Monday, January 11, 2010

Taco Salad

This is one of those old, easy standby recipes that I always rely on when I can't think of anything else to make. What makes this particular version extra-special is the chipotle ranch dressing. You can buy chipotles in adobo sauce (which are smoked jalapeno peppers canned in a spicy red sauce) at most grocery stores, but this is one of those tricky ingredients that you only use a little bit of at a time, so you always have some left over. Luckily, they are fairly well preserved in their natural spices, so they'll keep in your fridge for awhile. I've found several recipes that make great use of their unique, smoky flavor, like a veganized version of Rachel Ray's Caution Flag Chili, and I'm going to attempt a chipotle BBQ sauce in the near future.

My taco salads - for those of you unfamiliar with this bastardized Tex-Mex deliciousness - consist of romaine lettuce, black beans, grilled fajita vegetables, tortilla chips, and toppings like guacamole, salsa, and chipotle ranch dressing. I'll provide recipes for the guacamole and the chipotle ranch below, but everything else is pretty much up to you.

I usually do a couple different colors of bell peppers, onions, and a jalapeno pepper, and cook them briefly over very high heat to get that nice fajita char while still keeping a good crunch in the veggies. Mushrooms, zucchini, or carrots would also work nicely. I cooked the black beans in my brand-new pressure cooker, but canned would work just as well. You can use store-bought tortilla chips out of the bag, or you can fry up some strips of corn tortillas for a bolder taste. And for salsa, make your own if the season's right and you have the fixins - or, I really like 505.


NOTE: This recipe is made entirely "to taste," meaning the amount of cilantro, onion, and lime you add depends completely on the size of your avocados, freshness of the ingredients, and your personal preference. Start by blending in just a little of each ingredient; then taste, and add more if necessary. Raw, fresh cilantro and onion have pungent flavors, so you don't want to overdo them.

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • palmful of fresh cilantro
  • about 1/4 of a red onion
  • couple tbsp. of lime juice
  • salt

NOTE: If you have a food processor, it makes everything much easier. If not, you'll need lots of patience to chop the onion and cilantro very small.
  1. Peel and pit the avocados, and toss them in your food processor.
  2. Pull the leaves from the stems of the cilantro, and toss about half into the food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. Taste, and add more cilantro as desired, blending until smooth again.
  3. Roughly chop about 1/4 of a red onion, and toss about half into the food processor. Blend until smooth, taste, and add more as desired.
  4. Add about a teaspoon of salt, blend, and taste. Add more as desired.
  5. Add about a tablespoon of lime juice, blend, and taste. Add more as desired.
By the end of this process, you should have guacamole that's so tasty, you have to stop yourself from just digging in with a spoon. Play with the flavors until you get a blend you like.

Vegan Chipotle Ranch
Adapted from Vegan Chipotle Ranch on The Palatial Palate
  • 1 pkg. silken tofu
  • 1-1/2 c. vegannaise
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1/4 c. fresh cilantro, torn into pieces
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 chipotles in adobo sauce
  1. Blend all ingredients in a food processor until creamy and smooth.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, to give spices a chance to marry.
This yields a ridiculous amount of dressing, like 4 or 5 cups. It also turned out a little thick for my tastes: it's too thick to pour. Next time I make it, I will omit the tofu and cut down on the spices a little, to make a thinner dressing and less of it.

Now, just toss some romaine lettuce and black beans with a couple spoonfuls of dressing, top with fajita veggies, crunchy tortilla strips, guacamole, and salsa, and enjoy!

Happy eating.

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