easy southwestern salad with chipotle ranch dressing

Greetings from Napa!  It’s been an amazing weekend, and I can’t wait to get all my photos uploaded.  Full winery and dining recap is coming soon, but for today I’m excited to share one of my absolute favorite entree salads with you: the southwestern salad.

southwestern salad 3Anyone who knows me knows that I truly love salad.  I’ve never understood the disgruntled, “I’ll just have a salad,” dieters – especially since a lettuce-based dish does not guarantee a low calorie count or high health benefit.  As you’ve probably guessed by the photo above, this salad is not quite what I’d call healthy.  It is, however, delicious.  And don’t worry, I promise I’ll tell you how to make it a little more diet-friendly, if that’s your thing.  This is an entree size salad, so it’s pretty huge.  You could absolutely serve it as a side salad; you would get 2-3 times as many servings if you did.

One last note before the recipe: I recommend plating this salad individually as opposed to serving it family style simply because the “toppings” never seem to distribute evenly when I do it family style.  It’s also prettier that way – and remember, we eat first with our eyes and second with our mouths.  My favorite way to serve this is to actually to set up an assembly line of ingredients, provide each guest with a pre-dressed bed of lettuce, and let everyone construct their own masterpiece.  This strategy is also a great one to keep in mind when you’re trying to balance different dietary needs within one group – the vegans can skip the cheese, bacon, and tortilla strips (if necessary), the vegetarians can skip the bacon, and the gluten-free-ers can skip the tortilla strips.

southwestern salad 2Recipe
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Serves 4 (entree) – 8 (side)

6 heads of romaine lettuce
6 slices of bacon
4 8″ or 10″ tortillas (I used locally made roasted garlic tortillas and they were divine)
2 ears of sweet yellow corn, or 1 can (rinsed and drained)
1 can black or pinto beans (rinsed and drained; I used black)
2 avocados
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half or in rings, or 2 large tomatoes, diced
1 C grated pepperjack cheese (you can buy shredded or shred your own block.  I prefer the latter)
Chipotle Ranch to taste
1 can chipotle in adobo (try to avoid the one that comes with onions if you can)
1 bottle of your favorite ranch dressing (or homemade!)


  1. To make chipotle ranch (which I do by the bottle because I use it often), use one of two techniques: combine an entire bottle of ranch and 1-4 chipotle peppers in a food processor and pulse away, or; mince 1-4 chipotle peppers and add to your bottle of dressing, shaking to combine.  I usually go for 3 peppers in my dressing because I like it to have a decent kick.  I’ve grown up eating spicy food.  To find your perfect spice level, start with 1 pepper and work your way up, tasting with each addition.
  2. Stack the tortillas and cut them in half, right down the middle.  Make a parallel cut in each half, so that you end up with 4 stacks of long strips of tortilla.  Now make perpendicular cuts in each long strip so that you end up with little tortilla rectangles – you want each strip to be about an inch long and a quarter inch wide.  Spread your tortilla strips in an even layer over a sheet pan, and bake at 375º for 8-12 minutes.  You want the tortilla strips to be golden brown and crunchy.
  3. While the tortilla strips are in the oven, cook the bacon in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes.  You can either cook in strips and crumble them into a bowl, or dice the bacon and cook the bacon pieces.  I diced mine first because I like the clean edges.  Drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
  4. If you’re using fresh corn, remove the kernels from the cob by running a paring knife down each ear.  You should also slice or dice your avocado and make sure your cheese is grated and your beans have been drained and rinsed.
  5. Rinse your romaine and either tear or cut it into bite-size pieces.  Dress the greens to taste and toss.
  6. Plate into 4 big bowls or 8 small bowls, and top with each ingredient, or set up an assembly line and let your guests assemble their own!

southwestern salad 1Want a healthier version?  Skip the bacon, tortilla strips, and ranch dressing; add  instead 1 chicken breast per person (grilled, poached, or roasted), a cilantro vinaigrette (Trader Joe’s has a great one), and some grated carrots.

Do you have leftover corn and black beans?  Here’s a few use-up ideas:

  1. Shred up part of a roast chicken or rotisserie chicken and toss it, along with corn and beans, into some chicken stock.  Too warm for soup?  Freeze it.  You’ll be glad you did next time you’re sick and there’s no one around to make or bring you some soup.
  2. Make a dip.  Dice up some tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, a drizzle of olive oil, a little bit of cilantro, and maybe even a squeeze of lime and some diced avocado.  Use your favorite chip to scoop it into your mouth.  I like tortilla.
  3. Not into dip?  Make nachos.
  4. Get creative!  How do you use up your leftovers?  I want to know!

so, what did you think?


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