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I grew up in Michigan, but I lived in Texas for many years. While I was there, I learned to love Mexican food. In fact, when I was first visiting the college I ended up attending, a bunch of students took me to the most kick-ass taqueria on the planet and schooled the Midwesterner in the ways of chile con queso (I kept wondering where the chili figured into it) and horchata (still one of God’s great gifts to man in my eyes) and how not to order brains in your taco (don’t ask for sesos). I loved it, and I went back to that taqueria many, many, many times, and to its brethren all over the city in both restaurant and taco-stand form.

But secretly? I still harbored a quiet lust in my heart for Taco Bell.

I know. I know. I was living in a city with some of the greatest authentic Mexican food possible, and I still wanted Taco Bell. It’s like, I don’t know, willfully opting for a McDonald’s “apple pie” over the one your grandma makes with the apples fresh from her backyard. I know this, and yet sometimes? Sometimes, a Taco Bell value meal is the only thing in this cold world you want to grab onto and hold. I’m from Michigan, dammit, and part of me is still six years old and absolutely convinced that a packet of Taco Bell Mild Sauce is the spiciest, most exotic taste on the planet.

So when a bunch of relevant stuff went on sale at Giant, I decided I’d do my best to replicate a Taco Bell taco salad for my lunches at work this week.

Here’s what I used:

3/4 lb ground beef, $1 (I bought a bunch cheap and froze it)
Packet of taco seasoning for said beef, free (yay coupons!)
2 heads of lettuce, 80 cents each
1 bunch of scallions, 69 cents
Pint of grape tomatoes, free (Giant sent me a coupon for being a “loyal customer,” which somewhat relieves my guilt about saving more than I spend there most weeks)
Shredded Four-Cheese Mexican Blend, $2 for a 2-cup bag
Salsa, $2 for a huge jar
Refried beans, 70 cents for a can
Sour cream, 40 cents (yay coupons!)
Tortilla chips (not pictured), $2 for a big bag
Red pepper (also not pictured), 34 cents

Assembling the salad is not rocket science. Throw the stuff you like in a big ol’ bowl and go to town. I forgot I had tortilla chips and chopped red pepper, or they would be pictured here, too! As it is, though, I think you get a sense of the deliciousness. I should get at least five lunches out of this (big ones; the one you see here is just for show, as it were). And while at $2 per lunch it’s no 43-cent burrito, it’s damn tasty. Especially to a Michigander.

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