Archive for January, 2012

¡Sí Sí Para Ensaladas!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Chili's Quesadilla Explosion Salad

Maybe it’s because I just completed an online Spanish course, but I’ve recently developed quite a fondness for southwestern salads.  While there doesn’t seem to be a standard recipe, most of the ones I’ve eaten have a crunchy lettuce base (romaine and/or iceberg), mixed with corn, tortilla strips, and cheese. There may also be black beans, onions, tomatoes, pumpkins seeds, and/or avocado, while the dressing often contains lime or cilantro. In the Chicago area, southwestern salads aren’t as popular as Caesars or Greeks, but they can be found at a number of eateries.

One of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the City is the award-winning Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill. But it’s a lot easier to get a seat at his Frontera Fresco at the Macy’s in Old Orchard. And while I haven’t forgiven the store chain for its multitude of Marshall Field’s takeover sins (including those ridiculously flimsy shopping bags), Macy’s does house the only three Frontera Frescos currently in existence—one at Old Orchard, one downtown and one in San Francisco.  The tasty Taquería Salad is composed of romaine, arugula, roasted peppers, tortilla strips and cheese, and served with lime Caesar dressing.  I especially enjoy munching on my salad while sitting in the outdoor eating area of the Old Orchard Frontera Fresco on a warm summer day, right across from the overpriced and underwhelming Wilde and Greene restaurant.

Several years ago, a friend recommended the Caesar salad at Chili’s.  I was a bit skeptical at first, but then pleasantly surprised.  They make a nice Cobb there, too.  But the relatively new Quesadilla Explosion Salad is my favorite. There’s grilled chicken with cheese, tomatoes, corn relish, cilantro and tortilla strips, served with a citrus-balsamic dressing.  As an added bonus on the side, the chef includes cheese quesadilla wedges.  According to the Chili’s menu, it’s their most popular salad.  Not surprising.

One of my favorite downtown salad spots, Ceres Café, also has a southwest salad on its menu:  romaine and iceberg lettuces, sliced chicken breast, cheese, tortilla strips, cilantro, corn, diced tomatoes, and black beans.   The peanut-cilantro dressing is a bit spicy for me, but doesn’t seem to bother either Marcy or Eleanor, a vegetarian, who orders it with avocado instead of chicken.

Other good southwestern options include the BBQ Chicken Salad (with thin and crispy fried onions) at the Yard House in Glenview, Nordstrom’s Lime & Cilantro Chicken Salad and Panera’s BBQ chopped chicken salad. Even McDonald’s wants in on the genre, with its Premium Southwest Salad served with chili lime tortilla strips.

As to the cheeses in these salads, they are usually a mild Mexican variety such as cotija or chihuahua. And I was relieved to learn that the only commonality between chihuaha cheese and the chihuaha dog is that they’re both from an area in Mexico of that name. :-)

Yours till the tortilla strips,
Not Just Lechuga