I created this salad quite a while ago but haven’t posted it because I haven’t come up with an exact recipe. Each time I make the salad, I change the ingredients and amounts, trying to come up with the perfect combination. But it seems that it tastes just as good each time. So, I’m just going to give you a basic recipe and some general guidelines and you can either come up with your own “exact recipe” or you can keep changing it up like I’ve been doing.
I started experimenting with this salad because I was trying to replicate the mexican caesar salad from El Torito, a chain restaurant here on the west coast. I haven’t had it for years but I’ve never forgotten the cilantro dressing. Since I was in Italy when I started my experiment, I ended up using olive oil, pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano cheese. What I came up with is basically a thin cilantro pesto and it’s REALLY good on salad and meat! I think the only resemblance my recipe has to the El Torito salad is the main cilantro flavor and the tortilla strips. But it’s similar enough that I no longer crave the other one.
The photo above doesn’t show the fried tortilla strips but I think they really add a lot to this salad! I suppose you could try crushing up some tortilla chips but I highly recommend frying them yourself. The addition of carne asada is optional of course. You can go without and the salad makes a great side dish or you can add the meat and it makes a nice light main course. You could also try adding some grilled chicken breast if you prefer. I chose steak because it really stands up to the strong flavor of the dressing. In fact, if you aren’t much of a salad person, this dressing is wonderful drizzled over some grilled steak.
The amounts that I have listed for the salad dressing are what I tend to use most of the time. You can start with what I’ve listed and then adjust things to suit your own taste. If you are a garlic lover, add more! I’ve found that one clove is enough for me since it’s raw. If you don’t like a strong garlic flavor, try using roasted garlic (If you use roasted garlic, you should add several cloves because the flavor is so mild). I made this dressing once using roasted garlic and avocado and it was really good although much mellower in flavor than the original. The amount of olive oil you use is really up to you. Just taste it as you go and don’t forget to season it well with salt and pepper!
Simple Carne Asada
- Dry steak with paper towels.
- Squeeze half a lime over each side of steak.
- Brush steak with olive oil on each side and sprinkle with a little fresh ground pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes.
- When your grill is hot, sprinkle meat with coarse salt then grill over medium high heat for about 6 minutes per side or until it is done to your liking.
- Let sit for ten minutes and then slice thinly across the grain.
Cilantro Pesto Dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 C. pine nuts, toasted*
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
juice of one lime
splash of white vinegar
- In a food processor or blender combine garlic, pine nuts, cilantro, lime juice and vinegar. Process until everything is well-combined, scraping down the sides as necessary.
- While machine is running, pour olive oil in a stream until dressing reaches desired consistency and flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will be on the thick side.
* To toast pine nuts: Put pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shaking pan or stirring nuts frequently, toast until they take on a light brown color. Don’t leave them unattended because they will burn quickly! As soon as they are toasted, remove them from the pan to a small bowl to cool. Make sure you toast enough to use both in the salad dressing and in the salad itself!
Chopped romaine lettuce
toasted pine nuts
shaved parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) cheese
fried tortilla strips*
- Just before eating, put lettuce in a salad bowl.
- Top with desired amount of pine nuts, cheese and tortilla strips.
- Add some cilantro dressing and toss well.
- Divide salad among plates or bowls and top each serving with sliced carne asada if desired.
* To make tortilla strips: Heat some oil in a deep fryer or in a deep skillet or dutch oven. While oil is coming to temperature, stack a few corn tortillas on a cutting board. Cut the stack in half and then slice into thin strips. When oil temperature reaches 350 degrees, fry tortilla strips in small batches, stirring them so they don’t stick together. Drain on paper towels and toss with a little salt while still warm.