto beans because they are what refried 
beans are made of so it gives the salad that same flavor. 
Black beans or kidney beans would also work well.
tortilla chips (these may go without saying :-)

My recent salad prepared according to Method One, with added pinto beans, sour cream, and blue corn chips.
The cool thing about taco salad is all you have to have for the meal is the 4 things mentioned in the two methods. Have fun and experiment with various combinations! This is a great high-protein/low-carb meal that is super healthy and Nourishing Traditions approved by simply not having chips.

*It's important that your dairy is full fat, not reduced fat or fat free. Our bodies need the fat in dairy to be able to properly digest all of the nutrients. Additionally, reduced fat products usually add corn syrup or other starches (carbs!) and artificial flavorings to try to make up for the poorer quality of taste. In a future post I will share more details about why full-fat dairy is the most healthy choice.

(I will be reposting each of these recipes in separate posts so people can find them more easily in the future.)

Search terms:
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taco salad with vinaigrette
fresh salsa

1 comment:

  1. Delicious! I used chicken instead of ground beef, but was still yummy. Nice to have a healthier version!