Cilantro Caesar Salad with Carne Asada


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!

The recipes:

Simple Carne Asada

skirt steak
olive oil
salt pepper

  1. Dry steak with paper towels.
  2. Squeeze half a lime over each side of steak.
  3. Brush steak with olive oil on each side and sprinkle with a little fresh ground pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
olive oil

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Caesar Salad:

Chopped romaine lettuce
toasted pine nuts
shaved parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) cheese
fried tortilla strips*

  1. Just before eating, put lettuce in a salad bowl.
  2. Top with desired amount of pine nuts, cheese and tortilla strips.
  3. Add some cilantro dressing and toss well.
  4. 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.

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  1. 1
    Ryan Says:

    I’m sure your salad is 18 billion times better than the swill they pass off as food at El Toritos…

    Stupid overpriced chain restaurants


  2. 2
    Ivonne Says:

    Be still my beating heart! I just love it and I especially like your addition of the cilantro.


  3. Wow! El Torito…that takes be back. I adore cilantro pesto and drizzle it on, well, just about anything!

  4. 4

    Love it…I just wish I could eat it now. I’m going to try this …it seems like just the right antidote.

  5. 5
    Pearl Says:

    Phenomenal picture. It’s always fun to try to replicate a restaurant dish from memory.

  6. 6
    Brilynn Says:

    Cilantro sounds like a great addition to a caesar salad, I’ll have to give that a try.

  7. 7
    Mae Says:

    That’s one sexy salad, Nicole! Love the sound of the cilantro pesto… and the addition of crumbly tortilla chips is very unique!

    Love it.

  8. 8
    Becky Says:

    You take such fabulous pictures – I think I’m coming down with food porn envy 😉

  9. 9
    rachel Says:

    Yum. We love to have steak and salad!

  10. 10
    experienceaurie Says:

    wow. i went to an italian restaurant on saturday and the owner is from naples. he has about 5 restaurants, but they certainly keep the home style cooking feel as priority #1 . The only thing is their salad was just ok, but this salad you made looks absolutely stunning. Hmmm…Come to New Jersey so I can taste your food. =)

  11. 11
    Brilynn Says:

    I know I’ve already said that I like the looks of this salad, but now I want to see what else you can do, I’m tagging you for the Foodbloggers Welcome Dinner

  12. Mmmm, this sounds totally the kind of salad I would love to have! This cilantro pesto dressing! Yes please!

  13. 13
    Sandy Says:

    My husband will love this! Caesar salad and mexican, too!

  14. 14
    amanda Says:

    nicole, i love how supremely thin the carne asada is sliced! i doubt i could achieve such delicate slices! it sounds and looks awesome as always… you know, i’ve never made a cilantro pesto but i do just love cilantro. i’m definately going to have to give it a whirl

  15. I don’t know why it took me so long to find your blog, but it looks like I have some back reading to do! 🙂

    Great pictures, I look forward to reading more! SARA

  16. 16
    jerald Says:

    if you guys need help making a salad
    holy crap

  17. 17

    where are you? No new posts….

  18. 18
    amanda Says:

    hey nicole! i thought i left a message on this post previously, buuuuuut…. it’s nowhere to be seen! anyway, i’ve been drooling over that thinnly sliced carne asada for quite some time now. i hope everythings okay and that you’re either in transit to italy or having a fabulous time on some adventure!

  19. 19
    amanda Says:

    uh… i think i’m blind… it took me all of .5 seconds after i posted that last comment to see the one i wrote you before… oops!

  20. 20

    Nicole! Happy Turkey Day! Do you celebrate Thanksgiving over there in Sicily, or are you 100% Italian now? Be sure to check out Chili con Deero at Steve’s. Later.
    My wife says “Ciao bella.”

  21. 21
    Randi Says:

    I loved that salad from El Torito too. Another foodblogger traded me a canadian food magazine for a bottle of the cilantro pepita dressing. I went looking for the dressing recipe online and found it. I was shocked to see how much oil it had. I make my own version of the salad with pepita’s and small cooked ravioli. Makes a great main dish salad. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  22. 22
    Ashley Says:

    I came across your blog a few weeks ago, and I made this dish (minus the tortillas) and it was really great! The tangy dressing and the parmesan really complimented the meat well. Thanks so much for posting this!

  23. TTTTTTTTTASTEY TASTEY!!!! it was just delicious, d to the e to the licious!!!

  24. 24
    Theodore Says:

    I have already enjoy your website, and it is so nice and cool. I will visit your website again. Thank you. Please More updates

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