Make-Ahead Loaded Veggie Taco Salad

published Aug 30, 2021
back to school
Loaded Veggie Taco Salad Recipe

This vegetarian taco salad with a creamy cilantro dressing is loaded with protein and can be eaten all week.


Makes5 individual salads

Prep30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
two bean taco salad in a bowl
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Taco salads in any form rank as one of my favorite salads, probably because they’re hearty enough to fill me up and are packed with savory elements like cheese and beans. I’m not one to pass up a decadent, meaty taco salad served up in a fried tortilla shell, but that’s not a dish easily made at home, let alone one that could be packed as a work or on-the-go lunch.

This vegetarian taco salad is designed to be made ahead so that, when packed properly, it tastes just as good the first day as it does the last. Plus, it won’t land you in a food coma post-meal.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Elements of Loaded Veggie Taco Salad

Dressing is really what ties a salad together, and this creamy yogurt-cilantro dressing is one of my favorites. Blend up yogurt, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, and some lime zest and juice into a thick, tangy dressing that coats every bite of the salad — it’s also great as a dip for tortilla chips.

The dressing goes over chopped romaine lettuce and what I consider the heart of this dish: bean salad. Two kinds of canned beans (black and pinto) are tossed with chopped tomato, jalapeño, and sweet bell pepper, with some ground cumin and lime juice to add more complex flavors that the veggies don’t have on their own. All these beans, coupled with the yogurt dressing, means this salad is protein-packed and satisfying.

The final touches are crumbly, salty cotija cheese and, of course, crumbled tortilla chips. If you can’t find cotija, Italian ricotta salata cheese is a good substitute, or you can use fresher queso fresco cheese instead.

How to Pack this Salad

If you’re making this salad ahead of time and want to pack it into individual portions, here’s the best way to do it so everything stays crisp and fresh.

  1. Start with the beans: Put the bean salad at the bottom of a resealable container (grab a big one if you want to toss and eat the salad directly out of it) so it doesn’t crush the delicate lettuce.
  2. Top with lettuce and cheese: Top with the romaine and the cheese, and pack the dressing and tortilla chips separately.
  3. Toss with dressing: When you’re ready to eat, add the dressing to the salad and toss, and finish by crumbling the chips on top.

Loaded Veggie Taco Salad Recipe

This vegetarian taco salad with a creamy cilantro dressing is loaded with protein and can be eaten all week.

Prep time 30 minutes

Makes 5 individual salads

Serves 5

Nutritional Info


  • 1 cup

    fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 1

    medium jalapeño

  • 1

    medium lime

  • 1 cup

    plain 2% or 5% Greek yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon

    vegetable oil

  • 1

    small garlic clove

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    black beans

  • 1 (about 15-ounce) can

    pinto beans

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper

  • 1

    medium Roma tomato

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 large head

    romaine lettuce (about 1 pound), or 12 ounces romaine lettuce hearts

  • 3 ounces

    Cotija cheese

  • 3 ounces

    tortilla chips (about 4 cups or 30 chips)


  1. Make the dressing: Coarsely chop until you have 1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems. Remove the stem, seeds, and membranes from 1 medium jalapeño pepper; coarsely chop half the pepper and reserve the remaining half for the salad. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lime (about 1 1/2 teaspoons). Juice the lime until you have 2 teaspoons juice.

  2. Add the cilantro, chopped jalapeño, lime zest, 1 teaspoon of the lime juice, 1 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 small garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt to a blender and blend until smooth.

  3. Make the salad: Prepare the following, adding each to a large bowl as you complete it: Drain and rinse 1 can black beans and 1 can pinto beans; pat dry with paper towels. Finely chop the reserved jalapeño half. Core, seed, and dice 1 medium red bell pepper (about 1 cup). Core and dice medium Roma tomato (about 3/4 cup). Add the remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine.

  4. Core and chop 1 pound romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces (about 10 cups) if needed. Crumble 3 ounces Cotija cheese (about 1/2 cup).

  5. Assemble or pack 5 salads: Pack 5 individual salads in quart-sized or larger resealable containers: For each one, start with 1 cup of the bean mixture, then top with about 2 cups romaine. Sprinkle with a generous 2 tablespoons Cotija. Portion out 3 tablespoons dressing in a small container. Refrigerate the salad and dressing until ready to eat, and pack 6 tortilla chips for each salad separately. (You can also eat immediately by assembling in individual bowls.)

  6. To serve, shake or stir the dressing, as it may be thicker on the bottom. Drizzle onto the salad and toss (or shake if there’s room in the container) to combine. Crumble the tortilla chips onto the salad.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The salad components can be refrigerated separately for up to 5 days.