Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Taco Shell Salad

This is one of those meals that was extra fun to make because I took several ideas from different places and kinda smushed them all together into one thing. The idea for a nice salad served in a cute little taco shell cup originally came about when I was thumbing through my latest issue of Cooking Light and saw a recipe for a shrimp salad. I had chicken to use up, so I decided to go with that instead. The recipe also used premade taco salad bowls, but I thought it might be fun to make my own. How hard could it be, I figured? Plus, I had just bought myself some ramekins, and I wanted to break them in. Sure, it would have been nice to break them in by actually baking a little cake or souffle in them, but this would do!

More on making the actual taco bowls later, though. For my salad, I just used what I had on hand (as usual). I tossed together some romaine lettuce, fresh radishes, and red onion. In the same issue of Cooking Light that I had found the taco salad in (the August issue), there was an advertisement for Kashi and they had a couple recipes in the ad. The chicken recipe they had listed really caught my eye, so I decided to use their ideas for a chicken marinade and a vinaigrette.

I sliced up my chicken into long strips, then marinated them for 30 minutes in a mixture of lime juice, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once they were done marinating, I cooked them on my indoor grill pan for roughly 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. While that was cooking, I made the vinaigrette.

Oh, this vinaigrette. It was so easy, so fresh, and yet it just created so much flavor. We thought it was amazing. I had to alter it slightly; it's not exactly the original version. That is mostly because the original is a poblano spinach vinaigrette, and I had no poblanos! I did, however, have serrano peppers, so I used them instead. It made the dressing spicy, but that was fine with us. If you read this blog somewhat occasionally, you've probably caught on by now that we love our spicy food!

Now, for the taco bowls. I admit I was sort of winging it, and I didn't really figure out how to do it properly until I had already made most of them. I'll tell you what I did, both right and wrong, so hopefully you won't make the same mistakes if you ever try this!

With the help of my 4 year-old son, I would take a flour tortilla, squish it down into a ceramic ramekin, and then spray it with nonstick cooking spray. A little sprinkle of salt and pepper, and they were ready for the oven (the above picture shows this method). I baked them at 350 degrees for around 12 minutes.

Well, this did work...sorta. What happened was this: at 12 minutes, the tops of the shells were crisp and slightly browned. The insides, however, were still very soft. This may have to do with the fact that my son really sprayed these a lot, so they may have been too wet. The other issue these had was that they were a little too scrunched up, so they were pretty hard to fill up with the salad. Oops.

Then I tried them a different way, and it worked much better! I flipped the ramekins over, so they bottoms were facing up. I sprayed the ramekins with cooking spray, as well as the flour tortillas. Then, I molded the tortillas to the ramekins, and they adhered pretty well because of the spray. While they baked, they maintained that nice shape, and once they were finished they were crispy throughout (though maybe they could have used an extra 4-5 minutes in the oven this way). The finished product picture below shows the bowls made the second (and much smarter!) way.

This was a fun experiment, and the meal turned out scrumptious. The salad was light and yummy, the vinaigrette was a welcome pop of flavor, and topping everything off with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of fresh salsa never hurt anything! It was a blast to eat, and I'm always grateful when I can make something that my picky son can enjoy!

The original inspiration for the taco bowl salad (titled Chipotle-Rubbed Shrimp Taco Salad) can be found here. You can find the full recipe for the Cilantro Lime Chicken on Kashi's website, here. I've included it below, since I did change it slightly.

Grilled Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad
adapted from Chef Keith Snow's recipe for Kashi and from Cooking Light
makes about 4 servings

For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced and zested
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
pinch black pepper

For the vinaigrette:
2 serrano peppers, roasted and skin removed
1 cup fresh spinach, steamed for 2 minutes and squeezed to remove excess liquid
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 of a red onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
pinch kosher salt
pinch black pepper

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 flour tortillas
nonstick cooking spray
salt and pepper, to taste
salsa, for garnish
sour cream, for garnish

Assemble the marinade: 1. Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and zest, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Combine marinade with the chicken in a shallow dish or sealable ziploc bag, coating chicken thoroughly. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Make the vinaigrette: 1. Combine all ingredients in a blender (I used my immersion blender) and puree until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. The leftover dressing can be refrigerated (and is great on just about anything).

Make the taco bowls: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn 4 ramekins or heatproof bowls over so the bottoms face up, and place them on a baking sheet. Spray each with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Take each of your 4 tortillas and, one at a time, arrange them on a ramekin or bowl so that they are draped over them. Spray the tops of the tortillas with cooking spray and sprinkle each with salt and pepper. Bake for 12-17 minutres, until crispy and lightly browned all over.

Assemble the salad: 1. Preheat a grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high. Spray with cooking spray. Cook the chicken strips for approximately 5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Meanwhile, toss together the romaine lettuce, radishes, and red onion. Divide the salad among the taco bowls, add some chicken strips to each, and drizzle with as much vinaigrette as desired. Garnish salads with sour cream and salsa, and serve.


  1. Smushing and squishing...all sounds like fun to me!! What a great idea with the ramekin. I have these larger molds for making one but it is too large, I never use it as the portion size doesn't match well, it's huge and the little ramekin idea is much more realistic and fun...everyone gets one smallish one rather than my molds where you have to cut one in half at least. Thanks for the idea. Now, back to smushing and squishing!

  2. Yeah, I have to be honest here. One tortilla shell wasn't quite enough for us all, so my son had one and my hubby and I each had two. I think one shell would be a perfect lunch size, or maybe we just eat excessively large dinners! But yes, the smushing and squishing was a great activity for the almost-kindergartener! Oh, who am I kidding, it was fun for me, too.