Southwest Salad is far more delicious than any restaurant salad at a fraction of the cost!
This Southwest Salad recipe has quickly become one of my most popular and most pinned recipes of all time. It’s fresh, filling, flavorful, gluten-free and will have you actually CRAVING salad! This Southwest Salad is bursting with red bell peppers, tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, black beans, pepitas, Pepper Jack cheese, romaine lettuce, and tortilla chips or strips all bathed in Creamy Avocado Salsa Dressing. The dressing alone is worth making this recipe! You can dress this Southwest Salad up or down by adding chicken or more or less of your favorite ingredients to make it YOUR favorite Southwest Salad!
Southwest Salad Recipe
With summer upon us, I am dreaming about everything cool and refreshing, healthy and bright, yet hearty and filling at the same time; enter Southwest Salad. This Southwest Salad recipe is hearty, savory, fresh, creamy, flavorful, healthy and irresistibly crunchy AKA deeply satisfying. I love a salad where lettuce is the afterthought, more of an in-between filler of all other things delicious. This Southwest Salad is no exception.
More reasons to love this Southwest Salad Recipe:
- Quick and easy. Just chop your veggies, blend your dressing and dig in!
- Make ahead. You can assemble your salad and make your 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, crunchy veggies and cheese. And this Southwest Salad is loaded with them.
- Versatile. You can add more or less of your favorite veggies or swap in your favorites. You can add chicken, shrimp or any other protein to make it a complete meal, or leave it as for the best side salad of your life.
- Crowd pleaser. EVERYONE loves this Southwest Salad! It’s a favorite dish for potlucks, pool parties, picnics and HOME!
- Best Southwest Dressing. I have a whole section so I won’t go into too much detail except you are going go crazy over the dressing, its fiesta flavors make me giddy! It’s silky, mega flavorful and the perfect enlivening accompaniment to the fiesta veggies.
Ingredients for Southwest 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.
- Corn. You will need one sweet corn on the cob and then cut the kernels straight from the cob. If you want to ramp up your Southwest Salad, you can grill the corn first or toast it in the skillet – I’ve included instructions below. 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. If using frozen corn, you will need to cook it a couple minutes longer in order for it 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.
- 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 cook them 30 seconds or so in the microwave to soften the bite or use less.
- 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. You can also substitute with sunflower seeds. Whichever you use, make sure they are roasted and salted which translates to FLAVOR! I purchase my seeds in the bulk bins at Sprouts.
- Cheese. I love the addition of pepper Jack Cheese to this Southwest 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 Southwest 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 – the spicing on them is the crowning jewel to an already jaw dropping – as in shove more salad in me please – salad. You can also use your favorite tortilla chips or even spicy or flavored tortilla chips to mix up the flavor profile.
HOW TO CHAR CORN for SOUTHWEST SALAD
For this Southwest 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.
Southwest Salad Dressing
This Southwest Salad Dressing is lusciously smooth, creamy and deserves its own mariachi encore. The ingredient list is somewhat lengthy for the dressing, but it comes together in less than 5 minutes because all you do is add the ingredients to the blender and blend until smooth – so please don’t be intimidated – I promise it’s so worth it.
I love the dressing so much I doubled it just so I could have leftovers to douse my burritos in. I’m pretty certain you will love it too.
Ingredients for Southwest Salad Dressing:
- Avocado. You will need one medium avocado for the dressing – not the large Haas avocados. Make sure your avocado is ripe so it blends well and doesn’t leave you with a chunky, grass flavored dressing.
- HOW TO PICK RIPE AVOCADOS:
- Ripe avocados will be dark green, almost turning purple.
- Gently squeeze the avocado. If an avocado feels firm or hard to your touch, it isn’t ripe yet. Purchase it only if you plan to use the fruit several days in the future. If the avocado feels soft, it’s overripe, avoid it. You want the avocado to just give slightly when pressed.
- Check the avocado stems for clues on what’s inside. Peel back the small stem or cap at the top. If the area underneath is green, the avocado is good to buy. If the area is brown, the avocado is overripe so it’s best to avoid it
- Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt. You can use either sour cream or Greek yogurt for the Southwest Dressing. Fat-free versions of both work great as well. Just don’t use regular yogurt because it is not nearly as thick as Greek yogurt.
- Salsa. Use your favorite salsa or my homemade 5-minute blender salsa is spectacular. If you know you love heat, then feel free to use medium salsa.
- Jalapeno. Use 1 small jalapeno. 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 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
- Lime Juice. You can use fresh or bottled lime juice and use more or less to taste.
- Olive Oil. Use extra virgin olive oil for more flavor.
- Milk. You may need more or less milk to reach desired consistency. You may use almond milk, soy milk, etc.
- Seasonings. We need seasonings to cut through the creaminess of the dressing: ground cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. You can of course use more or less to suit your personal preference.
How to Make Southwest Salad
- Make southwest dressing. Add avocado, salsa, sour cream (or Greek yogurt) cilantro, garlic, lime, jalapeno and splash of smoked paprika and cumin to your blender and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down as needed. You can add hot sauce if you like it spicier and milk if you like it thinner. It tastes best chilled before serving but if you don’t have time, then it will still taste sensational as is.
- Add salad ingredients to large bowl. Add romaine lettuce, corn, black beans, 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 with tortilla strips. Top Southwest Salad or individual servings with to crunchy tortilla strips.
What CAN I PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME?
I love that you can prepare this Southwest ahead of time so the salad can come together in 60 seconds when it’s time to serve.
- Chop Vegetables: You can chop your lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers and grill your corn ahead of time. 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.
- Make Southwest Dressing: You can make the Southwest Salad Dressing and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours in advance. The lime juice will prevent the salad from discoloring too much, but it will darken slightly. A change in color of color doesn’t mean it’s going bad; it simply means the sauce is oxidizing.
Southwest SALAD RECIPE VARIATIONS
This Southwest Salad is extremely customizable. Here are a few recipe variations:
- Add chicken: Turn this Southwest Salad into Southwest Chicken Salad by adding easy Mexican chicken, crockpot Mexican chicken, chipotle chicken, chili lime chicken, 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 seasoned with taco seasoning or chopped carne asada steak or beef barbacoa.
- Add pork. You can add carnitas, salsa verde pork or chipotle pork.
- Add avocado. I use avocado in the dressing so I haven’t included it in the Southwest Recipe but you can still add it to the salad if you wish. 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.
- Add mangos. I love mangos with everything Southwest. They offer a pop of fresh, juicy sweetness that cuts through the robust TexMex seasonings and creaminess of the Southwest 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 Southwest Salad at the end with the tortilla chips.
- Add rice. Pile the Southwest Salad on some brown rice or quinoa, Cilantro Lime Rice or Mexican Rice or add it directly to the salad. You can also create Southwest Burrito Bowl by layering rice, salad then your protein of choice.
HOW DO I SERVE SOUTHWEST SALAD?
There are three ways to serve this easy Southwest 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. Let individuals dress their own salad plates with dressings and tortilla chips.
- Create a taco salad bar: line up all of the ingredients in separate serving bowls and let guests assemble their own Southwest Salad.
WHAT to serve with SOUTHWEST SALAD?
I often am asked what to pair with this Southwest Salad recipe. The shorter list would be what NOT to pair with it because it goes with practically all of my Mexican recipes. Here is a summary of my favorite combinations but please do not limit yourselves to my list alone:
- TACOS: Chili Lime Chicken Tacos, Honey Chipotle Chicken Tacos, Blackened Fish Tacos Salsa Verde Chicken Tacos, Baked Fiesta Ranch Chicken Tacos Buffalo Chicken Tacos, Baja Fish Tacos,Tacos Al Pastor
- ENCHILADAS: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Barbacoa Beef Enchiladas, Salsa Verde Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas, Cheesy Jalapeno Chicken Enchiladas, Enchiladas Verdes, Chipotle Mango Black Bean Chicken Enchiladas
- 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
If you want to transform this Southwest Salad into a meal, then I suggest topping it with either my All Purpose Chili Lime Chicken or my Chipotle Chicken. Dynamite combo. You can prep the chicken ahead of time so it’s ready to throw on your salad at a seconds notice.
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
Now prepare yourself for the combination of fresh, crunchy veggies, pepitas and tortilla strips, sprinkled with spicy, buttery pepper jack cheese all doused in creamy dressing packed with all your favorite Mexican flavors. Prepare yourself for Southwest Pepper Jack Salad with the BEST Southwest Dressing!
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