April 23, 2007

Catalina Taco Salad

Catalina taco salad

During a recent dinner at La Nuova Pastelleria in Alabang, I was reminiscing with the owner about my old favorites from their original cafe in Makati. His younger brother was a friend and we went to the same school nearby, just a short walk from where his mother served some of the yummiest cakes from old family recipes - they have the best Concorde cake! Sometimes after the final bell, my best friend and I would mosey on over to Pastelleria, as it was fondly called back then, still sporting our Catholic school girl uniforms and share a big plate of taco salad and a slice of cake.

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.


joey said...

This looks great Nens! Love taco salad and yes I totally crush all my tacos because it's easier to eat and I have a very sensitive palate so I have to be careful when eating crunchy stuff. I remember you mentioning this before...it sounds delicious! :)

Sidney said...

Why don't you open a restaurant? I will be your first "suki".

Lydia said...

What fun! By the way, there is a fat-free version of the Catalina dressing available here in the US, too. Tastes pretty much the same as the regular one.

christine said...

Oh ya Jo! That could hurt your palate. How did you handle all the hard and crusty bread in Europe? Wait, didn't I prepare this for Rina's bachelorette weekend in Fuego? Or was that another occasion? :)

Sidney, you really know how to make me laugh! :) You're so sweet. Again, thank you for the compliment, I am very flattered you think I should open a restaurant. But oh my, that is the farthest thing on my mind! :)

Hi Lydia! I actually saw that on the shelf when I bought my stash last year. But because I had never tried it before, I didn't want to risk taking home 3 bottles of something I wouldn't like. But it's good to know it tastes pretty much the same. Thanks! :)

katia said...

Hi Christine....yup I remember the taco salad from the good ol days...you are talking about the pastelleria de san antonio, right??? As a matter of fact I was thinking about it last week, (funny that you write about it now) and made my own version of it (with chicken)....Sergio's reaction: ahem, this is not mexican, you know that right?
Ok ok whatever but its still good, no?

christine said...

Hey Katia! Of course I'm talking about the one in Pastelleria! And I still think about you and how you loved it also whenever I make or have a bowl of any taco salad. :) Don't you miss those days? And all those other meriendas we'd have in Polo?

Haha! I can totally imagine Sergio's reaction! We never said it was Mexican! He did educate me well in the differences of Tex Mex and Mexican while I was there. :)

katia said...

oh ya, i do! tapsilog for bfast, french fries with garlic...calamari...ok enough Im getting hungry...yes I def. miss those times...

christine said...

Those french fries with the garlic , yes! And then dipped pa in gravy hehe. And the Army Navy sandwich (remember the one covered in melted cheez whiz?), my god. I had it again recently after a badminton game and it's still as good as ever!

katia said...

goodness, i forgot all about the gravy! your memory is something else...you know I've never actually had one of those Army Navy sandwiches but how could one forget it! and after all these years they've kept it on the menu!

christine said...

yes! And I'm so glad they have. :)

wysgal said...

Crushing all tacos into taco salads is the only way I know how to eat them! =)

christine said...

Somehow I made you out to be a taco-crusher. :)

Anonymous said...

getting hungry! where can i try that army navy sandwich?

christine said...

I only ever had them at the Manila Polo Club. But you can try making your own. Make a regular BLT with sliced white or wheat bread, then melt some cheez whiz and pour all over the sandwich. That should do it. :)