Layered Taco Salad

layered mexican salad

Salads taste so much better in the summer. There is a crunchy coolness to them that is perfect for evening meals on a hot day. My favorite salad recipes are the ones that work as a whole meal. I have a few different taco salad combinations that I like to use. The Mexican Chopped Salad and the Baja Chicken Salad are good options, but I played around with a new layered chicken taco salad recipe this weekend while my mom was visiting. I made a version that serves a group in a trifle dish, and I also tested it out in Mason jars to make single servings to take to school for school teacher lunches. It was a hit both ways.

layered mexican salad layers


  • 2 heads Romaine lettuce chopped (or amount needed for number of people serving)
  • ~3 c. chopped fresh spinach (or amount needed for number of people serving)
  • 1 (15-oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (11-oz) can white shoepeg corn, rinsed and drained (or any type of canned corn)
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 c. cooked chicken, diced (I used 2 roasted chicken breasts)
  • 1-2 c. shredded Colby-Jack cheese
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 T. fresh cilantro chopped
  • ~3/4 c. salsa
  • ~1/2 c. ranch salad dressing (or dressing of your choice)
  • tortilla chips, ( ~1/2 c. broken into smaller pieces)

layered mexican salad trifle dish

Directions for Assembling in a Trifle Dish

  • Sprinkle black beans on the bottom layer of the trifle dish. You might not use the whole can. Add the amount of beans you like.
  • Mix the chopped Romaine and spinach together in a separate bowl. Add half of the lettuce mixture on top of the black beans.
  • Sprinkle a layer of corn on top of the lettuce.
  • Sprinkle cherry tomato pieces on top of the corn.
  • Add the chicken.
  • Cover the chicken with the remaining lettuce.
  • Drizzle ranch salad dressing over the top layer of lettuce. I like a light salad dressing layer.
  • Cover dressing with a layer of cheese.

layered mexican salad top

  • Spoon desired amount of salsa in the center of the trifle dish on top of the cheese.
  • Sprinkle green onions and cilantro over the salsa. Sprinkle crushed tortilla chips around the edges. Sprinkle a little more cilantro in the center for garnish.
  • Offer additional whole tortilla chips, salad dressing, and salsa on the side.

layered mexican salad in a jar w lid

Directions for Assembling in a Mason Jar

  • Spoon ~1 T. ranch dressing in the bottom of the jar.
  • Add ~2 T. black beans.
  • Add a layer of lettuce followed by corn, tomatoes, chicken pieces and another layer of lettuce. Do not overfill.

layered mexican salad in a jar top view

  • Sprinkle the top with cheese, green onions, and cilantro.
  • Put one spoonful of salsa on the top, add the lid and tighten.
  • To eat, pour salad into a bowl or out on a plate, so the dressing on the bottom will drizzle over the top. Serve with tortilla chips on the side.

layered mexican salad in a jar w chipsNotes

  • You do not need exact ingredient amounts. Use amounts you need for the number of people you are serving. 2 heads of Romaine lettuce and 3 c. of spinach will serve 5-6 adults.
  • You can add/delete any toppings. I think diced red pepper would be a good addition and possibly seeded and diced cucumber.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

strawberry pretzel salad serving

First of all, let’s just clarify that this recipe is not for a real salad. It is for a dessert. It is called a salad in the sense that Jell-O with fruit or nut bits mixed in is known as a Jell-O salad, gelatin salad, or congealed salad (that name gives me the “no” feeling).

My grandmother had a whole box of these gelatin salad recipes. Some of the combinations made no sense to me like grated onion in lime Jell-O with a tuna topping. I am happy to report that there is nothing repulsive about this strawberry pretzel salad. It is delightful and delicious, and it was the perfect ending to our neighborhood 4th of July parade and feast.

strawberry pretzel salad pan


  • 2 c. crushed pretzels
  • 10 T. butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. + 1 c. sugar
  • 16-oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. Cool Whip, thawed
  • 1 6-oz pkg strawberry flavored Jell-O
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 3 c. strawberries, sliced


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In a bowl, pour the crushed pretzels and 1/4 cup sugar and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and stir again until mixed thoroughly.

strawberry pretzel salad crust

  • Press the pretzel mixture on the bottom of a 9×13 pan and bake for ~8 minutes.
  • Remove pretzel crust from oven and let cool completely.

strawberry pretzel salad crust pan

  • While the crust is baking, slice strawberries and put them in a bowl in the freezer. The cold strawberries will help the gelatin set up faster.

strawberry pretzel salad strawberries

  • In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and 1 cup sugar, and stir until smooth. Add the Cool Whip and continuing stirring until cream cheese is combined, and the texture is smooth again.

strawberry pretzel salad filling

  • Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the cooled pretzel crust. Make sure the cream mixture is against the edges of the pan to prevent the Jell-O mix from seeping through.

strawberry pretzel salad filling layer

  • Place the pan with the crust and cream layers in the refrigerator while you mix the Jell-O.
  • Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Remove from the stove and add strawberry Jell-O. Stir until Jell-O is dissolved. Let sit for a few minutes to cool. Add the strawberries from the freezer and let Jell-O cool a little more.
  • Remove the pan from the refrigerator and carefully poor the Jell-O mix over the cream layer.

strawberry pretzel salad jello layer

  • Put pan back in the refrigerator until the Jell-O is set. It will take a minimum of 1 hour.


  • If the Jell-O is too hot when you pour over the cream layer, it will leak through. This will not ruin the taste of the dish, but it won’t look as pretty.
  • Skinny pretzel sticks or the tic-tac-toe board pretzel shapes work well. You can crush in a food processor or put the pretzels in a Ziploc bag and run a rolling pin over them. Pretzel crushing is a great job for littler helpers.
  • There are many versions of this dessert, and I compared several recipes. The ingredient list and amounts stay about the same. You may want to add a few more scoops of Cool Whip than what I listed or adjust sugar amounts.

strawberry pretzel salad slice

Leftovers for Lunch

baja chicken salad

Now that school has started for the year, I am packing lunches again. I pack lunches for my two children and me almost every day. I dread this chore. It probably seems a little out of character for me to dislike packing school lunches since I love snacky food. I think part of the problem is packing the lunch at 6 am. The food seems so unappetizing at that time. I don’t like to pack the lunch the night before because then the food has a “soggy” quality to it the next day.

One solution I have for my adult school lunch is to cook something for dinner that becomes a good leftover. I can pack a single serving in a tupperware, pull it out of the refrigerator in the morning without having to see it or smell it, and it is ready to reheat or serve at lunchtime at school.

The Pasta, Pesto, and Peas and Orzo with Roasted Vegetables are two of my favorite leftovers for lunch choices. I just discovered this Baja Chicken Salad recipe after taking it to a group event, and it is a new leftover lunch that I will be bringing to school this year.

baja chicken salad closeSalad Ingredients

  • 4 (16-oz) cans black beans
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 c. chopped green onions
  • 1 package (10-oz) frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro (plus a small handful more for garnish)
  • 8 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, grilled (could also buy a whole roasted chicken)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 c. salsa

baja chicken salad green pepperDressing Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. fresh lime juice
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 2 T. ground cumin
  • 1 t. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 t. pepper
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. olive oil (I like less)
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil (I like less)

baja chicken salad mixing ingredientsDirections

  • Combine dressing ingredients, mixing well, and let stand at least one hour. (Can be done 1 day ahead.)
  • Drain and rinse black beans. Mix black beans in a large bowl with peppers, onion, corn, and cilantro. Toss with dressing.

baja chicken salad ingredients

  • Cut chicken into strips.
  • Place vegetables with dressing on a large platter or large shallow serving dish. Arrange chicken strips and avocado slices on top.
  • Drizzle with salsa and scatter cilantro over all.


  • Because of the black beans and cilantro, do a teeth check after eating.
  • This recipe serves 8. The recipe can be halved.
  • Toss the avocado slices in lime juice to keep from browning.

cutting avocado

  • I like to roast chicken breasts with skin on and bone in rather than grilling boneless chicken breasts. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken breasts on a roasting pan. Rub skin with olive oil and season generously with Kosher salt and black pepper. Cook chicken for about 40 minutes until golden on the top and cooked through. Remove from oven and tent with foil. Let rest until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove skin and pull chicken off the bone; cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.

roasted chicken breastsThis is a great recipe for a big group, for picnics, for potluck dinners, and for lunch. I love that it is a meal in one dish. Anybody else have suggestions for good meals that hold up well in the refrigerator overnight?

Summer Salads

mexican chopped salad

Now that it is summer, I am more inclined to make a salad for a meal. Let’s be serious, now that it is summer, I am really not inclined to make anything at all. But on the odd day that I prepare a real meal, I might be more likely to make a salad. The Fried Chicken salad we took to Miss Priss’ teacher for their last day at school is my favorite, but this one might be my new second favorite.

A friend shared this Mexican Chopped Salad recipe that she found on Fine Cooking. I made it a few weekends ago. TheRoomDad grilled fish, and we ended up wrapping the salad with the fish on a tortilla for some really good fish tacos. There was leftover salad, which we used like salsa the next day with tortilla chips. It is quite delicious and very summery!

mexican chopped salad and dressing

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 T. fresh lime juice
  • 3 T. fresh orange juice
  • 2 t. finely chopped shallot
  • 1 T. honey (more to taste)
  • 3/4 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 large orange or red peppers
  • 2 ears fresh corn
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large firm-ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 small jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 large firm-ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro


  • Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a heavy duty rimmed baking sheet with foil. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove stem, seed core, and ribs. Put the pepper halves on the baking sheet cut side down. Husk the corn and put the ears on the baking sheet. Drizzle both with olive oil and rub oil around to coat the skins and corn kernels evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven about 20 minutes until the peppers are soft and slightly shriveled and skin is blackening. Corn kernels should be lightly browned in some spots.
  • When the vegetables are done, let them rest until cool enough to handle. Scrape away the pepper skin (it should peel off easily) and cut the flesh into 1/2-inch dice. Cut the kernels from the cob.
  • Make the dressing. Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with 1/4 t. kosher salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the garlic paste with the lime and orange juices, shallot, honey, and cumin. Slowly add the oil in a thin stream, whisking until well blended. Season to taste with pepper and more salt and honey, if you like.
  • Artfully arrange the corn, tomatoes, peppers, jicama, avocado, and black beans in stripes or piles on a small platter or other wide, shallow serving dish. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad platter just before serving.
  • Spoon elements of the salad onto your plate or tortilla to eat (don’t toss ingredients together).


  • Squeeze fresh lime juice on the avocado slices to keep them from turning brown too quickly.
  • Serve the salad with grilled chicken, grilled fish, or grilled flank steak and warmed tortillas for really good tacos.
  • Chop all of the ingredients up to 4 hours ahead and store them covered in the refrigerator until time to serve. The assembly is very fast.
  • Don’t forget to sprinkle the cilantro on the salad before serving. I made this mistake. It was still delicious, so I guess cilantro is optional.

What is your favorite food or meal in the summer?

serving mexican chopped salad

The Last Lunch

fried chicken salad in container

“Manager’s Special” is on the menu at my daughter’s school today. What that really means is the cafeteria is cleaning up for the summer and is serving anything they have left in the refrigerator. I don’t like to eat the clean-out-the-refrigerator meal in my own house, so I certainly would not want to eat it at school.

Since I am already on summer break, and my daughter is not, we overslept this morning. I sent her to school without a lunch and promised I would bring something to her. I figured my daughter’s teachers did not want the Manager’s Special either, so I packed a lunch for everybody. Consider it a final little teacher gift for the year.

As a reminder, teachers are stuck in the school building all day. Unless you hire a sub, there is no leaving the building to grab a sandwich. If you are looking for an easy, low cost end of the year teacher gift, consider bringing a tasty lunch.

fried chicken salad w dressing

Fried Chicken Salad

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 3 T. cider vinegar
  • 2 T. honey, room temperature
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. coarse-grained mustard
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. white pepper
  • 1/4 c. walnut oil (can use all olive oil and delete walnut oil)
  • 1/2 c. olive oil

honey mustard vinaigrette


  • 2 tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small bites (I like Granny Smith apples)
  • romaine lettuce, chopped, enough for 4-6 people (or any lettuce combination you prefer)
  • 1/2 lb. blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 c. pecan halves, toasted
  • 2 T. chopped green onion, white and green parts
  • good fried chicken tenders, ~2 per person


  • Prepare dressing by combining vinegar, honey, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in oils until well blended.
  • Place lettuce greens in a large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle apples, cheese, green onion, and pecans over the top.
  • Cut chicken strips crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Arrange on top of salad.
  • Drizzle with remaining dressing if needed.


  • In order to keep the apples from browning, toss the apples in a little lemon juice before sprinkling on the salad.
  • If making for a school or work lunch, compose the salad but keep the dressing in a little container on the side. I like to keep the chicken strip pieces on the side too. Do not add dressing until ready to eat and then top with the chicken strips.
  • If I have the option, I always use Publix fried chicken tenders. When we lived in New Orleans, I used Popeye’s fried chicken tenders. If you do not have a Publix or Popeye’s in your area, I find that most local grocery stores usually have superior fried chicken tenders to other fast food restaurants. Chik-fil-a tenders do not really work for this salad because their coating is a little different than a straight up fried chicken strip.
  • This salad is great for baby showers, picnics, luncheons, and summer dinners!

I delivered the teacher salads and my daughter’s lunch a little before 10 am this morning. My daughter had a decomposed salad in her lunch box (chicken strip bites in one container, apple slices in another container…). The teachers received their salads in a bento style tupperware that they get to keep– cookies included.

Happy summer everybody!

fried chicken salad