Taco salad is one of those recipes that conjures up all kinds of memories, and basically all of them good. Even though I haven't eaten it in well over 15 years, I can still picture the glorious mess: seasoned ground beef, heaps of cheese, sour cream, salsa, that fried tortilla shell, and, of course, just enough shredded lettuce to make the salad in the title not a complete lie.
But when dared by fellow SE editor Erin to recreate one, I stared down the terrifying reality that most recipes called for one of those taco seasoning packets and blinked. Instead, I met my memory halfway and went with this recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle, which makes some minor adjustments, while still staying true to the essential taco salad DNA.
The result is an honest-to-goodness taco salad that has all the flavors of a classic one, minus the seasoning packet. That isn't to say it's a particularly healthy salad—sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese still make an appearance—but now there is a lot more lettuce, and grilled steak has been substituted for the ground beef.
At first, I found this version far too polite and restrained, which is basically a slap in the face of everything a real taco salad stands for. My advice? Crumble those chips with your hands, and add another spoonful of salsa and sour cream, and mix that up. The transformation is astonishing. This is a taco salad I wouldn't mind having in my life more often.