This is not your greasy taco salad of yesteryear — in fact, there’s no ranch dressing powder or "taco seasoning packets" in sight. Just a few pantry ingredients come together for a flavorful (and fast!) weeknight dinner the whole family is sure to love.
It was probably back in middle school when I last experienced the pleasures of taco salad, a gruesome-looking concoction otherwise known as "taco surprise." I can still picture it now: the cafeteria lady nudging the tray my way — a flimsy cardboard thing filled with a soggy mountain of tortilla chips collapsed under an avalanche of mystery meat and a flood of fiery orange grease. Taco salad was definitely up there on the dreaded ick-list, right along with the infamous “rectangle pizza," otherwise known as commodity pizza. (Mmmm, yummy.)
Needless to say, taco salads have not made an appearance in my culinary repertoire in oh, say, well, the last 15 years. (Okay, make that never.) But thanks to a happy accident, that little fact is about to change.
I recently found myself with a hodgepodge of leftover ingredients — the remnants from a week’s worth of recipe testing and meal planning gone wrong. It was late for a weeknight and I was feeling famished and lazy, but my usual cop-out — an oversized bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios — just wasn’t going to do.
I did what I often do: Open the refrigerator door, stare, and then shut. Open the pantry door, stare, and then shut. Back to the refrigerator and repeat. Usually I will continue this aimless pattern until an idea finally starts form, and thankfully one did. A package of ground turkey, a jar of roasted red peppers, and a stale bag of tortilla chip crumbs later, and my turkey taco salad was born.
Of course taco salad is not a revelation in any sense of the word, nor does one even really need a recipe. But as I sat on the couch inhaling every last bite, I thought to myself, This is so freakin’ good. Why have I never made this before? Well, one thing's for sure: I'll definitely be making this again. Because on those hectic nights when breakfast-for-dinner won't do, I no longer have an excuse to call for delivery when a perfectly delicious dinner is mere minutes away. And that's reason enough to enjoy this taco surprise!
Turkey Taco Salad
Serves 2 to 4
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 pound ground turkey
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle powder, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon smoked or regular paprika
1 (15-ounce) can beans, such as black, kidney, or pinto, drained and rinsed
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne, to taste
Crushed tortilla chips
Shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, or cotija cheese
Shredded romaine lettuce or mixed salad greens
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Pico de gallo or salsa
Guacamole or diced avocado
Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and jalapeño and cook until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the turkey, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt, chipotle powder, and paprika and sauté until turkey is crumbly and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking until warmed through. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve the turkey mixture alongside a buffet of desired accompaniments for eaters to pick and choose, or combine the turkey mixture with the desired accompaniments and toss together in a large serving bowl.
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)