Rev Up for Back to School With This Energy-Boosting Salad

My favorite recipe to make with kale is a twist on a dish I grew up with: Mexican salad. Traditionally[…]Continue Reading

My favorite recipe to make with kale is a twist on a dish I grew up with: Mexican salad. Traditionally it calls for chopped-up iceberg lettuce, bottled Catalina dressing, shredded cheese, ranch-style beans, tomatoes and Fritos. Not exactly a health food.

My Honey Chipotle Mexican Salad uses kale, which ups the nutrients right away, subs avocado for the cheese to add healthy fats, and avoids additives, corn syrup, and some of the unhealthy fats by incorporating a homemade dressing and baking tortilla strips. The smokiness from the chipotle and the sweetness from the honey is the perfect balancing flavor to the bitterness in kale. I’ve taken it to several parties and never returned with leftovers. It’s seriously delicious.

You can buy kale already washed and chopped at some stores (like Trader Joe’s), but the bags tend to leave the rib (or stem) in, which I don’t find to be very tasty. If you do buy the bagged variety, you might want to pick through and tear the leaves off the ribs. If you own a salad spinner, cleaning a bunch of kale is easy. Just pull the leaves off the rib and tear into pieces. Fill the spinner up with cold water, then swish the kale to get the dirt to fall to the bottom. Rinse and repeat once or twice more and spin to dry. You can do the same thing with a big bowl or clean sink and a colander. Store dry kale in gallon-size ziplock bags with a paper towel. If you do this the first day or two that you bring it home, it will keep for about a week. In fact, if you prep your kale and make the dressing on the weekend, and buy the ready-made tortilla strips from the salad-topping section of the grocery store, this salad comes together in no time on a busy weeknight.

If you don’t have chipotles, or you want a mild version that tastes more like a traditional Catalina dressing, simply omit the chipotle and use less vinegar. I like this version just as much and my toddler devours it that way.

Honey Chipotle Mexican Salad
Serves 3 to 4 entree servings, 6 to 8 side servings.


Salad Dressing

  • 1/3 cup sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup white distilled vinegar (only use 1/4 cup if omitting chipotle)
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 chipotle in adobo sauce (optional)*

*Chipotles packed in adobo sauce come in small cans or jars in the Mexican food aisle of most grocery stores. Freeze the remaining chipotles in a plastic bag.


  • 1 large or 2 small bunches of kale (about 8 cups loosely packed), washed, dried, and torn or chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cans chili beans (I use Bush’s vegetarian brand), drained and lightly rinsed
  • 2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 2 roma tomatos, diced

Tortilla Strips

    • 6 corn tortillas, cut into small strips
    • Olive oil baking spray
    • Salt
    • Chipotle pepper powder (can omit or use smoked or regular paprika instead)
    • 1/2 a lime


Making the Salad Dressing:

Cut open one chipotle pepper, and with your knife, scrape out the seeds inside the pepper. (You might want to wear food prep gloves or put baggies over your hands as this is a messy and spicy job.)

In a blender, combine the seeded chipotle with the other dressing ingredients. Blend until smooth.

Making the Salad:

Put kale in a large bowl, pour on the dressing and use your hands to massage it into the kale. Really rub it in, coating every crevice of every piece. The more you rub, the easier the kale is to chew. Again, gloves or baggies on your hands make cleanup easier. Of course, as you can see, it’s not necessary.

Gently stir in beans, tomatoes and avocados. (Leave avocados on the side if you plan to pack leftovers for lunch.)

Making the Tortilla Strips
Turn broiler on. Put tortilla strips on a baking pan and spray the strips, tossing to get them evenly covered. Line up on baking sheet and broil on top rack until they start to brown and crisp up. Remove and turn them over and broil again. Watch closely so they don’t burn. As soon as they are evenly crisped, remove them and spray them once more with the olive oil spray, sprinkle with salt, a tiny bit of chipotle powder, and a squeeze of lime. (You can also fry in canola oil on a stove top for a more indulgent crunch … or use crushed whole-grain tortilla chips or corn chips like Fritos or the bagged tortillas strips found in the salad-toppings section of the supermarket).

Top individual servings with crispy tortilla strips (and avocado). Serve.

Pack it for lunch:

One of my favorite things about kale is that it will hold up well with dressing on it. If you leave the avocado and tortilla strips on the side, simply pack up your leftovers in an airtight to-go bowl, pack a baggie with some tortilla strips and an avocado halve wrapped in plastic wrap. At lunch, dice up your avocado (or just dump it in and give it a quick chop with your fork) and top with tortilla strips.

Rachel Randolph is a mom to a busy toddler boy and a wife to an even busier high school football and baseball coach. She is co-author of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, a food memoir written with her mom, and their upcoming book Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness, and a Full Night’s Sleep (Zondervan, January 2015). She also blogs at and