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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Taco Salad Gets a Healthy Makeover

By America’s Test Kitchen

Taco salad hits a home run with any crowd. What’s not to love about seasoned beef and the works on a bed of lettuce? Well, while it may be fun, we wouldn’t call a salad based on greasy meat and shredded cheese healthy, even without the fried tortilla bowl. To rework taco salad to be more nutritious but still hearty, we replaced the beef with quinoa. Some tasters had doubts, but this low-saturated-fat, high-fiber source of protein—with its chewy texture and ability to absorb flavors—made a good stand-in for ground beef. Toasted and simmered in chicken broth with chipotles in adobo, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and cumin, it acquired a rich, spiced meaty flavor. We substituted escarole for lettuce, cut back on cheese, opting for queso fresco, and added an extra-hefty amount of cilantro. Black beans, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and scallions completed the picture. 

Quinoa Taco Salad

• ¾ cup prewashed white quinoa

• 3 tablespoons cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil 

• 1 small onion, chopped fine

• Salt and pepper

• 2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce

• 2 teaspoons tomato paste

• 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)

• ½ teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 cup homemade or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth 

• 2 tablespoons lime juice

• 1 head escarole (1 pound), trimmed and sliced thin

• 2 scallions, sliced thin

• ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

• 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed

• 8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

• 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, and chopped

• 2 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (½ cup)

1. Toast quinoa in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until quinoa is very fragrant and makes continuous popping sound, 5 to 7 minutes; transfer to bowl.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook until onion is softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Stir in chipotle, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and toasted quinoa, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender and liquid has been absorbed, 18 to 22 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. Remove pan from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Spread quinoa onto rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 20 minutes.

4. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lime juice, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper together in large bowl. Add escarole, scallions, and ¼ cup cilantro and toss to combine. Gently fold in beans, tomatoes, and avocado. Transfer to serving platter and top with quinoa, queso fresco, and remaining ¼ cup cilantro. Serve.

Serves: 4

Reprinted from The Complete Salad Cookbook (2021) with permission from America’s Test Kitchen,