Mexican Salad is the perfect side to practically everything or make it a complete meal with chicken!
This Mexican Salad is far more delicious than any restaurant and serves a crowd at a fraction of the price! It’s fresh, filling, flavorful, gluten-free, loaded with vegetables and drizzled with intoxicating Cilantro Lime Dressing. You will want to do douse the dressing on EVERYTHING, guaranteed. This Mexican Salad recipe is bursting smokey grilled sweet corn, crunchy red bell peppers, juicy tomatoes, hearty black beans, salty pepitas, creamy avocados, fresh romaine lettuce, kicking Pepper Jack cheese and crispy tortilla strips. You can dress this Mexican Salad up or down by adding chili lime chicken, chipotle chicken or cilantro lime chicken or more or less of your favorite ingredients to make it YOUR favorite Mexican Salad!
MEXICAN SALAD RECIPE
I am always on the hunt for fresh side salads like Greek Orzo Pasta Salad, Broccoli Salad, Green Bean Salad, Grape Salad, Corn Salad, and Cucumber Tomato Salad and now I’m excited to introduce you to this Mexican Salad recipe!
This Mexican Salad recipe is hearty, savory, fresh, creamy, flavorful, healthy and irresistibly crunchy AKA deeply satisfying. It’s loaded with a bright rainbow of textures and veggies with the lettuce more of an afterthought, AKA my kind of salad that will actually have you craving salad!
More reasons you’ll love this Mexican Salad recipe:
- Quick and easy. This Mexican Salad can be made super quickly with store-bought tortilla strips/chips and store-bought roasted salted pepitas and you can skip grilling the corn – just slice it directly off of the cob OR you have the option to make these items yourself – up to you!
- Make ahead. You can assemble the Mexican Salad and make the dressing ahead of time and store in the refrigerator so it’s all ready for lunch, dinner or potlucks without the last-minute hustle.
- Texture heaven. I learned a long time ago that the best salads have TONS of texture. Every salad needs a nut or seed (pepitas), crunchy veggies (LOTS of them) and cheese (Pepper Jack). In addition, this Mexican Salad boasts salty, crunchy tortilla strips for a symphony of textures in every bite.
- Versatile. You can add more or less of your favorite veggies or swap in your favorite veggies or whatever you have on hand. You can add chicken, carne asada or any other protein to make it a complete meal, or leave it as for the most satisfying side salad of your life.
- Crowd pleaser. EVERYONE loves this Mexican Salad! It’s a favorite dish for potlucks, pool parties, picnics and HOME!
- Best Dressing. You will go crazy over the dressing! It’s irresistibly creamy, tangy, punchy and makes everything better. Best of, all it only takes 5 minutes to whip up in your blender and can be made days ahead of time.
INGREDIENTS FOR MEXICAN SALAD
- Romaine lettuce: I love how crunchy romaine is but you can also use half romaine, half iceberg lettuce or your favorite spring mix. When using lettuce, discard any flimsy outer leaves for the crunchiest lettuce. If you use Romaine hearts, use 8-10 cups worth.
- Corn. You will need two ears sweet corn on the cob. You can slice the kernels directly off of the cob OR char them for an amped up layer of smoky, juicy YUM like I do in my Corn Salsa and Avocado Corn Salsa recipes (instructions to follow). I highly promote fresh corn in the spring/summer months but you can get away with using canned or frozen corn in the winter. If using canned corn, take care to rinse and drain it first. If using frozen corn, you don’t need to thaw it before you add it to the hot skillet to char.
- Red Bell pepper: I use red bell pepper because it is sweeter than other colors, but feel free to substitute for whatever color bell pepper you have on hand.
- Tomatoes. Please use grape or cherry tomatoes because they the best texture. They have less watery flesh than Roma tomatoes and are the perfect bite-size juicy morsels when halved. Cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape tomatoes, so aim for cherry if you can.
- Cucumbers. I use English cucumbers so you don’t have to bother peeling them, but you may also substitute with a peeled, slicing cucumber.
- Red onion. I like the fresh pop of red onion but you may also use green onions. If you’re not a fan of raw red onions, you can submerge them in a bowl ice water for 10 minutes to tame the zing. Make sure to dry well before adding to the salad.
- Avocados. You can add sliced or chopped avocados for a satisfying creamy burst to complement the crunchy textures. Make sure you use ripe avocados but not overly ripe or they will turn to mush. To tell if an avocado is ripe, squeeze it gently. A ripe avocado should yield slightly to pressure but not feel overly soft. If your avocados ripen before you are ready to use them, they can be stored in the refrigerator which will dramatically slow down the ripening process. For more detailed information on how to select avocados, see my guacamole recipe.
- Black Beans. You may also substitute red kidney beans, pinto beans etc. No matter what bean you use, rinse and dry them first.
- Pepitas. If you aren’t familiar with pepitas, they are pumpkin seeds. I purchase my seeds in the bulk bins at Sprouts. You may also substitute with sunflower seeds but you will need to roast for less time. For this Mexican Salad recipe, you can use roasted, salted pepitas and skip the oven roasting step OR use raw pepitas and roast them with chili powder and salt – so good!
- Cheese. I love the addition of pepper Jack Cheese to this Mexican Salad. It adds cheesy, creaminess with a hint of heat. You may also use Mexican cheese blend, but next time, go for the buttery pepper Jack!
- Tortilla Strips. And of course, no Mexican Salad would be complete without chips – AKA tortilla strips. I’m all about adding chips to a salad under the guise of tortilla strips. Brilliant. You can also easily make your own tortilla strips like I do in my Chicken Tortilla Soup, or you can purchase tortilla strips for salad which are usually located near/at the end of the produce aisles. I particularly love the Santé Fe Style tortilla strips from Fresh gourmet. You can also use your favorite tortilla chips or even spicy or flavored tortilla chips to mix up the flavor profile.
Can I Add Chicken?
Absolutely! You can turn this Mexican Salad into Mexican Chicken Salad by adding any of the following:
- Rotisserie chicken tossed with taco seasoning
- Mexican chicken
- Crockpot Mexican chicken
- Chipotle chicken
- Chili lime chicken
- Cilantro lime chicken
- Chicken Tinga
You can prep the chicken ahead of time so it’s ready to throw on your salad at a second’s notice.
Can I Add Different Veggies?
Of course! You can add more of the veggies you love or swap some of the veggies for your favorites such as jicama, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.
Can I Make it Spicy?
To make this Mexican Salad recipe with more of a kick, use two jalapenos in the dressing or add jalapenos or pickled jalapenos directly to the salad.
HOW TO CHAR CORN FOR MEXICAN SALAD
For this Mexican Salad, you can use corn straight off the cob or you can grill it. I love grilling corn because it results in deeply sweet, succulent, smoky corn, instead of just sweet corn. If you don’t have time, don’t worry about it, if you do, you will LOVE it!
You can char your corn directly on the grill (no foil needed) or you can sizzle it a hot cast iron skillet. Here is how:
TO GRILL CORN ON THE COB:
- Peel the corn
- Remove all the silk
- Lightly brush all over with olive oil
- Season with salt and pepper on all sides
- Grease and heat grill to high heat
- Grill corn over direct heat for 10-12 minutes, turning until lightly charred on all sides, closing the lid in between rotations.
TO CHAR CORN IN A SKILLET:
If you don’t have corn on the cob or have access to a grill, you can still char frozen, canned, or fresh corn in a cast iron skillet:
- Heat one tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat.
- Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char, approximately 5 minutes (a few minutes longer if frozen)
- Transfer kernels to a large bowl to cool so they don’t continue to cook.
MEXICAN SALAD DRESSING
I chose to adorn this Mexican Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing because it is epically delicious. I have already use it in my Shrimp Burrito Bowls and Taco Salad recipes because it simply doesn’t get any better. I love the dressing so much I always look forward to leftovers to douse my burritos, tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, eggs, etc. in. I’m pretty certain you will love it too.
This Cilantro Lime Dressing is lusciously smooth, creamy, tangy zippy, sassy, and of course, cilantro-y, lime-y, ranch-y. It marries all the flavors and textures together of the salad, requires less than 5 minutes to make in your blender and it can be made days ahead of time. You will need:
INGREDIENTS FOR MEXICAN SALAD DRESSING:
- Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt. I prefer sour cream in this Cilantro Lime Dressing recipe but Greek yogurt works well because we are making a tangy dressing. If the dressing is too tangy by using Greek yogurt, add a teaspoon or so of honey. Fat-free sour cream or yogurt both work great as well, just don’t use regular yogurt because it is not nearly as thick as Greek yogurt.
- Mayonnaise. Provides the creamy base of the dressing and binds all of the ingredients together.
- Tomatillos. Tomatillos look like green, unripe tomatoes with a dry, leafy husk that wraps around the outside. You will remove the outer husks, wash and dry the tomatillos then roughly chop the tomatillos before adding to your blender. If you aren’t sure where the tomatillos are at your grocery store, ask someone! They are super easy to use and SO good infusing the dressing with their bright tanginess.
- Jalapeno. Use 1-2 jalapenos. Remove the seeds but do not discard them. I like to taste the dressing after I’ve made it and add additional seeds for more heat. If you don’t have jalapenos on hand you can add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Fresh Cilantro: You can use the leaves and the stems because the stems contain a lot of flavor and are going to get blended anyway.
- Garlic: Fresh garlic is fantastic but you can substitute with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Lime Juice. You can use fresh or bottled lime juice and use more or less to taste.
- Seasonings. You can use dry ranch seasoning mix or a DIY ranch made from: dried parsley, dried chives, dried dill, onion powder, salt and pepper.
Other Mexican salad dressing options
Although Cilantro Lime dressing is our favorite for this Mexican Salad, it is also tasty with three other options as well which might be your favorite depending on your mood. Here’s a breakdown of your other options and why you’ll love each one:
- Tomatillo Avocado Ranch: is not only made with tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime but avocados! It’s like a velvety avocado ranch with a Mexican fiesta flair.
- Creamy Salsa Avocado Dressing. is made with avocados, salsa, jalapenos, cilantro sour cream, lime juice, for a creamy symphony of flavor.
- Baja Catalina Dressing: isn’t just any Catalina Dressing, it is BAJA Catalina Dressing with cilantro, lime, garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, etc.
HOW TO MAKE MEXICAN SALAD
- Make dressing. Add sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, tomatillos, garlic, lime, jalapeno and seasonings to your blender and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down as needed. The dressing tastes best chilled before serving so place it in the freezer if serving soon or the fridge if you have a little time.
- Roast pepitas and tortilla strips. As detailed earlier, this step is optional. You can also purchase store-bought roasted salted pepitas and tortilla strips-but homemade is SO good. To make, cut tortillas into ½-inch strips. (I stack them all together and use my pizza cutter.)
Add tortilla strips and toss with vegetable oil. Push to one side of the pan and arrange strips in a single layer; season with freshly cracked salt.
Add pepitas to the other side of the pan. Toss with olive oil, chili powder and salt. Arrange in a single layer. Bake at 425 degrees F for 12-16 minutes or until tortillas are light golden brown
- Char corn. Time permitting, char the corn on your grill or in a cast iron skillet per aforementioned directions.
- Add salad ingredients to large bowl. Add romaine lettuce, corn, black beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, red onions, tomatoes, cheese, and pepitas to a large bowl and toss to combine.
- Toss salad with dressing. Drizzle salad with desired amount of dressing or drizzle dressing over individual servings if not eating all of the salad immediately.
- Garnish. Top Mexican Salad or individual servings with crunchy tortilla strips and pepitas.
HOW DO I SERVE MEXICAN SALAD?
There are three ways to serve this easy Mexican Salad:
- If you don’t expect or want leftovers: add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl except for tortilla chips and toss with desired amount of dressing. Add tortilla chips when ready to serve.
- If you expect leftovers: add all of the salad ingredients to a large bowl except the tortilla strips and avocados. Let individuals dress their own salad plates with dressings, avocados and tortilla chips.
- Create a taco salad bar: line up all of the ingredients in separate serving bowls and let guests assemble their own Mexican Salad.
Tips for Best Mexican Salad Recipe
- Leftover protein. Add almost any leftover protein to the salad to instantly turn it into a complete lunch or dinner.
- Time saving tips. You can use pre-chopped Romaine lettuce, pre-shredded Pepper Jack cheese, roasted salted pepitas and store-bought tortilla strips or chips.
- Prep the taco salad dressing first. The Cilantro Lime Dressing is very best chilled – no one wants lukewarm dressing! Plan on making the dressing earlier in the day and refrigerating it or pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes before serving if you’re running low on time.
- Customize taco salad. All of the ingredients are just a guideline. You can use more or less of each ingredient, add other vegetables or omit some completely. The ingredient list is up to you to make it YOUR favorite Mexican Salad!
- Prep ahead. This Mexican Salad requires a lot of chopping but the good news you can break up the chopping by doing some now and some later or you can prep all of the ingredients ahead of time for an easy recipe win that comes together in minutes (directions to follow).
- Don’t dress salad. Wait to drizzle the dressing on the Mexican salad dressing until you’re ready to serve. Don’t dress the entire salad unless you don’t expect leftovers because dressed salad will become soggy.
- Hold avocados. If you’re anticipating leftovers, you may want to omit the avocados from the salad and use them as a topping so they don’t brown upon storage.
MEXICAN SALAD RECIPE VARIATIONS
This Mexican Salad is extremely customizable. Here are a few recipe variations:
- Add olives. They offer a delectable tanginess if olives are your thing.
- Pickled jalapenos. Are fabulous if you love SPICY, otherwise, you might want to serve them as an optional topping.
- Add other veggies. Roasted sweet potatoes, roasted butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, etc.
- Add fruit. Pineapple, mangos or clementine oranges offer a pop of fresh, juicy sweetness that cuts through the creaminess of the Cilantro Lime Dressing. If you are intimidated by mangos, don’t be, just check out my How to Cut A Mango Post that teaches everything you could ever want to know about mangos.
- Add bacon. Because bacon makes everything better. I recommend thick-cut bacon so its wonderfully meaty texture doesn’t get lost in the salad. You will want to add the bacon to the Mexican Salad at the end with the tortilla chips.
- Swap cheese. Mexican cheese blend, sharp cheddar or cotija cheese can all be used but expect a different flavor profile.
- Add rice. Pile the Mexican Salad on some brown rice or quinoa, Cilantro Lime Rice or Mexican Rice or add it directly to the salad. You can also create Mexican Burrito Bowl by layering rice, salad then your protein of choice.
Serve as a main dish Mexican salad!
You could easily transform this Mexican Salad recipe into a main dish by adding by adding a protein. Any of the following options would be delicious:
- Add chicken. As previously mentioned, feel free to add your favorite chicken to this Mexican Salad. You can make chicken specifically for this recipe or use leftovers. It’s particularly fabulous with: chipotle chicken, chili lime chicken, and cilantro lime chicken.
- Add shrimp. My cilantro lime shrimp used in my burrito bowls would be superb in this salad and transform it into a meal.
- Add beef. You can add ground beef like in my taco salad or chopped carne asada steak or beef barbacoa.
- Add pork. You can add carnitas, salsa verde pork or chipotle pork.
- Add turkey. You can use the turkey in my turkey tacos recipe.
How long can Mexican salad sit out?
Mexican Salad is best served right away once dressed with the Cilantro Lime Dressing. The dressing is made with perishable sour cream so it shouldn’t sit out any longer than two hours.
Does This Salad Keep Well as Leftovers?
Mexican Salad will last approximately 3 days in the refrigerator IF you don’t add the dressing directly to the salad. If you combine the salad and dressing before storing it in the fridge, it’ll become soggy. If you plan on storing leftovers, hold the dressing, avocados and the tortilla strips and store in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator.
WHAT CAN I PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME?
I love that you can prepare this Mexican Salad recipe ahead of time so the salad can come together in minutes when it’s time to serve.
- Chop vegetables: you can chop your lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, cucumbers and radishes ahead of time. You can also grill your corn. Store veggies in separate airtight containers in sealable bag so the moisture doesn’t wilt the lettuce. I do not recommend storing your pre-cut veggies longer than a day because the beauty of this salad is its freshness.
- Pepitas: can be roasted weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container.
- Tortilla strips: can be roasted weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container.
- Make dressing: can be made in advance and stored it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The dressing stores for about 5-7 days in the refrigerator, so just take into account how long you will store it after making the salad to know how long you can make it in advance.
How to Make Mexican Salad Ahead
If you want do more than just prep the Mexican Salad ahead of time, you can assemble most of it ahead of time. The secret to making taco salad ahead of time is to layer the ingredients so they don’t get soggy. This requires a specific order, with the most wet on the bottom. To make Mexican Salad ahead of time, layer the ingredients in the following order:
- beans and corn
- all other veggies
You will want to store the salad dressing separately and add the chips and avocados just before serving.
Can I Meal Prep This Mexican Salad?
Yes! You will want to follow the guidelines outlined above about layering the salad in a specific order so the ingredients don’t become soggy. Layer the ingredients in the desired number of containers in the following order:
- 1) beans and corn, 3) tomatoes, 4) all other veggies 5) lettuce, 6) cheese 7) pepitas
- Divide tortilla strips into separate airtight containers or plastic bags.
- Keep avocados whole and slice/chop just before serving
- Divide dressing into smaller airtight containers or plastic bags.
- Toss the salad with dressing, chips and avocados right before serving.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH MEXICAN SALAD?
I often am asked what to pair with my Mexican recipes and the answer is this Mexican Salad! Here is a summary of my favorite combinations but please do not limit yourselves to my list alone:
- TACOS: Carne Asada Street Tacos, Chili Lime Chicken Tacos, Honey Chipotle Chicken Tacos, Blackened Fish Tacos, Buffalo Chicken Tacos, Baja Fish Tacos, Tacos Al Pastor
- ENCHILADAS: Red Chicken Enchiladas, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Beef Enchiladas, Salsa Verde Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas, Cheesy Jalapeno Chicken Enchiladas, Enchiladas Verdes
- BURRITOS: Smothered Baked Chicken Burritos, Carne Asada Burritos, Beef Bean Cheese Burritos, Wet Burritos
- MEXICAN SOUPS: Chicken Fajita and Rice Soup, Cheesy Taco Soup, Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder, Chicken Tortilla Soup. Salsa Verde Chicken Tortilla Soup, White Chicken Chili. Chipotle Mango Chili, Caldo de Pollo.
- FAJITAS: Skillet Chicken Fajitas, Grilled Steak Fajitas, Sheet Pan Shrimp Fajitas, Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas, Chipotle Honey Lime Chicken Fajita Chicken Bowls, Sheet Pan Fajita Salmon with Cilantro Lime Butter, Fajita Chicken Wraps with Creamy Avocado Dip
- SANDWICHES & BURGERS: Every cheesy or meaty sandwich/burger needs a fresh side salad. This Mexican Salad recipe is delicious with: BBQ Beef Brisket Sandwiches Philly Cheesecake Sandwiches, French Dip Sandwiches, Italian Beef Sandwiches, BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Best Burgers and BBQ Bacon Burgers.
- POTLUCK MAIN DISHES. Every potluck or BBQ needs sides equally as delicious as the main course. This Mexican Salad pairs well with many protein mains, regardless of whether they are Mexican or not: Apricot Steak, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Honey Mustard Chicken, Crockpot BBQ Chicken or Oven/Grill Barbecue Chicken, BBQ Ribs and BBQ Beef Brisket.
Is Mexican salad healthy?
The salad itself is loaded with all sorts of veggies which means it’s a nutrient powerhouse. The vegetables provide important nutrients including potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C which provide these benefits:
- Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.
- Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells.
- Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
- Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C also aids in iron absorption.
- Fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is also important for proper bowel function and also helps provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
The avocados are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fat which are good fats known to lower cholesterol, promote heart health and boost brain function. They also help you feel full longer and counteracts bad cholesterol (LDL’s). Avocados are also chock full of vitamins such as vitamins B, E and K, minerals, and are a good source of fiber – 75% insoluble fiber and 25% soluble fiber. They also boast 60 percent more potassium than bananas. Some studies have shown they can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, decrease risk of depression, and help prevent some cancers.
The pepitas are high in antioxidants, magnesium and fiber. Studies have linked them to lowering the risk of certain cancers, improving prostate and bladder health and improving heart health.
For an even healthier Mexican Salad, use low fat sour cream or Greek yogurt in the dressing and replace the mayonnaise with avocado mayonnaise.
LOOKING FOR MORE SALAD RECIPES?
- Caprese Chicken Salad with Creamy Balsamic Reduction Dressing
- Buffalo Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Cilantro Ranch
- Chipotle BBQ Chicken Salad with Tomatillo Avocado Ranch
- Teriyaki Chicken Salad with Pineapple Sesame Dressing
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad with Fiesta Catalina Dressing
- Asian Salad (with Chicken) with Sriracha Peanut Dressing
- Greek Chicken Salad with Tzatziki Dressing and Pita Croutons
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