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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

Lightened-Up Taco Salad

Sensible swaps like ground turkey, corn, and a light dressing update the calorie-heavy taco salad from the 1960s.

corn kernels, white rice, taco meat, chopped tomatoes and sliced radish on romaine lettuce leaves
Lightened-Up Taco Salad

Has March been a crazy month for you, too? It seems we haven’t shared a cup of coffee or tea and a recipe for a while! When you’re juggling a lot of balls, you need a recipe that’s quick and something everybody in the family will enjoy eating. You need this recipe for my Lightened-Up Taco Salad.  


This is a nice change of pace for your taco night at home. Inspired by those calorie-heavy taco salads that feature spicy ground beef, refried beans, mounds of cheese, sour cream, and a hint of a few green things layered up in a fried taco shell, this salad has way less calories but is equally delicious. Those salads in a fried shell can cost you 1,300 calories! But instead of a fried shell, my version uses corn to satisfies that comforting bite. Seasoned round turkey replaces the beef, and brown or white rice tells fattening fried beans buh-bye. We’re both busy, so let’s get cooking so you can have dinner ready tonight!

To make Lightened-Up Taco Salad, which yields 4 servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1 pound ground skinless turkey

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 teaspoons taco seasoning

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

  • 1 cup cooked white or brown rice

  • 1 cup frozen corn, defrosted

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered

  • 12 romaine leaves

  • 4 radishes

  • Fresh cilantro or parsley and lime wedges to garnish


Directions for Lightened-Up Taco Salad

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add taco seasoning to bloom the spices (about half a minute). Add onion and turkey. Cook, breaking turkey apart with a wooden spoon, for 4 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute.


Add crushed tomatoes and salt; cook about 8 minutes until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

To build the salad, place 3 clean and dry Romaine lettuce leaves on a plate. Mount a ¼ cup of the cooked rice on the end near the stems. Layer corn next to rice. Next, place turkey taco mixture on lettuce next to rice.


Top salad with chopped parsley, a sliced radish, and fresh tomatoes. Serve with lime wedge.



Notes for your kitchen

Instead of dollops of sour cream all over your salad, drizzle 2 tablespoons of low-fat ranch dressing that you’ve thinned with a tablespoon of lime juice. It suggests that creamy dairy finish without all the calories.


You also can make low-fat ranch dressing using Greek yogurt and lime juice. Here’s how:

Mix 1 teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder, pinch of salt, and 1½ teaspoons lime (or lemon) juice into ½ cup Greek yogurt. Stir to combine and add ½ teaspoon dried dill or parsley. If you have extra fresh parsley or cilantro from the salad, chop that fine and add to your dressing!


Did you know?

Taco salads became popular in Texas in the 1960s, and those likely were inspired by the Tacup, a food invention by Elmer Doolin, the Fritos founder, in the 1950s. Doolin even sold his Tacup dish at Disneyland in 1955, according to the Orange County Weekly.

I remember taco salad Tuesdays at the cafeteria where I worked. My friends and I got so excited on those days because chefs Al and Jerome made the classic salad with refried beans, the fried shell, beef, and all the trimmings. But I also remember feeling like a needed a nap after eating one of those! No wonder: I’d just consumed most of my day’s caloric intake at one meal!


By comparison, my Lightened-Up Taco Salad is 296 calories, so you won’t feel weighed down but still get all the flavor. If you want to spice the turkey up even more, add a couple teaspoons of adobo to the mixture.


Comfort food doesn’t have to be high-calorie and heavy on the stomach. It’s often food that ignites good memories, and this month, we’re exploring ways to do that without burning through your daily calories. Stay tuned because more healthy, comforting recipes are coming.


About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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