Saturday, June 14, 2014

Taco Salads

“Plates or bowls?” Jean queried.

“Definitely bowls,” I responded.

This was the brief, yet definitive exchange I had with my friend as I put the final touches on the inventory of ingredients for taco salads.  There’s something infinitely satisfying about a smattering of ingredients heaped in a bowl, waiting to be mixed up and scooped up.  There’s no risk of a stray bean or avocado cube falling over the edge; you can enjoy with reckless abandon. 

Due to rising summer temperatures and a busy schedule, I have been seeking out quick meals, and this taco salad certainly fits the bill.  This is actually the second time I’ve made it in two weeks (the first time, my comrades and I were too hungry to pause for the photography process, which necessitated another production). I can say with authority that it can easily be compiled in twenty minutes. Despite its expedited preparation, this taco salad is elevated from a mere weeknight meal to something more worthy of your attention, with just a few simple touches. 
The foundational elements are aligned with any taco salad: chopped romaine, shredded cheddar, and seasoned ground beef.  I used an improvised version of my taco filling from a previous post.  The linked recipe could certainly be adhered to, but this meal is pretty forgiving.  Simply brown some lean ground beef in a skillet, and season with any taco-ish seasonings you have on hand, until it smells and tastes delicious.  The usual suspects showed up in mine: cumin, chile powder, red pepper flakes, and coriander.  Less conventional items like smoked paprika and dried Italian herbs also had cameo roles; essentially, anything goes. 

ingredients for salsa vinaigrette
I then made a simple vinaigrette with salsa as the base.  I used a smoky poblano salsa, but anything will do as long as it’s not chunky.  The texture of chunky salsa is a little weird for a dressing.  Add some fresh limejuice, a dash of vinegar, and olive oil, and the result is a simple, tasty vinaigrette.  Black beans, cubed avocado, and fresh corn add dimension.  You could pick one, and add it to the cheese/lettuce/beef/salsa vinaigrette backdrop, and you would have a complete meal; or you can use all three and have an elevated eating experience.  The corn is crucial, and do take the time to get fresh corn, and shuck it from the cob.  The sweet, starchy crunch is well worth the minimal effort, and ‘tis the season for fresh corn; frozen corn could never do it justice.  I layered all of my ingredients in big bowls, and finished it off with an extra spoonful of salsa and a dollop of sour cream.  The finished product resembles a savory Tex-Mex sundae; it’s crunchy and refreshing, yet hearty and satisfying.  Overall, a delightful summer meal.

Taco Salads (makes 3-4 servings)

1 lb. lean ground beef, prepared with taco seasonings (see this recipe for ideas)
2 hearts of romaine, cleaned and chopped
2 ears of corn, shucked from the cob
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 pound shard cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
1 lime (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sour cream

-       Prepare vinaigrette by mixing a quarter cup of store bought salsa with the juice of one lime and 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  Whisk in enough olive oil to create a smooth emulsion.  Taste and add more vinegar or lime if more acidity is needed.  (A dash or two of a smoky hot sauce, like Chipotle Cholula or Tabasco is also a nice touch.)
-       Prepare the remaining ingredients.
-       Add a couple of handfuls of lettuce to each bowl and spoon over some of the vinaigrette. 
-       Top with corn, black beans, seasoned ground beef, shredded cheese, and avocado.  Add an extra spoon of salsa and some sour cream, if desired for garnish.

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