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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chicken Taco Ranch Salad with Black Beans

Since the start of this year I've been attempting to eat a bit healthier. Don't get me wrong, I still have some seriously bad eating habits (such as eating half a dozen homemade yeast rolls with a single meal) but for the most part my healthy habits are outweighing my unhealthy ones.

I've been adding salads to every meal. That might sound counterproductive, but the truth is that when I eat a cup or so of fresh greens and shredded carrots before I begin the rest of the meal I manage to feel full with a much smaller plate of the less healthy foods. I've also nearly cut out the macaroni and cheese, leaving it to Aaron and Bailey.

Still, there are some meals on our menu that are non-negotiable for Aaron. He likes to have them on the menu every month. Unfortunately most of those non-negotiable meals are some of the least healthy. Chicken Taco Casserole for example is layers of flour tortillas, cheese, and taco meat. There's not a vegetable in sight and plenty of high fat cheese. The past three months I've been trying to skip the cheese and tortillas and turn my chicken taco meal into a salad.

It's quite simple. I take the shredded chicken taco meat and serve it over romaine lettuce mixed with spring mix or field greens. Add some well seasoned black beans (which I've nearly perfected), some spicy salsa or taco sauce, a tiny sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese (okay, okay, I like more than a tiny sprinkling most of the time), and some ranch dressing and you have yourself a relatively healthy salad just bursting with flavor.

I could even do without the cheese and ranch dressing which would cut out a huge portion of the calories. If you wanted to add a bit of crunch you could crush some tortilla chips into the salad or throw in a handful of Fritos.

Chicken Taco Ranch Salad with Black Beans

Source: Totally Original!

2-3 Tbsp taco seasoning
3/4 cup water
salt to taste
2-3 chicken breasts, cut into 2-3 cutlets each
3 cups lettuce, rinsed in cold water (use whatever kind you like but I prefer romaine lettuce because it's sturdy)
1 cup spring mix
1 large carrot, grated
1 can (1 1/2 cups) black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4-1/2 cup salsa
1/4-1/2 cup ranch dressing
4 oz cheddar cheese, finely shredded
crushed tortilla chips or corn chips for serving (optional)

Combine the taco seasoning, water, and salt in a large skillet over high heat.

Bring the mixture just to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low. You just barely want it to be simmering when you add the chicken.

Add the chicken and cook in the taco seasoning mixture for about 12 minutes per side. (Usually I do cut the chicken breasts into cutlets but a cold or some kind of allergy attack has left me a bit lazy this week. If you use the full chicken breasts it will have to cook longer... probably much longer.)

Once the chicken is cooked through transfer it from the skillet to a clean bowl or plate.

Shred the meat with two forks.

Return it to the remaining juices in the skillet and set it aside.

(Some of the chicken will be used in the chicken taco casserole so if you're only using the chicken for the salads you will have plenty leftover.)

In a large mixing bowl combine the lettuce, spring mix, and carrot and toss gently to combine. (The carrots will fall to the bottom so when you serve be sure to dig all the way to the bottom for them.)

Divide the lettuce mixture into 4 salad bowls (about 1 cup each). Again I was being lazy so this is a mixture of two kinds of packaged salad mix. One has field greens and radicchio and the other is mostly romaine lettuce.

Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of black beans on each salad.

Add some of the chicken (however much you like is fine since there should be more than enough) to the beans and lettuce.

Spoon about 2 Tbsp of salsa and 1-2 Tbsp of ranch dressing on each salad.

Sprinkle a bit of cheese and some chips on top and enjoy!

If you have any interest in diced tomatoes, onions, or black olives I'm sure they would be a fantastic addition to this semi-healthy dinner salad.

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