Easy Taco Salad on your table in 30 minutes!
This Taco Salad recipe is everyone’s’ favorite ground beef (or turkey!) tacos in salad form. It’s bursting with bold, satisfying Tex-Mex flavors and layers of fresh, creamy, crunchy textures. It’s beloved by everyone for lunch, easy dinners, potlucks, or parties and is guaranteed to become a repeat favorite. This easy Taco Salad recipe is loaded with common, pantry friendly taco ingredients so you can make it at a moment’s notice: spicy ground beef, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, hearty black beans, creamy avocados, charred sweet corn, pepper Jack cheese all doused in creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing. You can customize the Taco Salad by using more or less of your favorite ingredients and/or make it healthier by using turkey and baked tortilla chips (instructions included). I’ve also included instructions on how to bake your own tortilla bowls! This Taco Salad recipe is perfect for make ahead entertaining, meal prep, on the go lunches or easy dinners any night of the week.
taco salad recipe
Taco Salad has always been one of my (and America’s) favorite main dish salads. And I’m still obsessed. Because really, does it get any better than juicy beef, crunchy lettuce, fresh vegetables, creamy dressing and crispy tortilla chips – in EVERY bite?! The fusion of fiesta flavors and textures is comforting, hearty, flavorful, and fresh all at the same time.
More reasons to love this Taco Salad Recipe:
- Quick and easy. Just chop your veggies while you brown the beef and blend the dressing in your blender – that’s it!
- Make ahead. You can assemble your Taco Salad except for the chips 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. The juicy beef with the tortilla chips or Doritos – along with all the other veggies = complex layers of textures that are hearty, satisfying and fresh with plenty of CRUNCH!
- Versatile. You can add more or less of your favorite veggies, swap the beef for turkey and/or use any of your favorite chips from tortilla chips, Doritos (tons of options there alone), or tortilla strips – store-bought or homemade.
- Crowd pleaser. EVERYONE loves this Taco Salad recipe! It’s a favorite dish for potlucks, pool parties, picnics and HOME!
- Best Taco Salad Dressing. I’ve paired this easy taco salad recipe with intoxicating Cilantro Lime Dressing you are going to go crazy for! It’s simple, silky, mega flavorful and the perfect enlivening complement to the smoky earthy beef.
INGREDIENTS FOR SOUTHWEST SALAD
There are a gazillion taco salad recipes out there, but what sets this recipe apart is the 1) tantalizing beef seasoned with homemade taco seasoning, 2) charred sweet corn, and 3) the BEST Cilantro Lime Dressing. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Romaine lettuce. Taco Salad begins with a crunchy lettuce base. I prefer Romaine because it’s sturdy, cool and crunchy and holds up for an extended period of time without becoming soggy.
- Other lettuce options. You may also choose iceberg lettuce or half iceberg lettuce and half Romaine lettuce. When using lettuce, discard any flimsy outer leaves for the crunchiest lettuce.
- Ground beef. Ground beef is the classic, obvious choice for taco salad because its juicy texture and beefy flavor is so satisfying. This ground beef is sensationally juicy, seasoned to perfection with chili powder, ground cumin, smoked paprika, oregano and salsa and really takes this taco salad recipe over the top.
- Ground turkey. I have a fabulous ground turkey recipe that uses beef bouillon powder or better than bouillon to mimic that satisfying beefy flavor.
- Chicken. Although I prefer ground meats in the recipe, you may also use my 10 Minute Mexican Chicken which is as simple as sauteing some shredded rotisserie chicken with some seasonings. You may also use my Crockpot Mexican Chicken, Cilantro Lime Chicken, Chili Lime Chicken or Chipotle Chicken. If you’re considering these options, then you may want to check out my Chicken Taco Salad recipe first.
- Corn. You will definitely want to add corn because its sweetness balances out the acidic tomatoes and punchy red onions. You can use plain corn straight off of the cob or I prefer to char it in the skillet or on the grill for an amped up layer of smoky, juicy YUM like I do in my Corn Salsa and Avocado Corn Salsa recipes (instructions included). If using canned corn, take care to rinse and drain it well first. You can still char canned corn in a skillet.
- Tomatoes. I prefer cherry or grape tomatoes because of their firm yet juicy texture. Cherry tomatoes are inherently sweeter than grape tomatoes, so aim for cherry if you can. You may also use two Roma tomatoes, but you will want to seed them first so they don’t make your taco salad soggy.
- 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 soak them in cold water for 10 minutes.
- Black Beans. You may also substitute red kidney beans, pinto beans etc. No matter what bean you use, rinse and dry them first.
- Avocados. You can add sliced or chopped avocados for a satisfying creamy burst to complement the crunchy textures. 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. 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.
- Cheese. I love the addition of pepper Jack Cheese to this Taco Salad. It adds cheesy, creaminess with a hint of heat. You may also use Mexican cheese blend or sharp cheddar.
- Chips! No Taco Salad is complete without chips AKA the CRUNCH. The possibilities are endless when it comes to which kind of chip you choose: tortilla chips, tortilla strips, Doritos, spicy Doritos, Nacho Doritos, Fritos, etc. – just don’t skip the CRUNCH – aka what makes taco salad, taco salad.
- Shout out for Doritos. My chips of choice for taco salad are Doritos. Doritos are addictive plain – so just imagine how magical they are in salad! The crushed Doritos boast in intense flavor and crunch which balances the tangy, zesty, creamy dressing and juicy, hot taco meat.
- Sunflower seeds. You might think you have enough crunch in the Taco Salad with the chips, but the sunflower seeds add a different textural component that you will LOVE! I use pepitas in my Southwest Salad and I can never go back to salad without seeds! If you don’t want to purchase a whole package of sunflower seeds, you can purchase a smaller quantity at the bulk bins at Sprouts – just make sure they are roasted and salted for maximum flavor.
- Olives: offer a delectable tanginess if olives are your thing.
- Bell peppers: offer a satisfying sweet crunch.
- Pickled Jalapenos: are fabulous if you love SPICY, otherwise, you might want to serve them as an optional topping.
- Mangos: I love how their juicy sweetness offers a bright fresh contrast against the earthy flavors. 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.
- Pico de gallo: you can skip the tomatoes and add either homemade or store-bought pico de gallo instead.
- 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 Taco Salad recipe at the end with the chips so it stays nice and crispy.
- Hot sauce: let individuals control the heat of the Taco Salad by passing around the hot sauce.
TACO SALAD DRESSING
This crowning, intoxicating Cilantro Lime Dressing elevates the salad into epically delicious. You will want to drink the dressing. No joke. I’ve already used it on my Shrimp Burrito Bowls and have been eager to make a salad with it.
This Taco Salad Dressing is bright, creamy, tangy, zippy, sassy, zesty, and the perfect complement to the rich, robust beef. It marries all the flavors and textures together and requires less than 5 minutes to make in your blender and it can be made days ahead of time.
The smooth, creamy base is spiked with tomatillos, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and smoked paprika to create a luscious dressing packed with irresistible tangy, punchy flavor that can’t be beat!
how to make taco salad
Taco Salad is wonderfully easy to make – it really does just take 20 minutes!
- Make Dressing. The very first thing you’ll want to do is make the Taco Salad Dressing so it has time to chill. Simply add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
- Brown Beef. Next, start browning the beef in a skillet. I use a nonstick skillet that way I don’t need to add any additional oil. Crumble the beef into chunks and cook and stir until cooked through.
- Drain Grease. Once cooked, drain the beef of any excess grease.
- Season Beef. Stir in seasonings and salsa.
- Chop Veggies. While the beef is cooking, I first like to start charring my corn then chopping the rest of my veggies.
- Assemble. Layer lettuce with beef, cheese, veggies and top with tortilla chips, sunflower seeds and dressing.
TIPS FOR EASY TACO SALAD RECIPE
- Leftover beef. Leftover taco meat is perfect for this taco salad recipe. You can even double this recipe with the intention of freezing some to use later because the beef freezes beautifully for quick prep ahead dinners.
- Add cayenne pepper to taste. Depending on how spicy your salsa is and how spicy you would like your beef, you may or may not want to use cayenne pepper. I suggest making the beef without the cayenne pepper then tasting to see if you would like to add it. Keep in mind, it is okay if the beef is on the spicy side because it will mellow and be perfect once combined with all of the taco salad ingredients.
- Time saving tips. In addition to using defrosted make ahead beef, you can use pre-chopped Romaine lettuce, store-bought pico de gallo instead of tomatoes and onion and pre-shredded cheese.
- Prep the taco salad dressing first. The Cilantro Lime Dressing is very best chilled – no one wants lukewarm dressing! So, 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 Taco Salad!
- Different dressings. Have fun trying different dressings such as Tomatillo Avocado Ranch, Baja Catalina Dressing or Creamy Salsa Avocado Dressing.
HOW DO I SERVE easy taco SALAD recipe?
There are four ways to serve this easy Taco Salad recipe:
- 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 avocados and tortilla strips. Let individuals dress their own salad plates with avocados, tortilla chips and dressing. If you prefer warm beef, then keep the beef separate as well.
- Create a taco salad bar: line up all of the ingredients in separate serving bowls and let guests assemble their own taco salad.
- Serve in tortilla bowls. Taco Salad is often served in tortilla bowls at restaurants. These make a fun presentation and are deceptively easy to make (and healthy baked!), but I don’t suggest using them instead of chips but in addition to chips. You are going to want crunch in every bite and not have to tear your bowl apart as your eating your salad.
Is taco salad served warm or cold?
Either! I like to serve my taco salad with warm beef or at least room temperature. If you want warm beef in your leftover taco salad, then make sure to to keep it separate from the rest of the salad ingredients so you can reheat it for leftovers.
HOW TO MAKE TORTILLA BOWLS
To make the healthier-than-the-fried-restaurant-tortilla-bowls for your taco salad, simply choose your favorite tortillas and make sure they are at room temperature so they are nice and pliable. If you’re using refrigerated tortillas, wrap them in a slightly dampened dish towel and microwave for 20 seconds. Be careful not to overheat or they will go past soft to brittle. You can use either 8″ or 10″ tortillas, as well as either wheat or white tortillas, but don’t try corn as they will fall apart.
Next, spray the interior of your oven proof bowls with nonstick cooking spray then push your tortillas into the inside of the bowls then place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes then remove tortillas from bowls and broil both sides until nice and crispy.
The removing the tortillas and broiling both sides is a little trick other “taco/tortilla bowl” recipes don’t do, and I think it makes all the difference for all over crispy bowls. Remove your now crispy taco bowls from the oven and let cool then load up with the best Taco Salad!
HOW LONG DOES TACO SALAD LAST IN THE FRIDGE?
Taco Salad will last approximately 3 days in the refrigerator. The avocados should be removed from the salad if they’ve been tossed or else they will discolor and become mushy. The chips should be stored in an airtight container and added to the salad when ready to serve leftovers.
What do you serve with taco salad?
Taco Salad is practically a meal-in-itself with protein, veggies and carbs – the only thing left to add is fruit! I love to serve it with juicy watermelon, Pina Colada Fruit Salad, Perfect Fruit Salad or Summer Fruit Salad. It’s also fabulous with a big slice of sweet cornbread (I’m OBSESSED with this recipe) or grilled corn on the cob.
How to Make Taco Salad Ahead of Time
Taco Salad can be assembled, refrigerated, then simply tossed with the chips and dressing right before serving. Taco Salad is an excellent make ahead meal because it can all be served at the same temperature, unlike Burrito Bowls, in which some of the components taste far superior warmed.
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 prep Taco Salad ahead of time, layer the ingredients in the following order:
- Ground beef
- Beans and corn
You will want to store the salad dressing separately and add the chips and avocados just before serving.
MEAL PREP TACO SALAD
You will want to follow the same method above to meal prep taco salad.
- Layer the ingredients in the desired number of containers in the following order:
- 1) Ground beef, 2) beans and corn, 3) tomatoes, 4) lettuce, 5) cheese
- Divide dressing into smaller airtight containers or plastic bags.
- Toss the salad with dressing, chips and avocados right before serving.
WHAT CAN I PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME?
If you don’t want to assemble the complete taco salad, but want to prep some of it ahead of time, here’s how:
- Chop Vegetables: You can chop your lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and grill your corn ahead of time. Store veggies in separate airtight containers in sealable bag so the moisture doesn’t wilt the lettuce or layer tomatoes, red onions, corn then lettuce (in that order) in a bowl. I do not recommend storing your pre-cut veggies longer than a day.
- Make Dressing: You can make the Taco Salad Dressing and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours in advance.
- Make Beef: The beef mixture can be made 2-3 days ahead of time and refrigerated in an airtight container. I recommend reheating the beef slightly before tossing with the salad so it’s at room temperature.
healthy taco salad
This classic Taco Salad can be customized with different options to make it Healthy Taco Salad such as:
- Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in the dressing.
- Use light cheese and less of it.
- Use lean ground beef which is 29% lower in saturated fat.
- Use half a pound of beef (and half the seasonings) and replace the other half with additional beans or veggies.
- Use ground turkey instead of beef (my recipe is below).
- Use homemade baked tortilla chips or strips instead of store-bought chips so you can control the oil and salt (recipe below).
Low Carb Taco Salad
The chips provide the taco crunch but thy also provide the carbs. To make low carb taco salad, you’ll want to swap the chips for something else crunchy like extra sunflower seeds.
TURKEY TACO SALAD
You can easily swap the beef for turkey to make Turkey Taco Salad. If you do this, I suggest following the below recipe I use in my Turkey Tacos instead of the recipe used for the beef. To make Turkey Taco Salad you will need:
- 1-pound lean ground turkey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons beef bouillon powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup Homemade Salsa or your favorite store bought
- salt to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high.
- Add ground turkey and all of the seasonings and cook until almost cooked through, but still slightly pink then add salsa and water simmer an additional 5 minutes or until cooked through and reduced.
- Taste and add salt or additional cayenne or hot sauce to taste.
BAKED TORTILLA CHIPS
Baking your own tortilla chips or strips is super simple and the same method I use in my Chicken Tortilla Soup. You will need:
- 6 (6-inch) corn tortillas
- Olive oil
- Light spray a large baking sheet/jelly roll pan with cooking spray.
- Lightly brush tortillas with olive oil.
- Cut tortillas into wedges (I stack them together and use my pizza cutter.)
- Arrange wedges in a single layer and lightly season with freshly cracked salt.
- Bake at 425 degrees F for 12-16 minutes or until light golden brown.
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