Mexican Chopped Salad Recipe


Very often I have an idea for a recipe and it takes me a few times to get it right.  In fact, usually it takes me more than a few times!  But once in a blue moon, I try something on the fly and I love it on the spot, like culinary love at first bite.  That’s what happened with this salad.  Last year I was putting together a Mexican-inspired menu for my April classes and I was trying to think of a fresh and easy salad to teach.  I wanted something clean and healthful with all the ingredients I love to use when I make Mexican food, but without it tasting like a taco salad.  I happen to adore chopped salads, so off I went with crisp romaine lettuce, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pinto beans, avocado and my favorite part, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds.)  I made a very light dressing with apple cider vinegar, orange juice and enough cumin to give it that south-of-the-border flavor.

On that day of recipe testing at home last year, I nearly ate the entire salad.  Whereas this salad may not win any awards for sophistication, what in the world is not to love?  Not only does this salad look gorgeous, it is addictive and crunchy and juicy and creamy.  You know how I love a crunchy-creamy combo.   Since then, I have made this salad virtually every time we were invited to a pot luck or backyard barbeque.  The beauty of this salad, besides being a giant bowl of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, is that it can prepped almost entirely in advance.  Chopped veggies go into a serving bowl with dressing in a jar and avocados to be cut just before serving.  If you’re vegan, vegetarian or if you’re like me and you’re going to a party where you fear there might be non-organic meat, I think this can easily be a main course salad on it’s own.  The pinto beans and pumpkin seeds offer more than enough protein.  Although my husband is a bit of a carnivore and loves this salad with grilled chicken chopped in.  Shrimp works great, too.

Fast forward a year later when I taught this salad again a few days ago.   My assistant and I each grabbed a bit in a cup to go and crunched our way home, wishing we had had bigger cups.  I know you’ll love this salad just as much as I do.

mexican chopped salad | pamela salzman


mexican chopped salad | pamela salzman

If you’re looking for more Cinco de Mayo inspiration, check out these favorites:

4.0 from 1 reviews
Mexican Chopped Salad
Serves: 6
  • Dressing (probably makes more than you need):
  • 3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 Tablespoons raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons fine grain sea salt + additional to taste
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon raw honey
  • ½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 head butter or romaine lettuce, chopped, about 8 cups
  • 2 cups chopped red cabbage
  • 1½ cups or 1 15-ounce can cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups diced cucumbers (I like Persian), unpeeled, large seeds scooped out
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 small avocados or 2 large, pitted, peeled and cubed
  • ½ cup pepitas – toasted in a dry skillet and drizzled with ½ teaspoon olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt
  1. Make the dressing: whisk first five ingredients in a small bowl. Add olive oil and whisk completely until emulsified. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Combine lettuce and cabbage in a large bowl. Add pinto beans, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Toss with enough dressing to coat lightly. Drizzle a little dressing on avocados and gently mix into the salad. Sprinkle pepitas on top. If you have additional dressing, save in the refrigerator for another time.
There's enough dressing that you can probably add a bit more cabbage or other veggies.

If you cut back on the oil by about 2-3 Tablespoons, the dressing makes a great marinade for grilled chicken or shrimp. Both would be nice on top of the salad, although there is adequate protein from the beans and pepitas.


Chicken and Avocado Soup

Even though I’m a big football fan and I love a good game (especially when my team wins), when it’s over, it’s over.  Whether the outcome of the game is favorable or unfavorable, life goes on and so do I.  So football is finished until next year, but eating happens multiple times a day everyday.  And today I am much more focused on what to do with Super Bowl leftovers!

Quinoa cornbread became breakfast.  Chili went into thermoses for lunch.  And topping bar items can make their way into frittatas, quesadillas or soup for dinner.  This particular soup was not my brain child, but as often happens in my life, my kids leave the house and are amazed by what they’re “missing.”  A while back my mother-in-law took them to Cafe Rio, a “fast casual dining establishment,” and they went bonkers for the Tortilla Soup.  It’s is a brothy and flavorful chicken stock-based soup with some vegetables and whatever add-ins you choose.  Whereas the younger two kids asked me if we could go there for dinner some night and have it again, my older daughter knew me better than that and suggested I try to copy the soup at home.  Great idea!

So one day my friend Cheryl and I went on a secret reconnaissance mission to the local Cafe Rio to check out the famous soup and see exactly how they do this thing.  Truthfully, their method is pretty genius and it’s the perfect soup to make at home for a family or a group.  The server adds into a cup your choice of chicken, guacamole, salsa, cheese, cilantro, and tortillas, and then ladles a flavorful chicken soup on top.  Yep, that’s it.  And except for being unbelievably salty, the soup was rather tasty.   You know how much I love a do-it-yourself situation (less work for me!)  Can you picture how easy this is if you have cooked chicken and salsa already made?  This comes together in minutes, I tell you, and everyone makes it the way they want.  You want it to be vegetarian?  No problem!  Just sub a great vegetable stock for the chicken stock and add in some pinto beans for protein.

Even though my intent was to copy Cafe Rio’s soup, I ended up making a couple of my own tweaks, such as using chopped avocado instead of guacamole (but definitely use the guac if you have it) and adding a squeeze of lime at the end.  I used poached chicken the day I took these photos and give you directions for that in the recipe, but I have used leftover grilled chicken or the meat from a whole roasted chicken, too.  And sometimes I add quinoa to mine if I’m not in the mood for chicken, and I love that, too.  But the method behind this soup is giving me all sorts of ideas for how to use up some tasty leftovers.  If you make the soup base as directed here, I have chopped up leftover enchiladas and added them for an “enchilada soup,” but I bet you could add in taco meat and some tortillas for a “taco soup.”  I’m excited by the possibilities, plus I think I just made my meal plan for the week!


5.0 from 1 reviews
Chicken and Avocado Soup
Serves: 6
  • 1 or 2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves (depending on how much chicken you want in your soup)
  • ½ large onion, peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon additive-free kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
  • A few peppercorns, crushed
  • A few garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded (if you don’t want too much heat) and diced (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt (double this if you use unsalted stock)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup pico de gallo (fresh tomato salsa)
  • 1-2 avocados, peeled and cut into chunks or guacamole
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges (my favorite part!)
  • Other possible add-ins: tortilla chips, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese
  1. Poach the chicken: Place the chicken breast, onion half (halved again), salt, pepper and garlic into a medium saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer chicken for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow chicken to sit in the liquid until cool enough to handle.
  2. In a large pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, scallions, carrots, celery and jalapeno. Sauté until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  4. Pull chicken from liquid and remove skin and bones. Shred chicken into bite-size pieces. You can divide chicken amongst the 6 individual bowls or add it all to the pot.
  5. Put a heaping spoonful of pico de gallo and avocado chunks/guacamole in each individual bowl and ladle soup on top. Squeeze lime on top and sprinkle with corn tortilla chips and fresh cilantro, if desired.



Mexican black beans from scratch recipe

Mexican Black Beans | Pamela Salzman

Mexican Black Beans | Pamela Salzman

When I am coming up with a menu for entertaining mixed company, e.g. kids and adults or carnivores and vegans, I steer most often towards Mexican food.  It is always a crowd pleaser, easy to prepare and I can very often employ a topping bar of sorts.  It is no surprise to me that my Mexican-themed cooking classes are my most popular of the year.  I always teach them in April so that my students have some fun, healthful recipes to use for Cinco de Mayo (May 5th.)   You know I am a sucker for themed family dinners on “holidays.”  That and I just don’t enjoy taking the kids to crowded, greasy Mexican restaurants on one of the busiest and most inebriated nights of the year for something I can easily make at home.

Black Beans

These versatile black beans are a staple in our house all year long.  They’re close to Frijoles Refritos, meaning “well-cooked beans” (as opposed to “twice-cooked beans,” which is what I thought it meant for years.)  But I’m not frying anything in lard or vegetable oil, instead cooking the beans with some onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro for great flavor.   We eat them simply over rice, wrapped in a burrito, as a side with fajitas or tacos, or with huevos rancheros.  Daughter #1 and her friends like to toast corn tortillas over the gas flame on the stove (they’re 14 years-old) and eat the beans like a dip.  They are a must with any Mexican meal.  The good news is that I can tell you how to easily make them from scratch (soaking dried beans) or from a can.  Even though I avoid canned food like the plague, you have a great option with Eden Foods which does not use BPA in its can liners.

Mexican Black Beans | Pamela Salzman

Beans are an incredible source of low-fat protein and fiber, especially soluble fiber which has been shown to help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels.  Black, red and pinto beans are crazy high in anti-oxidants, too.   Another bonus is that they are rather inexpensive, especially if you buy them dried and cook them yourself.  1 pound of dried beans might cost you about $1.00.  One pound dried equates to approximately 3 15-ounce cans of black beans at about $2.19 per can for Eden Organic in my natural foods store (other brands are much less, but you’re also getting that pesky BPA.)  You can also buy the cans by the case from Amazon and save some money (12 cans for $16.60 at the time of this post.)  Making beans from scratch is as easy as boiling water, but you need to plan at least 6 hours in advance to soak them and an hour and a half to cook them.  Or just make a ton over the weekend and freeze them.  Love that!

Over the next week and a half, I’ll be posting some of my favorite Mexican-inspired dishes to wow your family and friends without letting your healthful eating take a siesta!

Mexican Black Beans | Pamela Salzman

5.0 from 4 reviews
Mexican Black Beans
Serves: 6
  • 1 pound dried black beans (aka turtle beans), picked over for stones or foreign objects, and rinsed*
  • 1 (2- to 3-inch) piece kombu**(optional)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno chile, minced (take the seeds out if you want to cut the heat)
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • Fresh lime juice (optional)
  1. Place the beans and the kombu in a large glass bowl or pot. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by at least 3 inches. Let stand overnight or at least 6 hours. (If the weather is warm, put the beans in the refrigerator to soak.)
  2. Drain and rinse the beans, reserving the kombu. Place the beans and kombu in a large, heavy pot with enough water to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming the foam that rises to the top. Lower the heat to low and simmer gently, covered, for 1 hour.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté gently until tender, about 10 minutes. You can cover the skillet with a lid to soften the onions and garlic without allowing them to brown. Add the jalapeno and cook 1 minute, until tender.
  4. Remove the kombu from the beans and discard. Add the sautéed onion mixture, sea salt and cilantro to the beans and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until very tender.
  5. Drain the beans and reserve 2 cups of cooking liquid. Pour 1 cup of liquid back into the beans and mash the beans with the back of a spoon until you have the desired consistency. Add more liquid, if necessary. Taste for seasoning and squeeze some fresh lime juice on top, if desired.
*Or you can use 3 15-ounce cans of cooked black beans, undrained. Follow along here:

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in a medium saucepan until softened.
Add jalapeno and cook for 1 minute.
Add beans and liquid from the can (usually about ⅓ cup liquid per can) plus 2-3 teaspoons sea salt, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
You can serve the beans as is or I like to mash them up a bit so they’re nice and creamy. Squeeze a little lime on top if you like.
**Kombu is a sea vegetable which helps tenderize the beans and improves their digestibility. It is also rich in many vitamins and minerals.