Do you love tacos? Of course, we do too! Our founder herself will tell you she’s been going through a taco phase since her baby teeth came in. From soft to hard shell, traditional to creative, meat-filled to meatless, and the infamous taco salad, she’s tried just about every type of taco preparation there is.
Unfortunately, our beloved comfort food has a reputation for being “bad.” Thanks to the fast-food industry, tacos are generally perceived as greasy, fatty, salty junk food.
But are tacos really all that bad? Or have we just received bad advice?
Truth is something that tastes so good doesn’t have be as bad as it’s made out to be. As with most foods, we believe tacos are what you make of them, so we put our own nutritional spin on traditional tacos. This quick, easy and unbelievably healthy taco salad recipe is a good reminder that every bowl is an opportunity to build a new layer of wellness.
Tex-Mex inspired and made with lean meat, tons of fresh veggies, high-quality grains and legumes, our taco salad bowl is packed with enough protein, good fats and fiber to keep you feeling full, well-nourished and completely satisfied throughout the day.
THE BALANCING ACT
Here at That Salad Lady, we’re all about inclusivity. From keto to vegetarian to flexitarian diets, we welcome all types of eating styles. While we believe every whole food is unique and brings something special to the salad bowl, it can be modified for your needs. Since it’s a “salad,” we pack it with lots of leafy green vegetables but the recipe itself includes a little something from every whole food group.
If you’re watching your weight or carb intake, it probably won’t take long for you to notice that two starchy ingredients are included in the recipe – corn (a grain) and black beans (classified as legumes). Starchy foods have long been an enemy of weight-loss seekers as they tend to drive up calorie and carb counts. Though these foods aren’t “allowed” in certain diets, it doesn’t mean they lack nutrition.
Corn, for instance, aids in good digestion as it’s high in fiber. Additionally, the starch housed in beans is slow-burning starch, which means it’s “slowly” digested in a way that helps reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. As with many whole foods, the key to eating starches lies in portion control.
Below we suggest sensible portions of corn and beans – just enough to complement the savory flavors of all the other ingredients (which aren’t as controversial). If you’re following a particular diet and choose to leave the starches out, we promise you’ll still have an enjoyable eating experience. However, if your diet is more all-inclusive, by all means, leave them in.
So, what’s in the taco salad bowl recipe and why?
A Bunch of Leafy Green Goodness
While leafy green vegetables are just a topping for traditional tacos, here we use them as more of a base. We also go with darker leafy green varieties, as opposed to the more commonly used iceberg lettuce. The darker the leaves, the more nutrient-rich the greens.
For a classic taco salad experience, we suggest using chopped romaine lettuce, as it’s crispy, crunchy and very flavorful. While not as dark as kale or spinach, compared to iceberg, romaine contains nearly double the carotenoids (including beta-carotene) and four times the amount of Vitamin K (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more).
To add more variety, you can also use whole romaine leaves and make inside-out taco salad wraps. If you roll with wraps, we will even suggest switching up the flavor altogether by using butter lettuce. Also known as “Boston” or “Bibb” lettuce, butter lettuce has a sweet “buttery” flavor with soft, tender leaves. Given its relatively mild taste, it’s a great choice for the kiddos or your biggest salad skeptics.
Meat and Cheese: What Makes Tacos Tacos
A good combination of meat and cheese is what Tex-Mex tacos are made of.
Feel Free to Choose Your Own Meat
As opposed to the commonly used ground beef, we choose ground turkey for our taco salad recipe. However, our choice of turkey over beef isn’t necessarily about nutrition – it’s more about taste. Contrary to popular belief, given the same lean-to-fat ratio, neither turkey nor beef are distinctly healthier than the other as both offer a good supply of high-quality protein, fat and micronutrients.
For this recipe, we specifically suggest 93% lean (7% fat) ground turkey, which essentially means the meat has a lean-to-fat-ratio of 93/7. The higher the leanness, the lower the saturated fat content. While saturated fat isn’t inherently harmful, we do recommend limiting it in cases where it doesn’t compromise the flavor and texture of your recipes.
Although ground beef and turkey are nutritionally similar, their flavor profiles are a bit different. The flavor of beef tends to be stronger than that of turkey – many would say that turkey is pretty “bland.” But it’s that relative bland flavor of ground turkey that makes it the perfect choice for this taco salad bowl.
Since the taste of turkey isn’t overpowering, you’ll experience all the different flavors of the other ingredients. Ground chicken breast offers a similar taste profile to that of ground turkey so you can swap out the turkey for chicken if you wish. Now, if you just like the taste of beef, definitely stick with it. Just choose a ‘leaner’ version with a similar ratio like “93/7” (or 93% lean) and you’re good to go.
Whether you use turkey, chicken or beef, with our taco seasoning (see below), you probably won’t even notice the difference. Our simple blend of chili powder, paprika, cumin and many other herbs and spices reeks “authenticity” – and you’ll do without the preservatives in pre-packaged mixes.
We Say Cheddar for the Better
As for cheese, our taco salad recipe includes cheddar, which is more of an American pairing. Full-fat or reduced-fat cheddar? The choice is yours! Depending on your eating style, fat could be a friend or foe. Aside from different fat compositions, there’s really not much of a different in their nutritional profiles. Both are great sources of protein, calcium and other nutrients.
Reduced-fat cheddars generally have a hard, somewhat rubbery texture and typically don’t have that classic “aged” flavor. Again, it’s up to you! We want you to be confident in your eating decisions.
Berry Savory and Berry Sweet Fruits
Avocados and tomatoes are synonymous with Tex-Mex cuisine. We totally understand why as the deliciously savory and sweet flavors of these berries really balance each other out. Surprise! Both the avocado and tomato are classed as berry fruits. And, aside from the rich flavors both berries bring to this taco salad, they each offer superior nutrition.
Whereas most fruits primarily contain carbs, avocados are loaded with good quality fats. Then there is the tomato, which is packed full of vitamin C and countless other health-promoting nutrients. We use grape tomatoes for this salad bowl but cherry, vine or Roma tomatoes also work – and they’re equally nutritious.
Grains and Beans: The Perfect Pairing
If you want to make this taco salad recipe a “meat-free” experience, you can easily remove the ground turkey and just enjoy the corn and bean combo. In doing so, you’ll get a hefty dose of fiber, B vitamins and valuable minerals along with all the essential amino acids you need to build high-quality protein.
Though corn is usually considered a starchy vegetable it is actually a grain. Grains and beans are indeed a protein power couple (check our Nutrition Glossary to learn why). Not to mention the collective soft and buttery, mild and creamy flavors each brings to the salad bowl.
For convenience’s sake, we suggest using frozen corn and canned black beans for this taco salad bowl. No worries, the overall nutritional quality of both is well preserved. Just choose canned black beans that are low in sodium or free of added sodium – organic too if you can spring for it. For the frozen corn, a small microwavable pack that cooks in the bag will do as it’ll deliver all the sweetness of fresh.
We also include corn tortilla strips as an optional ingredient. Not much nutrition added here, but they’re crunchy, tasty and add yummy texture to the blend. Gotta have a little fun sometimes!
Alliums, Peppers and Spices for the Win
Less recognized by their classification, allium vegetables include red onion and scallions (green onions), both of which we suggest for our taco salad recipe. Not only are red and green onions excellent flavor enhancers, but they’re also nutritional powerhouses (check out our Nutrition Glossary to learn more about these and other alliums).
And, finally, we top off the taco salad with fresh jalapeño pepper and cilantro. No taco salad is complete without them.
Besides packing in flavorful, spicy punch, jalapeños contain a natural chemical called capsaicin. Due to capsaicin, the jalapeño pepper is a known thermogenic food. Thermogenic foods cause brief spikes in metabolism. These spikes naturally help boost your body’s ability to burn fat.
Cilantro comes with some capsaicin as well, as does our spice-heavy taco seasoning blend. We also include a salsa yogurt dressing as an option. If you choose to make it, you’ll get in even capsaicin!
Cooking is only required for a few ingredients: (1) ground turkey, (2) black beans and (3) corn. But it’s very simple and straightforward, especially since you’ve probably prepared at least one at some point or another.
The recipe calls for first browning the ground turkey in a hot, lightly greased skillet or pan. As the meat browns, grab a small bowl and mix all ingredients for the taco seasoning (see recipe card). Once the meat has browned, you’ll add 3-4 tablespoons of the seasoning blend (or more to taste) along with water to cover and then bring everything to a boil.
From there, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the mixture for about 4-5 minutes with occasional stirring until the moisture absorbs into the meat. That’s it for the meat.
Then there are the canned black beans, which only require a little heating. In a small skillet or pan, just empty all contents from the can. Include the liquid too as there’s a lot of flavor in it. Bring the beans to a boil and then simmer them on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and tender. This should only take a few minutes.
The frozen corn is the easiest to prepare since it cooks right in the bag. Simply place the bag in the microwave for 5-7 minutes and you’re done.
If you have canned corn, just heat the corn on the stovetop for 4-5 minutes. Like canned beans, canned corn also retains its nutritional quality.
GET YOUR CHOP ON
The taco salad recipe calls for chopping all the fresh ingredients including the romaine lettuce (if using), tomatoes, onions, jalapeño pepper and avocado.
If using grape tomatoes (as per the recipe) just slice those in half. You can then dice the red onions into small sections and cut the green onions and pepper crosswise into slices. We suggest chopping everything but the avocado in one take as avocado tastes best when it’s freshly cut. You can either chop the avocado into small chunks or cut it into thin wedges.
Once the veggies and fruits are chopped up, set them aside until you’re ready to eat/serve the taco salad.
In addition to combining ingredients for our taco seasoning mix, the recipe also calls for blending the salsa yogurt dressing. We suggest using plain Greek-style yogurt for this optional dressing, which tastes almost exactly like sour cream. Greek-style yogurt is also incredibly high in protein, calcium and health-promoting probiotics.
The ingredients for the dressing are super easy to come by (see recipe card). We’re sure you’ll appreciate the rich, creamy flavor to complement the salad.
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
Once all the cooked and fresh ingredients are prepared, you’re ready to build your taco salad bowl.
If you’re using chopped romaine lettuce for the classic taco salad experience, spread it out in a large bowl or on a large plate and then add layers of seasoned meat, shredded cheese, beans, corn, onions, avocado (chunks), tomato and jalapeño pepper. You can then add the salsa yogurt dressing between layers or on top of the blend.
Finally, season the salad to taste with black pepper and garnish the finished blend with cilantro and sprinkles of tortilla strips if using.
If you plan to make wraps instead – with either romaine or butter lettuce leaves – evenly distribute and place the seasoned meat filling into 2-3 layered leaves and top them off with equal portions of cheese, beans, corn, onions, avocado (slices), tomato and jalapeño pepper. Once your leaves are stuffed, top them with dressing and cilantro.
This healthy taco salad is large enough for six deliciously filling servings. With a salad bowl that’s packed full of protein, good fats and fiber, you’ll get plenty of nutrition bang for your buck. Depending on your eating style, you can double your portions and eat less meals or store leftovers in the fridge for 2-3 days.
For leftovers, simply arrange your meat and all other ingredients in their own sections on a serving plate or in a to-go container, include a separate container of dressing, and you’ve got yourself a quick and convenient meal.
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.