Easy recipe for southwest salad with cilantro lime dressing vinaigrette. As-is it’s vegetarian, or add chicken. Way better than Wendy’s and McDonald’s!
Do you ever find yourself craving healthy Mexican food?
I mean, a big bowl of chips and restaurant-style salsa always sounds good, but sometimes you want something more substantial. (And I’m not talking about the McDonald’s southwest salad.)
Why I Love Southwest Salad
I love making chicken southwest salad for dinner, not only because it’s simple, delicious, and packed with Mexican flavors that we love but also because it is…
- Great Cold. Perfect for hot weather or cookouts or days at the beach or pool.
- Make-ahead. If you make the dressing separately, you can mix up this salad early in the day and have dinner ready to go!
- Simple Ingredients. Nothing fancy here. Just good healthy food you probably already have at home.
- Versatile. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of one thing or have extras of others. It’s all delicious in the end!
- So Satisfying! It’s hard to say that about some dinner salads, especially if you’re feeding “meat and potatoes” type of people, but this salad will truly fill you up and hold you over!
Southwest Chicken Salad Ingredients
- Lettuce. I highly recommend shredded or chopped romaine lettuce because it’s so hearty, but any other lettuce will work too.
- Corn. Having fresh cut corn off the cob is SO GOOD, but I’m also known to use frozen corn kernels and leftover grilled corn on the cob too.
- Black Beans. A classic southwest staple. Here’s how you can cook beans in the slow cooker. And in case you ever wondered, here’s the cost breakdown of cooking beans from scratch versus buying canned beans.
- Garbanzo Beans. Another southwest cuisine must-have!
- Tomatoes. I like to halve cherry tomatoes, but any chopped tomato will do.
- Chicken. You can’t have a chicken salad without chicken! Rather than using expensive chicken breasts, like to cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker, or make Instant Pot whole chicken, and then add shredded chicken to this salad.
- Cheese. Queso fresco is SO GOOD in this salad, but sharp cheddar is the more common sense and affordable option.
- Avocado. Totally optional, but a must if you love avocado as much as I do!
- Cilantro Lime Dressing. Hands down THE BEST salad dressing you could ever pair with this salad. All you need is olive oil, lime juice, and some spices and it comes together quickly in a food processor.
- Tortilla Chips. Also totally optional, but SO GOOD.
Healthy Option to McDonald’s Southwest Salad
There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about McDonald’s southwest salad, that is until you get to the dressing.
You’re much better off making this version of the salad yourself. Not only will it taste WAY better, but it’s much better for you AND so much cheaper!
Tips and Variations on this Taco Salad Recipe Alternative
- Dressing. I highly recommend my cilantro lime dressing, but homemade ranch dressing or 5-minute vegan queso or restaurant-style salsa would be just as good!
- Beans. Save yourself time and money and sanity and make a big batch of these ahead of time. Here are the basics of batch cooking, plus methods for slow cooker beans and Instant Pot beans.
- Chicken. Make extra chicken early in the week and use two cups of shredded chicken for this salad.
- Cheese. Did you know you can freeze shredded cheese? Buy a big block (it’s cheaper) and shred it yourself. Then freeze in ½ cup portions and only pull out what you need.
- Tomatoes. When tomatoes are out of season, just skip them. Pour some salsa instead!
- Bell Peppers. Not an official ingredient, but if you have extra, toss them in!
- Bread. I LOVE salad with homemade bread, and a loaf of no-knead artisan bread or a batch of easy dinner rolls would be SO GOOD!
Other Favorite Salad Recipes
- Waldorf Salad
- Easy Broccoli Salad
- Sweet Kale Salad
- Winter Wedge Salad
- Panzanella Bread Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad
- 1 head romaine lettuce, shredded (about 6-8 cups)
- 2 cups shredded chicken
- 1 cup corn kernels
- 1 cup black beans
- 1 cup garbanzo beans
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 avocado, sliced or diced
- ½ cup queso fresco or shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 batch cilantro lime dressing (get the recipe here)
- Prepare the salad dressing by combining 4 Tbsp lime juice, 1 tsp granulated garlic, 1 tsp honey, ½ tsp salt, 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and 2 Tbsp cilantro leaves in a food processor or blender. Set aside.
- Combine the chicken, corn, black beans, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, avocado and cheese in a very large bowl (not a small bowl - you need extra room to toss).
- Just before serving, drizzle the salad dressing over the salad and toss to mix well.