Aside from fries, chips and dark chocolates, most of my comfort foods are made with ground meat. My mom has the most mouthwatering repertoire of ground meat dishes: cornburger and mashed potatoes, arroz ala (Tati) cubana, cream beef and bacon, spaghetti in tomato meat sauce, and taco salad.
Of these, taco salad is the healthiest (or so I would like to think) by virtue of the greens and other vegetable matter that it’s served with. It’s also one of the easiest, most-idiot proof things to cook—a one pot deal. It does involve some intensive chopping, but other than that, it’s a breeze to prepare.
I recently went to a shoot for a food magazine—or is it proper to say I was shot for a food magazine?—where a chef tweaked my taco salad recipe. Actually he upped and changed it, so it’s no longer my recipe. His is even healthier, and pretty delish—but it isn’t my comfort food.
Here, in all its calorie-laden glory, is my mom’s taco salad recipe.
What you’ll need:
For the taco meat sauce
- Half a head of garlic, minced
- 1 large red onion, diced
- 1 kg lean ground beef (you can also use a combination of beef and pork)
- 2 packs taco salad seasoning. I prefer Lawry’s, but it’s hard to find and a bit more expensive; McCormick is fine (if you make this dish often, it’s worth it to make your own taco seasoning; make a big batch and store it in an airtight container)
- 1-2 packs of the Hunts 250g plain tomato sauce. I like Hunts for cooking, but I suppose any other brand will do. I say 1-2 packs, because it really depends on how saucy you want your taco meat sauce to be.
- 1 box all-purpose cream
For the salad
- Your choice of salad greens. We like the Salad Times pack with arugula. In a pinch you can also use wombok; just remove the hard white part and chop finely.
- Tomatoes, deseeded and diced
- White onion, finely chopped
- Grated cheese. Cheddar would be great, but the boxed Eden-variety is fine
- Plain tortilla chips, nacho chips or broken taco shells. I use the plain Granny Goose tortilla chips, or the boxed Mexicana nacho chips. Tostitos Hint of Lime would be divine, but way expensive.
- Carrots, grated (optional)
- Cilantro, chopped (optional, but so worth putting in--makes the salad so fab)
- Sour cream (optional)
What to do:
Cook the taco meat sauce
- Sauté the garlic and onions.
- Add the meat and brown. Drain the excess fat.
- Add the tomato sauce (start with a pack, and add more if you want it saucier).
- Add the taco seasoning (ignore the directions on the pack…follow my recipe…your eyes are getting heavy…)
- Simmer. My mom says that the secret of the sauce is in the simmering (say that 10 times, fast). I figure you can simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When ready to serve, turn off the heat and add the cream. Mix.
Assemble the salad
When serving, I put the salad ingredients in interesting bowls, with serving spoons, then let people make their own salads, that way they can customize it to their taste. Just pile everything on, toss, and enjoy!
- You can make a big batch of sauce, or make it ahead of time, and freeze. Great for emergencies.
- You could also use the taco sauce on pasta, sort of a Mexican tomato meat sauce.
- We all have our taco salad assembly quirks. I prefer to put the greens, then the chips, followed by the meat sauce, then the cheese, and then everything else. That way, when I crush the chips, pieces don’t fly all over. And the cheese melts a bit on the hot meat sauce. My niece, Kylie, prefers to mix everything sans the chips, then she painstakingly spoons the mix on individual chips and eats it like an open taco.
- Kids usually like this because, hey, chips! They may not like the greens too much, which is why I sneak in the grated carrots.