Taco Salad (you won't find this at your local mall)

By Andy Baraghani - Tasting Table Food Editor - Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen

This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
When I was in high school in New Jersey, I found solace and sustenance at the Mexican kiosk in the food court at the Bridgewater Commons mall.

I'd take the escalator up to the third floor after buying a double-breasted Kelly Taylor-inspired blazer at The Limited or perusing the pleated khakis at Banana Republic. This was where I would eat my feelings, forgetting for a minute about how I was deluding myself into thinking that having the right clothes would make me feel cool when I was never one of the cool kids.

I always ordered the same thing: the taco salad. It was, to put it politely, a monstrosity: a volleyball-size, fried-until-bubbly tortilla shell filled with shredded lettuce, tomato, neon yellow cheddar cheese, olives, salsa and sour cream. I'd pull my hair back with a scrunchie and tear into it with abandon. By the time I'd worked my way down to the ground beef and layer of refried beans on the bottom, the "bowl" would have softened into wet cardboard. But I still ripped through it and crunched pieces of the outer shell until it disappeared.

This beloved food court classic has been in need of a face-lift for quite some time. The traditional taco salad is typically made by filling a tortilla shell with shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, grated cheddar and ground beef (most likely seasoned with a spice packet). Our version has grilled skirt steak, black beans, shredded cabbage, spicy crema . . . well, it has a lot of stuff in it. But it all somehow comes together in a brighter, fresher way.
To learn more, read "Legends of the Mall."

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes


  1. For the Taco Shell: Canola oil, for frying 4 flour tortillas Kosher salt, to taste
  2. For the Crema: ½ cup sour cream 2 Tbsp sambal sauce Kosher salt, to taste
  3. For the Black Beans: 2 Tbsp olive oil ½ cup finely diced yellow onion (½ medium yellow onion) One 16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed ¼ cup water 1 tsp finely chopped oregano
  4. For the Grilled Tomatoes: 2 medium tomatoes, cored and halved crosswise 2 Tbsp olive oil Kosher salt, to taste
  5. For the Steak: 2 tsp smoked paprika 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp kosher salt ½ tsp onion powder ½ tsp garlic powder ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 lb skirt steak, silver skin removed, patted dry
  6. For the Taco Salad: Black beans 1 cup shredded red cabbage Grilled tomatoes 2 radishes, sliced very thin ½ cup cilantro leaves ⅓ cup torn mint leaves 1 Tbsp olive oil Kosher salt, to taste Grilled skirt steak 1 avocado—halved, pitted and cut into 8 slices 1 jalapeño or serrano chile pepper, stemmed and cut into thin rounds 5 ounces Cotija cheese, crumbled 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges


  1. Make the taco shell: Line a baking sheet with a paper towel. Pour enough oil into a large Dutch oven to reach a depth of 2 inches and heat until a deep-fry thermometer reaches 350˚. Working with 1 tortilla at a time, fry, flipping often until the tortilla is light golden, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Using tongs, push down on the center of the tortilla, so the outer edges flare and puff up. Continue to fry until golden brown and puffy, 1 minute more. Remove from the oil and place upside down over a glass cup set over the prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
  2. Make the crema: In a small bowl, combine the sour cream and sambal. Season with salt and stir.
  3. Make the black beans: In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the olive oil is hot, add the onions and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring often, until soft but not brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beans and water, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the oregano and keep warm on low heat.
  4. Make the grilled tomatoes: Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Alternatively, place a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the tomatoes with the oil and grill, flipping occasionally, until the tomatoes have blistered, 2 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, roughly chop and set aside.
  5. Make the skirt steak: In a small bowl, combine the paprika, cumin, salt, onion and garlic powders, and black pepper. Rub the steak with the seasoning. Grill the steak, flipping once, until it's lightly charred and cooked to preferred doneness, 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
  6. Assemble the taco salad: Drain the black beans and place them in a large bowl. Add the cabbage, grilled tomatoes, radishes, cilantro and mint. Add the olive oil, season with salt and toss. Divide the cabbage mixture among the 4 taco shells. Top each taco shell with the steak, avocado slices, jalapeño or serrano rounds, and Cotija. Garnish each shell with a lime wedge and serve with the crema.

Read more: tastingtable.com

In these days of mâche and fennel fronds, it's easy to scoff at the taco salads of yore. But when we were talking about updating classic salads this month, I insisted that our food editor, Andy Baraghani, put a spin on my teenage dream—complete with that fried tortilla bowl (see the recipe).

Our recipe is more refined for sure: It's actually a manageable size for one person, nestled into a puffy flour tortilla (which probably technically puts it in tostada territory). It's filled with a slaw made with sautéed black beans, paper-thin radishes, red cabbage and charred tomatoes. That's joined by some avocado slices, thinly sliced jalapeños and Cotija cheese.

Skip the Store-Bought Chips »

Gone is the spice packet-seasoned ground beef: Andy rubs skirt steak with paprika, cumin, and onion and garlic powders; grills it; slices it thin, fanning it out over the salad; then tops the whole thing with a little sambal-spiked crema. It's a brighter, lighter combination than the gloppy salad I ate back in the day. Like me, it's grown up, a better version of what it was all those years ago.
Plus, I no longer have to worry about getting a piece of tomato stuck in my clear braces. And that's a damn good feeling.

Read more: tastingtable.com