Make-Ahead Taco Salad: Perfect for lunch or dinner

Great for lunch or dinner, vegetarians or omnivores!
The other day, I posted this on Facebook: Fact: Taco salad is the best salad. Not a single person dissented; many agreed quite vocally. Seriously, what’s not to love? Taco salad can feel somewhat virtuous (though frequently it’s far from it), it’s a little more kicky than your usual garden greens, and it’s fairly customizable. One complaint I often hear about eating salad for lunch is that you wind up hungry by 3pm. Not so with a taco salad! There’s so much happening in there, so many good, filling ingredients, that you’ll be satisfied till supper.

When I was growing up, we’d often have taco salad for dinner. Matthew and I loved this meal and happily ate it out of an enormous salad bowl in which Papa tossed everything together, but if you have fussy little ones, it’s easy to do individual plates of taco salad, omitting the undesirable ingredients as needed. Feeding a crowd? For heaven’s sake, make a taco salad! I’ve yet to meet a person who was not delighted by the appearance of a bowl of these Mexi-ish greens.

I was a vegetarian for about half my life, so I typically make this salad without any meat, but you can add in whatever you like. My Papa used to cook up seasoned ground beef to toss in, and if I like to make Mike really happy, I’ll sometimes grill up a marinated chicken breast to shred. But even without meat, it’s plenty filling and quick to make. Perhaps best of all, you can pack it for lunch (even pack it days before) and have the best lunch ever at the office. Below is my recipe to feed a family of four, but below the main recipe I have included tips and quantities for making two lunch-size portions (and how to pack them). I usually prep 2 dinner salads in big bowls and make leftover lunch salads at the same time with the full 4-serving quantities.

Basic Taco Salad

Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes | Serves: 4


6 tablespoons sour cream

6 tablespoons fresh salsa

3 tablespoons chili sauce (we like Heinz)

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce

Salt and pepper

12 to 16 ounces romaine lettuce, chopped

2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black or small pink beans (pinquitos), rinsed and drained

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (or 2 medium tomatoes, diced)

kernels from 2 cobs of corn (or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed)

1 large bell pepper, diced

4 scallions, sliced (or 1/2 white onion, diced)

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar, Colby Jack, or Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)

4 handfuls tortilla chips, lightly crushed into bite-size pieces

cooked taco meat or shredded cooked chicken breast, diced avocado, sliced black olives, cilantro leaves, toasted pepitas (optional)


  1. In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, salsa, chili sauce, cumin, and onion powder. Season to taste with Tabasco, salt, and pepper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, beans, tomatoes, corn, bell pepper, scallions, cheese, and dressing (along with any optional mix-ins). Divide among four plates and top with crushed chips.

For two lunch servings (note reduced quantities):

In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons sour cream; 3 tablespoons fresh salsa; 1.5 tablespoons chili sauce; 1/4 teaspoon chili powder; 1/8 teaspoon cumin; and 1/8 teaspoon onion powder. Season with Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Divide the dressing between two 4- or 6-cup storage containers with tight-fitting lids (we use yogurt tubs). Splitting quantities between the two containers, layer the following items in this order to prevent sogginess: a handful of diced tomatoes (about 6 grape tomatoes per container); 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained; kernels from 1 cob of corn (or 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed); 1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced; 2 scallions, sliced; 1/2 pound romaine lettuce, shredded (about 4 handfuls per container); 3/4 cup shredded cheese (3 ounces). Cheese always goes on top! In a small bag, pack a handful of chips (don’t worry about them getting crushed; you’ll be crushing them shortly anyway). Refrigerate. At lunchtime, shake like the dickens or toss in a bowl with crumbled chips. Enjoy the envious stares. [Note: The photo below shows the dressing kept separate, which you can also do. I just don’t have tiny containers like that anymore and I learned it’ll do fine in the base of your 4-cup container!]


  1. You can substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream, if you like.
  2. If you choose to include avocado in your make-ahead salad (I like to), dice it and toss it with some lime juice, then put it on the very bottom of your lunch container before you add the dressing. The dressing will blanket the avocado to protect it from the oxygen/keep it from browning.
  3. If you put shredded chicken in your lunch salad, pack it on top of the lettuce, like the cheese (ground meat can go on the bottom).

Pack it the right way and your salad will be perfect at lunchtime.

Restaurant-Style Tomato Salsa

Restaurant-Style Tomato Salsa

Yeah, I know Cinco de Mayo was on Saturday, but really, salsa didn’t become America’s favorite condiment based on one barely-understood holiday’s consumption alone. (According to Jerry Seinfeld, it’s America’s favorite condiment because people like to say “SAAAALSAAA.”) The thing about salsa is that it is, hands down, one of the easiest things to make. I’m not kidding you, screwing up salsa is very, very hard to do. I almost never make it the same way twice, because I’m always playing around with what I have on hand, and salsa really just means “sauce,” so you can have fruity salsas and chunky salsas and very smooth salsas and salsas with cheese in them and oh gosh, some folks even say guacamole is a kind of salsa. My mind is bended! What I’m saying is, your salsa can go in a lot of different directions, and it’s easy to fix mistakes, particularly in a fresh salsa.

I’m mainly a pico de gallo girl—those big chunks of tomato and onion really turn my crank—but a hand-chopped fresh salsa like that is admittedly not the best for chips. And chips, dear friends, are one way to make a casual hangout feel more like a party. My Papa makes a really delicious salsa cruda, and we always had a jar of it in our fridge at home, which I regularly plopped on some super-low-rent nachos and quesadillas when I got home from school. I think I once got in trouble for eating up one batch too quickly. I’ve fallen out of the habit of keeping homemade salsa around, but I think it’s time I bring it back. You can do it with me. This here is our salsa challenge. Let’s make salsa, friends! A mere ten minutes of work yields a vat that’ll feed the teeming millions. Don’t be scared of the yield. You can spoon it over grilled chicken or fish, tuck it into burritos or tacos, stir it into soups or beans, add it to the liquid when cooking rice, plop it on top of eggs or a baked potato…and of course, it pairs beautifully with all kinds of chips. (24 hours after I made this salsa, we had only a cup left.) Since I use canned tomatoes here, it can be made in any season and you’ll escape the menace of mealy, sad, pink tomatoes. Also, heat makes tomatoes even healthier; canned tomatoes give you more lycopene than fresh ones. Eat up!

What’s your favorite way to eat salsa? Are you a purist? Do you use salsa as a way to doctor up a dull meal? Tell me in the comments! I cook with salsa a lot, but if it’s in my fridge, I’m gonna buy a bag of chips because that duo is just too perfect. I have a sort of masochistic fondness for Xochitl chips, which are altogether too expensive and so fragile you’d swear they were made out of spun sugar. They’re lousy for a hearty salsa or guacamole, because they shatter into a thousand pieces, but they make a perfect pairing with a smooth, light one. This recipe is more akin to the not-too-chunky red tomato salsa you get in Mexican restaurants in the States. Make this for a gathering and watch the wave of “holy cow, you made this?” pass over your guests.

Oh, and a warning: Smart cooks wear rubber gloves when they handle hot peppers like jalapeños and poblanos. I’m not a smart cook, so I usually forget, but then I spend the rest of the night reminding myself not to touch my eyes. No matter how many times you wash your hands, those pepper oils’ll getcha. If you’re a contact lens wearer, be smarter than I usually am or get a buddy to do the pepper prep. I promise it’s worth it.

Restaurant-Style Tomato Salsa

Active time: 10 minutes  |  Total time: 20 minutes  |  Yield: 7 cups


1 poblano chile

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and green chiles (alternately, use 1 14.5-ounce can Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chiles)

1 jalapeño, quartered, seeded, roughly chopped

1/4 to 3/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 lime, juiced (about 1 tablespoon)


  1. Using long metal tongs, hold poblano over the flame of a gas burner, turning to char evenly on all sides. When pepper is charred (about 5 minutes), place in a glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap or a snug-fitting plate. Let rest 10 minutes. Rub charred skin off poblano with your hands or a dry paper towel and discard it. Slice pepper open, discard stems and seeds, and roughly chop flesh.
  2. Place garlic and onion in the bowl of a large food processor. Pulse a few times until no large pieces of garlic remain. Add poblano, tomatoes and juice, Ro-Tel, jalapeño, cilantro, sugar, salt, cumin, and lime juice. Pulse until desired consistency is achieved (about 10 pulses). Refrigerate in an airtight container at least 1 hour, then let come to room temperature before serving. (Store in an airtight container up to 1 week, if it lasts that long.)
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