Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiesta taco salad and family

Fiesta Taco Salad | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak
Fiesta Taco Salad | PHOTO CREDIT: P-G Matuszak

A light and surprisingly filling taco salad the whole family can enjoy making and eating

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, many times the only quality time a family can muster is dinner, that is if you can get everybody around the table. In a departure from my normal writing style, I want to share a little piece of my family life.

In my family, dinner is sacred. We start the meal with a blessing, our Druid form of grace, thanking the divine for our blessings. The prayer ends with serving from youngest to eldest. We talk about the events of the day and enjoy the half hour or so of time together around the table.

Some of our meals are more difficult, prepared mainly by me, the family cook. Others, I plan, and partially prepare. But the final assembly and “plating” is a family activity.

While I grew up near Chicago, I’ve adopted the Southwest as my home. I currently live in Texas and, naturally, adapted much of my cuisine to local flavors. Living in Texas, it is nearly impossible to avoid BBQ or Tex-Mex. Who would want to? They are comfort foods that, if done right, can be hearty and healthy. This recipe is one such adaptation, dedicated to my wife. The first time I made it was as an experiment using what we had available at the end of a week. It quickly became one of her favorites.

When preparing the meal for this article, my family wanted to jump in and help. So, the beautiful compositions pictured are the results of a family effort.

Given our family’s difficulties with wheat and grain gluten, this is also low-carbohydrate and gluten-free. If you prefer, you can substitute normal tortilla chips, which tend to run cheaper than the non-GMO corn and gluten-free ones in the recipe.

Fiesta Taco Salad

Makes 4 servings


White bean chips (Beanitos) – 4-6 oz by weight
Blue corn chips, non-GMO and gluten-free – 5-7 oz by weight
Iceberg lettuce – 1 head
Avocado, sliced, fresh – 1 large avacado
Sharp, white, and mild queso (or cheddar) cheese, cubed – 1 oz by weight
(amounts of above may vary depending upon serving  and taste)
Refried black beans – 16 oz can (time saver!)
Beef brisket, ground (or ground beef, or turkey) – 1 lb
Garlic, minced – 1 tbsp
Sweet yellow onion, fresh, chopped – 1/4 cup
Habenero pepper, fresh, chopped – 1/2 pepper
Jalepeno pepper, fresh, chopped – 1/2 pepper
Olive (light) or coconut oil – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon – 1/2 tsp
Cumin – 2 tsp
Chipotle (or cayenne) – 1 tsp
Pineapple pico de gallo:
Pineapple, fresh, chopped – 1 cup
Sweet yellow onion, fresh, chopped – 1/2 cup
tomato, chopped – 1 whole, medium sized (or 2 Roma tomatoes)
Cilantro, fresh, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
Habenero pepper, fresh, chopped – 1/2 pepper
Jalepeno pepper, fresh, chopped – 1/2 pepper
Chili, green, “Hatch style”, fresh, chopped – 1/2 pepper
Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp
Green onion, fresh, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
Cilantro, fresh, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
Black pepper, coarse ground – 1/2 tsp
Greek yogurt, plain – 6-8 tbsp (depending upon taste preferences)


Warm the re-fried beans according to directions. Set aside.

Prepare the pico de gallo. Mix all the ingredients into a bowl, drizzling the extra virgin olive oil into the mixture last. Mix until ingredients appear uniformly dispersed. Set aside for 15-20 minutes. The flavors will blend while the pico sits.

Next, prepare the meat mixture. A cast iron skillet works best, but any skillet will suffice. Preheat the skillet and olive oil at medium heat, about three minutes. Place the garlic and onion into the oil, cooking about three minutes. Add the chopped peppers and cook, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Add the ground beef, spreading evenly across the bottom of the skillet. Dust the cinnamon, cumin, and chipotle powders evenly on top of the meat. Brown the meat, mixing the spices, onion, garlic, and peppers uniformly throughout the meat. Remove from heat and set aside.

In each salad bowl, place a mixture of the chips. Try to use larger, unbroken chips. Make sure to cover the bottom and sides of the bowl evenly. Next, cover the chips in a thick layer of iceberg lettuce. Top the lettuce with the meat, spreading the meat towards the outside, leaving some of the lettuce and chips exposed near the rim. Layer the re-fried beans on top of the meat. Spread the beans outward, again, leaving a ring of meat exposed. Spoon some of  the pico de gallo on top of the beans. Again, spread the pico outward, but leave a ring of beans exposed. Spoon a dollop or two of the dressing on top of the pico. Sprinkle the cheese crumbles over the salad. Place the avocado slices around the rim. Garnish the top with crumbs from the tortilla chips.



Originally, I planned to publish my eggplant Parmesan recipe, another family favorite. However, my wife requested this meal. Given the vibrant colors, I couldn’t resist publishing the recipe and pictures. But I made the meal for her.

That really is what a marriage is about, partially, making those sacrifices for the other, out of love. Doing those little things your partner adores, like drawing a bath with candles or giving your partner some “alone time” while you keep the kids entertained. It means taking time away from work or your personal enjoyments to do things that may not be your favorite activities so that you may enjoy seeing your spouse and children’s joy in their favorite activities. They are important to you because they are important to the people you love.

We work to provide necessities, comforts, and luxuries for our families. But if we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labors and the company of our family members, our time is futile. Once in a while, we have to pause. We have to take a break from the fight against the degradation of our nation’s values and spirit. We have to spend time enjoying those for whom we work and fight so hard.

So head to the store, buy some ingredients, make some taco salad with your family, and sit down and enjoy a meal together. Hug and kiss your kids and your spouse. Shut off the television and mute your smartphones. Give them some attention and enjoy it.

Disclaimer: The author is not a medical doctor nor currently a registered dietitian. The information provided in this article is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be interpreted as medical, nutritional or health advice. Please seek the advice of an expert before starting any new diet or exercise program.