Do you know the Catalina Taco Salad? Google tells me it also goes by other names such as Frito Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing. It's the crispy, sweet and tangy salad made with tomato-based Catalina dressing and all the elements of a crispy taco; corn chips (Fritos), lettuce, tomato, onion, cheddar cheese, pinto/black beans, tomato and ground meat. If you're American you might have stumbled across it at some point, most likely in the 80s and 90s. ;-) Though I have no idea its origin story -- maybe created by KRAFT foods to sale their Catalina dressing? -- it reminds me of that era of cooking.
If you're not American, none of this matters. All you need to know is I've got you covered with the most delicious (upgraded!) version of this retro taco salad.
My version is loaded with pinto beans, avocado, cilantro, crumbled and spiced tempeh, romaine lettuce (use any sturdy leaf lettuce or Conehead cabbage if needed), feta, and pumpkin seeds. It's all brought together with a sweet and tangy homemade Catalina dressing made with ketchup and apple cider vinegar (yep!). This is a great weeknight dinner, relying heavily on pantry staples and your everyday produce. It also happens to be the salad my mom would always make the day after Thanksgiving as a Mexican-ish antidote to the holiday flavors.
Until last week, I hadn’t been to my mom's for Thanksgiving in 8 years. But one day last month when I was combining leftover beans, crumbled tempeh, lettuce, feta, avocado and pumpkin seeds in a salad, the memory of this retro taco salad came flooding back. I knew the missing element to my salad was the Catalina dressing. I set to work making a quick homemade replica of the dressing and realized I essentially had THE taco salad on my hands….er, in my bowl.
So here it is for you to try. Whether you know this salad already or you're wondering whether a ketchup-based dressing is even legit, trust me on this one. You'll love it!
A Really Good Taco Salad
Notes: Recipe calls for romaine lettuce. Another sturdy leaf lettuce or Conehead cabbage also works well. Cherry tomatoes are not shown in the photos but they're included in the recipe and an important fresh component to the salad. If you plan to enjoy leftovers the next day, leave out the pumpkin seeds and add to individual plates after serving.
2 heads romaine lettuce, chopped
Couple handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 medium red onion, diced (or pickled onions)
1 small bunch (20 gr.) cilantro, roughly chopped
1-15 oz (425 gr.) can pinto beans (or black beans), rinsed and drained
1/3 cup (45 gr.) pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 avocado, diced
Feta, crumbled, to taste
Spiced Tempeh Crumbles (recipe below)
Catalina Dressing (recipe below)
Cook tempeh and make Catalina dressing.
In a large mixing bowl (preferably deep and wide), layer in lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. Add tempeh and toss to combine. Give the dressing another stir. Add half to salad along with beans, pumpkin seeds, avocado, and feta. Gently toss again, adding more dressing as needed.
Spiced Tempeh Crumbles
Notes: Recipe calls for chili powder. I like to sub in half smoked paprika or use all chipotle chili powder for extra smoke.
1 Tbsp. ghee
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8-10 oz (227 -280 gr) package of tempeh
2 tsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (120 gr.) frozen corn
Place a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add ghee and olive oil. Once melted, break off sections of the tempeh block and use your fingers to crumble it into the pan. Stir to coat in oil, cook on one side for a few minutes (~2), until it's beginning to pick up some color.
Stir in spices and salt. Reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring only occasionally, until browned on all sides (~2-3 more minutes). Add more ghee or a splash of water if pan is too dry. In the final minute, stir in corn to defrost and warm through.
1/4 cup (60 ml) ketchup
1/4 cup (60 ml) apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
A few pinches of salt
Mix everything together in small bowl. Set aside.