Somewhere down the line, the cafe evolved into an Italian trattoria and with this change came a shiny new menu featuring dreamy dishes that conjured up images of cozy rustic kitchens on Tuscan hillsides. Naturally there was no room for something so un-Italian and mundane as the poor taco salad. And while I do have my new favorites, I did miss it.
It was that same salad that inspired my habit of crushing my loaded taco shells into a crunchy salad. I liked it when the sauces were evenly spread. Even the Pancake House tacos would suffer the same fate. My mom prepared tacos at home sometimes for variety. She would so carefully layer each ingredient, making sure the shredded lettuce goes in first so it absorbs the juices from the meat and tomatoes that were piled on top of it. No sooner would she hand me mine and I'd come down on it with my fork crush...crush...stir. Oh, but don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the pleasure of eating tacos with my hands and letting the sauce spill down my forearm to my elbows, squirting more hot sauce before every bite.
I started to prepare my own taco salad after a friend introduced me to Kraft's Catalina salad dressing. It propelled the salad into a new dimension, resulting in one of the best taco salads I had ever tried, coming thisclose to that of Pastelleria. It was truly a eureka moment! The Catalina lends a nice sweet, tangy flavor that tempers the heat of the chili beans just right.
So after all that talk about taco salad the night before, I set about preparing a nice big bowl for Sunday lunch. Thankfully, I still had a bottle of Catalina that I brought home from a trip to the US last year and a couple of taco seasoning packets. I had also just been to the grocery so my fridge was freshly stacked with cheeses.
This is a meal in itself and can be very filling so I usually have it on it's own. But it's a salad ergo it's healthy and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Just look at all the tomatoes and lettuce and protein-rich beans in it! ;)
Catalina Taco Salad
1/2 kg ground beef
1 packet of taco seasoning mix
1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
2-3 tomatoes, sliced into wedges
2-3 onions, chopped
1 can chilli beans, drained
1/2 cap sliced olives, drained (optional)
1 bag corn chips, I like to use Cool Ranch Doritos
shredded cheddar cheese
Kraft's Catalina salad dressing
fresh chunky salsa
hot sauce, if the beans and salsa aren't hot enough
Now all you have to do is:
Brown beef in a skilet and then drain. Add taco seasoning and prepare according to package directions. Sometimes it will require you to add some water. Make sure to cool the meat before including it with the rest of the ingredients. Put everything in a large bag (some even use those medium sized garbage bags earning it the unappetizing nickname of Trash Bag Taco Salad) or plastic container and shake it like a polaroid picture!
Transfer the salad into a big bowl, pile on the salsa, dress with the Catalina and sprinkle generously with shredded cheese and voila! Too easy.
I still haven't found Catalina dressing here in Manila so I have to get mine in the US. But you can also make your own with this recipe.