Modifying a Legend

When Justin and I met, one of the first dishes he cooked for me was his favorite food, his Mom's Taco Salad. This was a dish she'd often made when Justin and his brother were little--something that was quick to make and that satisfied her two tortilla-loving boys.  It's remained a favorite ever since.

The traditional recipe was a mixture of ground beef (later, in the vegetarian days, Morningstar veggie crumbles) cooked with taco seasoning, kidney beans, lettuce, tomato, crumbled tortilla chips, cheese, and Kraft Catalina dressing. This would all be combined and then spooned into tortillas to be eaten burrito-style.

But after Justin introduced me to this Taco Salad, it took on some subtle changes in response to my veggie-loving ways, and came to look something like this:

Mom's Taco Salad
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 10-12 white mushrooms, sliced
  • To taste: garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, salt, cayenne pepper
  • 1 bag Morningstar veggie crumbles
  • 1.5 cups cooked kidney beans
  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 cup corn (frozen is OK)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • Shredded cheese
  • Handful of crumbled tortilla chips
  • ½ large bottle of Catalina dressing
  • Flour tortillas
Sauté onions in a little bit of oil until soft. Add sliced mushrooms and spices and sauté several more minutes. Add veggie crumbles and cook according to package directions. Sauté until thawed, then add kidney beans, black beans, and corn and continue cooking for several more minutes.

Meanwhile, chop lettuce and put it in a large bowl. Add chopped tomatoes, crumbled chips, and cheese. Add veggie/bean mixture to lettuce and mix thoroughly. Add Catalina dressing and mix well. Add more chips, if needed to absorb the moisture. Serve by the heaping spoonful, wrapped up in flour tortillas, burrito-style. Serve with salsa, sour cream, jalapenos, etc., if desired. Enjoy!

But as my food preferences shifted even more over the last couple of years, this list from the back of the bottle of Kraft Catalina salad dressing kept bothering me more and more:  Ingredients: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Soybean Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Water, Contains less than 2% of Modified Food Starch, Phosphoric Acid, Dried Onions, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium Edta As Preservatives, Citric Acid, Guar Gum, Natural Flavor, Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1. 

What was with all of that?  This is definitely not "food," in the Pollan-ian sense of the word.* And Kraft is a pretty terrible company, headed up by the tobacco giant Philip Morris and a purveyor of lots of highly-processed foods--definitely not the kind of company I want my food dollars to go to.

So, after some digging around and Justin's hesitant approval to modify his Mom's sacred recipe even further, we succeeded in making our own Catalina-like dressing!

Taco salad without the guilt! This homemade version doesn't taste exactly like the store-bought kind, but it certainly does the job, and leaves us (or at least me) feeling much happier about the building blocks of this time-honored dish.

Here, to share with all of you, our Catalina Dressing recipe in its most recent form (though some revisions are still sure to follow):

Catalina Dressing for Taco Salad
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes (we used our home-canned versions, just because there was an open jar in the fridge)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
Mix well in a blender or food processor (or if mixing by hand, mince tomatoes and grate onion beforehand).  Makes 1 1/2 cups. Enjoy!

* One of Michael Pollan's food rules is "Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce."


  1. Ah, Justin's taco salad recipe. A classic. I've always had it with the Kraft catalina dressing food-like product substance. Perhaps I'll give your recipe a try.

  2. Yes! And then we can all make it together if you come for the race in August...

  3. AZ: The word "when" is spelled W-H-E-N, not I-F. (See your previous comment.)

  4. Kraft not owned by Philip Morris. Philip Morris doesn't exist (now Altria Group). However, it's been four years since the Altria Group spun off as Kraft an independent public company (

    It's this kind of poor research that makes me suspect of the whole food blog-o-sphere. It's well-known that the ACORN-funded authors of food blogs overwhelmingly harbor a deep and festering liberal bias, generally hate America, and actively suppress the truth about Barack Obama's Kenyan Muslim birth certificate.

  5. Zeide: Your way too serious, and perhaps a bit mad ;-)... I most graciously applaud this recipes author for her intended aim, of letting people know how terrible Kraft products and other processed foods are for the future of your health.

  6. Anna: Must not forget to let you know, after researching many recipes last night, your recipe looks like *a winner* and truly creative. Thank you for posting and sharing this unique and healthy twist on the ol' famous taco salad recipe.


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