Let's talk about salads, baby. Let's talk about you and me. Let's talk about copying Trader Joe's cilantro dressing, 'cause that's EXACTLY what I set out to do (and when I get a food replication in mind, it's like a weird eye twitch that won't go away until I accomplish my mission). Not how the song goes? Aw, shucks.
I was never one of those kids who fought salad. My grandpa actually called me rabbit most of my young life. I loved a tacky salad bar more than probably most new toys. When the server gave the go-ahead to go get myself a giant plate, while other people were still ordering, it always felt like I had inherently pulled some sort of wool over the adult's eyes, when in reality, they were probably like "Cool, you just enjoy that germ casserole, child. Now run along so we can break out the curse words." Regardless, I was a happy camper, and to this day, the love affair continues.
This particular salad, however, I'm ready to be my forever salad. As per previous mention, the inception of this salad was a craving I had for TJ's cilantro vinaigrette that I used to buy all the time in college. I don't enjoy the notion of being put in the box of having to go buy one pre-made item, so I love dissecting my favorite things wherever I can, and turning them into something I can whip up in minutes at home.
This salad is the perfect balance of freshness and texture. To make it a fully rounded meal, I made a panko-crusted, chili and cumin-spiced chicken, which fortifies the taco vibes. Avo for creaminess, cherry tomatoes for a bright pop, green onions for some light heat, and finally, toasted pepitas, and freshly fried tortilla strips for the crunch factor. This salad has a lot going on, and it should probably consider booking a weekend AirBnb for a little sweet rejuv.
Make your dressing. If you are planning on having this salad the next day, you're in luck! This dressing gets better if it has a chance to chill for about 24hrs, and really, isn't that the case with all of us?
I love making this dressing with an immersion blender in an airtight container I can pop directly into the fridge, but if you don't have one, you can't go wrong with a food processor or blender. Add an avocado (roughly chopped), your cilantro, shallot, garlic clove, lime zest, red wine vinegar, and puree until smooth. Next, add your cotija (feta is a great substitute ), sour cream, lime juice, and salt and pepper, and puree once more. Then, slowly drizzle in your olive oil while blending. Test for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Press plastic wrap directly on top of the dressing, cover with lid, and refrigerate at least 1 hour (but up to 24).
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and make your chicken. Gather 3 shallow dishes (pie plates work great), and in one add your flour plus 3/4 tsp each ground cumin and chili powder, in another your panko breadcrumbs plus 3/4 tsp each ground cumin and chili powder, and in your last one, beat 2 eggs. Season your flour/panko mixtures with salt and pepper, and mix. Dredge your chicken, starting with flour, then egg, and ending with the panko mixture. Place your chicken on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack, so the chicken has opportunity to crisp on all sides, and drizzle with vegetable oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until internal temperature registers 160 degrees.
While your chicken is cooking, toast your pepitas in a dry pan, and set aside. Cut your tortillas into roughly 3" strips, and heat about 2" vegetable oil in a heavy skillet. Add your tortilla strips, and cook in batches, until golden brown, and set atop paper towels to drain. When your chicken is done, set aside to rest for 10 minutes before slicing, and assemble all your salad veg!
Add your green leaf lettuce (or frankly, whatever your lettuce jam is), chopped cilantro, cherry tomatoes, chopped green onions, and avocado, sprinkle with cotija, your pepitas and tortilla strips, reserving more for people to add after they've dished out.
Something about the creaminess of the dressing paired with all that fresh cilantro, and the crunchiness of the chicken, tortillas, and pepitas is SO satisfying. I first made this dressing about 2 1/2 months ago, and I've probably made this salad 10 times since then. So much so, that I declared an official break from it, only to be writing this post, reactivating my craving. The irony! What recipes are you guys major repeat offenders with? I'd love to hear!
With that, I actually woke up 29 today, so I'm off to ponder my b-day dinner outfit, and eat many many oysters. Cheers to you on this fine, fine, hump day friends.
"Taco" Salad with Cumin Spiced Chicken and Addictive Cilantro Dressing
1/2 large bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small shallot
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup cotija cheese (or substitute feta)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbs sour cream
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Olive oil (eyeball)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili and Cumin Spiced Chicken
1 cup flour + 3/4 tsp each ground chili and cumin
1 cup panko breadcrumbs 3/4 tsp each ground chili and cumin
2 eggs, beaten
3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
1 head lettuce of choice
1 /2 large bunch cilantro, hand torn
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup pepitas, toasted
2 cups tortilla strips
1/2 cup cotija (sub feta)