When your work revolves around cooking, you have the ability to look at holes in your own dinner menu and develop a recipe to fill that need. One of those holes on my list—a light Tex-Mex Side Salad. Because most nights I’m like, “Should we have Tex-Mex or Tex-Mex?”
I grew up eating Tex-Mex weekly from 4th-12th grade while living in Texas. It’s still my favorite type of food, mostly because it’s an easy vehicle for consuming a lot of vegetables in delicious ways beyond a stand alone side on the dinner plate. In fact, this way of eating pulled the dividers right off my dinner plate, changing the way I composed meals too. (See meal composition post here.)
Here’s what also changed my approach to food. If you’ve been around here long enough, you know that weight was an issue following me into my early 20s. You can see it in the snapshot at age 4, smiley me in a too-tiny hand-me-down bikini from my older cousin, to the snapshot of me wearing the pale blue pants in college—not-so-smiley with an exponential pant size increase after my second knee surgery (soccer injury). I went through a lot of diet iterations, beginning in high school. None of those diets lasted, of course, but many of them taught me valuable lessons that shape the way I eat today—like portion control (my biggest problem) and eating more vegetables.
At one point, I had a long list of things I wouldn’t eat, like pizza. Pizza! I don’t have a list of bad foods anymore. We eat pretty much everything. Everything in moderation. And, as you know, make it all from scratch, so that I can control the ingredients used. I start most dinners with a side salad now, something I learned from Bringing up Bébé I think. Or was it a documentary that touched on the way children eat in Europe? Either way, we begin dinner by filling up on the best stuff before switching over to smaller portions of the heartier stuff, like enchiladas or pasta. And now, I have a Tex-Mex Side Salad for the every other night Tex-Mex dinner. This light, bright Tex-Mex vinaigrette and toasted spicy pepitas can be made well in advance for quick weeknight assembly. Just add lettuce (and whatever else is lying around in the fridge).
Tips for Tucking More Vegetables into your life
Sauté or roast vegetables at the start of the week. Save them and throw into your morning eggs throughout the week.
Skip baby carrots. They take forever to chew and made me fall out of love with carrots for many years. Buy whole carrots, chop into sticks at the beginning of the week, and store in an airtight container with a little water to keep from drying out.
This light and bright Tex-Mex Side Salad is meant to be made in advance for whenever you need a quick salad with dinner. The spicy pepitas and vinaigrette call for similar ingredients. For efficiency sake, prepare in the same sitting. Just add lettuce (and whatever else is lying around in the fridge).
Spicy Toasted Pepitas:
1/2 c. raw pepita seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
drizzle or squeeze of honey (optional)
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
heaping 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
dash of cayenne for heat (optional)
zest of half a lime
1/2 tsp. lime juice
Tex-Mex Vinaigrette :
1 1/2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
generous drizzle or squeeze of honey
heaping 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. coriander
1/4 c. neutral tasting oil
Sprinkle of cotija
Make the pepitas. In a small skillet, toast the pepita seeds over medium heat until lightly golden, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and add in the remaining pepita ingredients. Stir to coat for about 1 minute more. The leftover heat from the pan will continue toasting the seeds. Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container for 1+ month. (yield: 1/2 cup)
Make the vinaigrette. In a bowl, whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients, except for the oil, until evenly combined. Slowly pour in the oil, whisking to emulsify (the vinegar and oil become one and turn a pale yellow). This can be made 3 weeks in advance and stored in a container in the fridge. Shake to re-emulsify before serving. (yield: 1/3 cup)
Prepare the side salad. Add greens to individual plates or a large communal bowl. Toss in additional toppings as desired, spicy pepitas, and the Tex-Mex vinaigrette to lightly coat. Serve.