Elk Meat Taco Salad

“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

― Henry James

What is a filling dish that is quick, easy, & flavorful without too much time standing over the stovetop? This summertime hit: Taco Salad. After a morning of mountain biking, hiking, or simply gardening in the sun, you work up an appetite. In an effort to put something on the table relatively fast and not overheat over a hot pan, this taco salad does the trick. Also, to minimize the time spent in a hot kitchen, I nixed the rice, an accompaniment to most taco salad recipes. Just toss a handful of tortilla chips to serve with the salad as a substitute. I made this recipe with ground elk meat. But use whatever ground meat you have in the freezer or refrigerator. This also works well with shredded rotisserie chicken!

The key to this recipe is the crunchy lettuce, cool Mexican crema and crumbly cheese, and a kick from the adobo chiles in the meat. If you don’t have Mexican crema in your refrigerator, maybe this summer is the time to start using it. Silky, mild, and a perfect antidote to spicy, it is an easy substitute to sour cream. I’ve also been playing with it in salad dressings, dips, as well other cuisines. Atkinsons’ Market carries the Cacique Mexicana Creama. It’s a nice balance  to the peppers in this recipe. I’m just starting to cook with chipotle peppers. The heat is completely different from a jalapeño or hot sauce. The peppers canned in adobo sauce have a warmth and depth of heat that is less of a shock to the system. Plus the adobo sauce adds a smokey flavor  to the dish. If you prefer extra kick to your salad, add a teaspoon or two of the adobo sauce to the meat while it finishes browning.

This taco salad can come together in about 15 minutes and serve hungry friends, before you kick back for a nap in the shade.

Taco Salad
4 Servings
15 Minute Cook Time

Meat Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground meat or choice (beef or elk)
  • 2 Tbsp of southwest taco seasoning mix
  • 2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce chopped
  • 1⁄2 red onion, sliced
  • Flaky salt to taste

Taco Salad Ingredients

  • 2 heads romaine lettuce OR crunchy lettuce (gem, butter leaf, iceberg, or even cabbage) washed, dried, and chopped 1″ pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper sliced
  • 1 ripe tomato chopped OR 1 Cup cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 avocado chopped
  • 2+ limes for juice & serving
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1⁄4 Cup cilantro torn / roughly chopped
  • 1⁄4 Cup crumbled Cotija or Queso Fresco
  • 2 Tbsp Mexican Crema
  • flaky salt and lemon pepper to taste
  • Tortilla chips
  • Optional: canned black beans drained; replace crema and crumbled cheese with grated pepper jack; salsa fresca; hot sauce

Meat Recipe

  1. In a medium bowl, mix with your hands ground meat, taco seasoning, chipotle peppers, and pinch of salt. Careful not to over mix, it will toughen the meat.
  2. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high until very hot. Add meat to pan in a single layer, pressing the meat to maximize the surface area. Let cook approximately 5 minutes until the bottom of the meat is nicely browned.
  3. Using a spatula, “chop” the meat into small chunks in the pan, flipping and mixing so the un-browned meat is cooked evenly. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally for an additional 5 minutes. If you prefer extra spice, add 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce to pan. Meat should be nicely browned, cooked through, and juices evenly distributed. The onion should be softened and beginning to brown. Set pan aside.

Salad Assembly

  1. In a large salad bowl layer romaine lettuce, bell pepper, tomatoes, and avocado. Add a pinch of flaky salt and lemon pepper.
  2. Add ground meat and onions to salad. Juice limes over salad, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle cilantro on top.
  3. Cover salad with crumbled Cotija cheese and drizzle of Mexican crema.
  4. Toss salad and serve with additional lime wedges, salt and pepper to taste, and tortilla chips on the side.

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