This dairy free taco salad is so flavoursome and a perfect example that you don’t need the cheese and sour cream. The Catalina dressing is beyond tasty, making the whole recipe completely delicious! Topped with deep friend corn ribs for a sumptuous finish!
Why You’ll Love This Taco Salad
You really can’t go wrong with dairy free taco salad. With so many variations of what goes into a taco salad, it’s a fantastic way to get rid of leftovers too.
The combination of the beef mince fried in flavoursome taco seasoning and then tossed through with other vegetables makes for a hearty meal on its own. Great for Taco Tuesdays!
The corn ribs are our take sprucing up an otherwise simple-looking taco salad. This is great if you want to impress your guests as I can tell you that those corn ribs sure look appetising!
The Catalina dressing is delicious and helps to bind all the ingredients together. You can make extra and dip the corn ribs in them for a snack.
What Goes in a Taco Salad?
In 1984, Taco Bell introduced their famous Fiesta Taco Salad. This menu item consisted of a hard taco shell which housed a salad made of ground beef, refried beans, rice, crunchy red strips, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and sour cream. For an additional cost, you could add steak or chicken.
The Fiesta taco salad was incredibly popular, with many people then creating their very own versions of a taco salad. The Taco Bell recipe only came off their menus last year.
If you want to follow the original recipe, it’s easy enough to do, but nowadays, there is no strict rule as to what goes into a taco salad. Especially if you’re after a vegetarian version, a dairy free version like this recipe or a healthier take.
If you are Taco Tuesday kind of home cook, then you can just use the ingredients you normally use to make the salad version.
What are Corn Ribs?
Max Ng, I don’t know you, but I LOVE you!
Max Ng is the Executive Chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, the famous Asian eatery by prolific David Chang. Max invented the corn ribs, which are essentially corn cut lengthwise into quarters and then deep fried.
The corn curls in the heat of the oil and caramelises the kernels and take on a sweet caramel-like flavour. When you pick it up to eat it, it truly feels like you’re eating ribs!
They are so good that Ottolenghi praises the David Chang team for this creation and is now a regular feature in this ROVI restaurant and his new cookbook, Flavour.
It is delicious and a genius invention. After eating for thousands of years, I love that someone is creative enough to create a new way of eating it that can take the world by storm. Well done, Max!
How to Deep Fry Corn Ribs?
Heat a saucepan of vegetable oil. After cutting the corn into quarters lengthwise, all you have to do is put it into the oil and let it do some work. Don’t overcrowd the saucepan, as you need space for the corn to curl.
In about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the heat, the corn will start to curl, and the kernels begin to brown. As it takes on a lovely caramel colour, remove and place on paper towels to drain off the excess oil.
Flavour/Texture: The flavours of this taco salad is so yum as it has so many bold flavours. From the taco seasoning to the Catalina dressing, there is much going on.
The salad is all to be eaten together, and you can use the blue corn chips as a scoop. It’s meaty, crunchy, soft and slightly creamy from the avocado.
Ease: The hardest part about this recipe is cutting up the corn ribs. If you haven’t done it before, it can take some time. Just do it slowly and carefully. The rest of the recipe is easy.
Time: There are a few components to prepare and cook up, so this recipe will take about 40 minutes all up. It will be quicker if you’re proficient at cutting up the corn ribs and if you start heating the oil for deep frying while you’re cooking up the beef mince.
Beef mince (ground beef): Get good quality beef mince. Preferably grain-fed and organic.
Taco seasoning: Any seasoning of your choice as there are so many different ones to select from. If you prefer, you can go ahead and make your own seasoning too.
Oil: We will need vegetable oil for deep frying and olive oil for the salad dressing. You will also need some oil to fry up the beef mince. My preference is avocado oil, but you can use whichever oil you prefer.
Corn: Get some good-sized corn. Doesn’t matter if the husks have been removed or not.
Cos Lettuce: The small baby cos lettuce works the best for this recipe so you’re just peeling the leaves off. Will give the taco salad some fresh crunch.
Black beans: Canned black beans will do the trick.
Avocado: A firm but ripe avocado is required for this salad.
Apple cucumber: If in season, do yourself a favour and get an apple cucumber. Love the slightly sweeter flavours. If you love apple cucumber, try making our Spicy Roasted Broccoli Cauliflower Salad as well!
Onion salad: The sweetest of all alliums and less potent, making it fantastic for salads when eaten raw.
Cherry tomatoes: Any cherry tomatoes will be fine for this recipe. Just cut them in half.
Green chilli: Slice up some green chillies to give the salad some spiciness. Remove seeds if you think it will be too hot. Jalapenos would be great for this recipe too!
Parsley: Just roughly tear off some flat leaf parsley leaves. We don’t want the stems.
Blue corn chips: Made with organic blue corn, they make for a fun way to enjoy a taco salad. Not to mention they are delicious!
Tomato ketchup: Tomato ketchup is the base for the Catalina dressing, giving it that sweet and slightly tangy flavour as well as that thick consistency. Use your favourite brand.
Red wine vinegar: This will provide tartness to the flavours.
Worcestershire sauce: Can’t go wrong with this old favourite. Love the addition of the anchovies and tamarind flavours.
Hot paprika, celery seeds, garlic powder, onion powder: Add these lovely spices to the Catalina dressing to give it the lift it needs! It doesn’t need too much, but the combination is fantastic!
Variations and Substitutions
Beef substitute: If you are not a red meat person, you can certainly opt for white meat such as chicken, turkey or pork.
Vegetarian version: Replace the beef with tofu. Use firm tofu; cut them up into small cubes and fry with the taco seasoning.
Corn rib substitute: Of course, if you prefer not to go through the process of trying to make corn ribs, just add some regular corn from a can or boil up some fresh corn and cut off the kernels when it has cooled down.
Type of lettuce: I like the crunch of the cos lettuce, but it’s not necessary. Any mixed leaf option can work as a base.
Salad onion substitute: If you can’t find salad onion, you can use white onion or shallots.
Apple cucumber substitute: Apple cucumbers are not always in season, so please use any cucumber of your choice.
Blue corn chips replacement: We love the colour of these chips, but you can use your favourite tortilla chips.
Step by step instructions for how to make Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing:
How to Cook the Beef Mince
Add 1 tsp of olive oil to a large fry pan. Pan fry beef mince until it has cooked through, and then add 1 packet of taco seasoning. Fry until brown and well cooked.
Rest a colander over the prep bowl. Ensure that there is space between the bottom of the colander and the prep bowl.
Put the cooked beef mince in the colander and allow the juices to drain. This part of the process is important as it will ensure the salad doesn’t turn into a soggy mess.
How to Cook the Corn Ribs
Add 3 cups of vegetable oil to a saucepan or use your deep fryer.
Cut the corn in half lengthwise, standing up vertically. If you lay the corn flat on the chopping corn, you’ll mash the kernels as cutting uncooked corn is quite tricky. Then cut it lengthwise into quarters.
While the corn ribs are so worth it in the end, cutting it vertically is a little precarious. Use a big knife or even a cleaver. If you have a mallet, you can use it to bang on the knife to help with the process.
When the oil is hot, add the corn ribs and deep fry for about 3-5 minutes or until the kernels are nicely browned. Remove, place on paper towels to drain excess oil.
How to Make The Rest of The Salad
Thinly slice ¼ of a salad onion.
Dice ½ an avocado.
Cut apple cucumber into small cubes without the seeds.
Cut cherry tomatoes in half.
Drain canned black beans and measure out ½ cup.
Remove the whole leaves of the cos lettuce. Wash and set aside to dry.
How to Make Catalina Dressing
Place all the ingredients in a food processor or hand blender and blitz thoroughly.
How to Assemble the Salad
In a large mixing bowl, add the beef mince, salad onion, avocado, apple cucumber, cherry tomatoes, black beans and ¾ of the salad dressing. Toss until well combined.
On a large platter, scatter the cos lettuce leaves. Then drizzle the Catalina dressing on top.
Add the salad on top of the lettuce leaves.
Place the corn ribs on top of the salad.
Place the rest of the dressing in a small bowl to serve on the side.
Put some blue corn chips in a bowl to serve on the side.
Great Mains for This Salad
Let’s hone in on the Mexican inspired theme! check out some of these main recipes that you could have alongside the Taco Salad:
Can’t have Mexican without some Beef enchiladas. If there is already too much meat you can opt for some of these stuffed poblano peppers and for those cooler nights, this chicken tortilla soup is a family favourite.
Frequently Asked Questions
Apple cucumbers are like a short, stumpy and rounded version of a regular cucumber. It resembles more like a small oblong melon with its light yellow to green coloured skin. It has rounded edges and feels dense to hold.
It has a light to white coloured flesh and is quite seedy. It is refreshing, has a mildly sweet flavour and crisp like an apple. You eat apple cucumbers as you would a regular cucumber or even it whole like an apple!
Catalina dressing is a salad dressing that is tomato based. The more popular Catalina dressing used tomato ketchup as the main component. Vinegar, onion powder, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, celery seeds and paprika are then usually added to it.
Some variations will call for a hot sauce, peppers, honey and sugar. This dressing is both sweet and sour, which is great for any salad.
Blue corn chips are simply corn chips made of blue corn. They are easily available in either the Mexican or chip section of your supermarket aisle.
You can prepare the components in advance and then mix them when it’s time to eat. The apple cucumber and the cooked beef mince will start to water if you toss it all together only to eat later on.
This dairy free taco salad did not last very long in our household. It was really easy to eat and surprisingly more delicious than expected.
It has all the familiar flavours of a taco but in a salad style topped with those delicious fried corn ribs. Taco Bell, you’re a genius!
More Main Meal Salad Recipes
Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing
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- Add 1 tsp of olive oil to a large fry pan. Pan fry beef mince until it has cooked through, and then add 1 packet of taco seasoning. Fry until brown and well cooked.
- Rest a colander over the prep bowl. Ensure that there is space between the bottom of the colander and the prep bowl. Put the cooked beef mince in the colander and allow the juices to drain.
- Add 3 cups of vegetable oil to a saucepan or use your deep fryer.
- Cut the corn in half lengthwise, standing up. Then cut it lengthwise into quarters. When the oil is hot, add the corn ribs and deep fry for about 3-5 minutes or until the kernels are nicely browned. Remove, place on paper towels to drain excess oil.
- Remove the whole leaves of the romaine (cos) lettuce. Wash and set aside to dry.
- Drain canned black beans and measure out ½ cup.
- Dice ½ an avocado.
- Cut apple cucumber into small cubes without the seeds.
- Thinly slice ¼ of a salad onion.
- Cut cherry tomatoes in half.
- Slice the green chillies.
- Roughly tera up parsley leaves.
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or hand blender and blitz thoroughly.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the beef mince, black beans, avocado, apple cucumber, salad onion, cherry tomatoes, green chilli, parsley and ¾ of the salad dressing. Toss until well combined.
- On a large platter, scatter the lettuce leaves. Then drizzle the Catalina dressing on top.
- Add the salad on top of the lettuce leaves.
- Place the corn ribs on top of the salad.
- Place the rest of the dressing in a small bowl to serve on the side.
- Put some blue corn chips in a bowl to serve on the side.
- You can use any taco seasoning of your choice for this recipe. You can even make your own if you prefer.
- Be very careful when you cut the corn lengthwise. It is quite a precarious task. Use a kitchen mallet to help push the knife down. If you are not comfortable with this process, just use canned corn and forego the corn ribs.
- It may pay to get an extra corn in case the cutting doesn’t work out.
- If you have an air fryer, you can also make your corn ribs in them. Place them flat on the tray and do not overlap. Coat with oil and air fry for about 10-12 minutes and flipping it halfway to get an even fry.
- If you can’t find salad onion, you can use white onion or shallots.
- Apple cucumbers are not always in season, so please use any cucumber of your choice.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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