Monday, February 17, 2014

Weeknight Wonder: Taco Salads

I love to cook. I really do. But not necessarily every. single. night. Especially after a particularly busy day at work. Or when we've got to eat quick and get out the door for our weekly trivia night. Some nights I have a million other things that need to get done. Then there's those nights when I just want to make time for other creative pursuits (like this afghan that's still not finished!). There are lots of different reasons for not having time to prepare an elaborate or time consuming meal. But I try not to let those reasons become excuses for not having a delicious meal with at least some nutritional merit. The best way to do that, I've found, is to have an arsenal of quick and easy meals for those occasions.

One of my favorite meals for busy nights is taco salads.

There are so many reasons that we love this meal:
  • We almost always have the ingredients on hand. 
  • It's a great way to use up any produce you've got languishing in the fridge.
  • It's super fast to throw together. 
  • It's got tons of flavor.
  • It's a great alternative to the standard taco night because it includes a lot more veggies.
  • It's customizable. Everyone can have their salad exactly the way they want it and you don't have to cook separate meals to satisfy picky eaters. 
  • It's fun! We don't have kids, but we're young at heart. We love to set out all the different fixings and pick and choose what we want on our salads.

The list goes on and on! The other great thing about this meal is you really don't need a recipe for it. You can put pretty much anything you want on it. Just start with romaine or iceberg lettuce and let your imagination guide you from there! Here's some ideas for your salad toppings:
  • Ground turkey or beef (see below for our favorite taco seasoning). We pre-cook a big batch of meat ahead of time and portion it out for the freezer. This makes the prep time even shorter!
  • Black beans or pinto beans. If you want to make this a vegetarian salad just skip the meat and season your beans instead.
  • Fresh tomatoes. Cherry or grape tomatoes taste great in this salad.
  • Corn. Canned or frozen works but if you're having this in the summer, fresh corn cut off the cob takes this salad to a whole new level of delicious. 
  • Fresh or grilled zucchini.
  • Shredded carrots.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Fresh or pickled jalapenos if you like things spicy. 
  • Red onion.
  • Avocado or guacamole.
  • Shredded cheese.
  • Sour cream. 
  • Your favorite salsa. 
Another thing that makes this salad much healthier is that it really doesn't need dressing. Between the seasoning on the meat and the salsa, this salad has plenty of flavor and is wet enough that it doesn't feel like you're just eating a pile of leaves.

You can of course use your favorite store-bought taco seasoning, but it's almost as fast to just whip up your own. Here's the recipe for our favorite mix.
  • 2     tsp chili powder
  • 2/ tsp paprikia
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin
  • ¾    tsp onion powder
  • ¾    tsp garlic powder
  • 1     tsp cornstarch
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
This will season one pound of meat. Brown your ground beef or turkey then drain the fat. Mix the seasoning with 1/2 cup of cold water and add to the meat. Simmer until the mixture thickens. 

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