Cilantro Caesar Salad with Carne Asada


I created this salad quite a while ago but haven’t posted it because I haven’t come up with an exact recipe. Each time I make the salad, I change the ingredients and amounts, trying to come up with the perfect combination. But it seems that it tastes just as good each time. So, I’m just going to give you a basic recipe and some general guidelines and you can either come up with your own “exact recipe” or you can keep changing it up like I’ve been doing.

I started experimenting with this salad because I was trying to replicate the mexican caesar salad from El Torito, a chain restaurant here on the west coast. I haven’t had it for years but I’ve never forgotten the cilantro dressing. Since I was in Italy when I started my experiment, I ended up using olive oil, pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano cheese. What I came up with is basically a thin cilantro pesto and it’s REALLY good on salad and meat! I think the only resemblance my recipe has to the El Torito salad is the main cilantro flavor and the tortilla strips. But it’s similar enough that I no longer crave the other one.

The photo above doesn’t show the fried tortilla strips but I think they really add a lot to this salad! I suppose you could try crushing up some tortilla chips but I highly recommend frying them yourself. The addition of carne asada is optional of course. You can go without and the salad makes a great side dish or you can add the meat and it makes a nice light main course. You could also try adding some grilled chicken breast if you prefer. I chose steak because it really stands up to the strong flavor of the dressing. In fact, if you aren’t much of a salad person, this dressing is wonderful drizzled over some grilled steak.

The amounts that I have listed for the salad dressing are what I tend to use most of the time. You can start with what I’ve listed and then adjust things to suit your own taste. If you are a garlic lover, add more! I’ve found that one clove is enough for me since it’s raw. If you don’t like a strong garlic flavor, try using roasted garlic (If you use roasted garlic, you should add several cloves because the flavor is so mild). I made this dressing once using roasted garlic and avocado and it was really good although much mellower in flavor than the original. The amount of olive oil you use is really up to you. Just taste it as you go and don’t forget to season it well with salt and pepper!

The recipes:

Simple Carne Asada

skirt steak
olive oil
salt pepper

1. Dry steak with paper towels.
2. Squeeze half a lime over each side of steak.
3. Brush steak with olive oil on each side and sprinkle with a little fresh ground pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes.
4. When your grill is hot, sprinkle meat with coarse salt then grill over medium high heat for about 6 minutes per side or until it is done to your liking.
5. Let sit for ten minutes and then slice thinly across the grain.

Cilantro Pesto Dressing:

1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 C. pine nuts, toasted*
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
juice of one lime
splash of white vinegar
olive oil

1. In a food processor or blender combine garlic, pine nuts, cilantro, lime juice and vinegar. Process until everything is well-combined, scraping down the sides as necessary.
2. While machine is running, pour olive oil in a stream until dressing reaches desired consistency and flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will be on the thick side.

* To toast pine nuts: Put pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shaking pan or stirring nuts frequently, toast until they take on a light brown color. Don’t leave them unattended because they will burn quickly! As soon as they are toasted, remove them from the pan to a small bowl to cool. Make sure you toast enough to use both in the salad dressing and in the salad itself!

Caesar Salad:

Chopped romaine lettuce
toasted pine nuts
shaved parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) cheese
fried tortilla strips*

1. Just before eating, put lettuce in a salad bowl.
2. Top with desired amount of pine nuts, cheese and tortilla strips.
3. Add some cilantro dressing and toss well.
4. Divide salad among plates or bowls and top each serving with sliced carne asada if desired.

* To make tortilla strips: Heat some oil in a deep fryer or in a deep skillet or dutch oven. While oil is coming to temperature, stack a few corn tortillas on a cutting board. Cut the stack in half and then slice into thin strips. When oil temperature reaches 350 degrees, fry tortilla strips in small batches, stirring them so they don’t stick together. Drain on paper towels and toss with a little salt while still warm.

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  1. Ryan

    I’m sure your salad is 18 billion times better than the swill they pass off as food at El Toritos…

    Stupid overpriced chain restaurants


    9:52 pm  Nov 1st, 2006
  2. Ivonne

    Be still my beating heart! I just love it and I especially like your addition of the cilantro.


    4:00 am  Nov 2nd, 2006
  3. Lisa (Homesick Texan)

    Wow! El Torito…that takes be back. I adore cilantro pesto and drizzle it on, well, just about anything!

    5:41 am  Nov 2nd, 2006
  4. Vanessa Balchen

    Love it…I just wish I could eat it now. I’m going to try this …it seems like just the right antidote.

    5:52 am  Nov 2nd, 2006
  5. Pearl

    Phenomenal picture. It’s always fun to try to replicate a restaurant dish from memory.

    5:13 pm  Nov 2nd, 2006
  6. Brilynn

    Cilantro sounds like a great addition to a caesar salad, I’ll have to give that a try.

    2:17 am  Nov 3rd, 2006
  7. Mae

    That’s one sexy salad, Nicole! Love the sound of the cilantro pesto… and the addition of crumbly tortilla chips is very unique!

    Love it.

    5:24 pm  Nov 3rd, 2006
  8. Becky

    You take such fabulous pictures – I think I’m coming down with food porn envy 😉

    4:57 am  Nov 4th, 2006
  9. rachel

    Yum. We love to have steak and salad!

    8:57 pm  Nov 5th, 2006
  10. experienceaurie

    wow. i went to an italian restaurant on saturday and the owner is from naples. he has about 5 restaurants, but they certainly keep the home style cooking feel as priority #1 . The only thing is their salad was just ok, but this salad you made looks absolutely stunning. Hmmm…Come to New Jersey so I can taste your food. =)

    2:00 pm  Nov 6th, 2006
  11. Brilynn

    I know I’ve already said that I like the looks of this salad, but now I want to see what else you can do, I’m tagging you for the Foodbloggers Welcome Dinner

    6:09 am  Nov 7th, 2006
  12. Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

    Mmmm, this sounds totally the kind of salad I would love to have! This cilantro pesto dressing! Yes please!

    10:03 pm  Nov 7th, 2006
  13. Sandy

    My husband will love this! Caesar salad and mexican, too!

    6:08 pm  Nov 8th, 2006
  14. amanda

    nicole, i love how supremely thin the carne asada is sliced! i doubt i could achieve such delicate slices! it sounds and looks awesome as always… you know, i’ve never made a cilantro pesto but i do just love cilantro. i’m definately going to have to give it a whirl

    9:59 am  Nov 13th, 2006
  15. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    I don’t know why it took me so long to find your blog, but it looks like I have some back reading to do! 🙂

    Great pictures, I look forward to reading more! SARA

    11:05 pm  Nov 13th, 2006
  16. jerald

    if you guys need help making a salad
    holy crap

    11:27 pm  Nov 15th, 2006
  17. radioactv915

    where are you? No new posts….

    2:12 am  Nov 16th, 2006
  18. amanda

    hey nicole! i thought i left a message on this post previously, buuuuuut…. it’s nowhere to be seen! anyway, i’ve been drooling over that thinnly sliced carne asada for quite some time now. i hope everythings okay and that you’re either in transit to italy or having a fabulous time on some adventure!

    10:47 am  Nov 20th, 2006
  19. amanda

    uh… i think i’m blind… it took me all of .5 seconds after i posted that last comment to see the one i wrote you before… oops!

    10:48 am  Nov 20th, 2006
  20. steveshotdogs

    Nicole! Happy Turkey Day! Do you celebrate Thanksgiving over there in Sicily, or are you 100% Italian now? Be sure to check out Chili con Deero at Steve’s. Later.
    My wife says “Ciao bella.”

    6:47 am  Nov 23rd, 2006
  21. Randi

    I loved that salad from El Torito too. Another foodblogger traded me a canadian food magazine for a bottle of the cilantro pepita dressing. I went looking for the dressing recipe online and found it. I was shocked to see how much oil it had. I make my own version of the salad with pepita’s and small cooked ravioli. Makes a great main dish salad. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    5:23 pm  Jan 13th, 2007
  22. Ashley

    I came across your blog a few weeks ago, and I made this dish (minus the tortillas) and it was really great! The tangy dressing and the parmesan really complimented the meat well. Thanks so much for posting this!

    9:56 pm  Jan 19th, 2007
  23. shandra lowskinson

    TTTTTTTTTASTEY TASTEY!!!! it was just delicious, d to the e to the licious!!!

    2:40 am  Feb 24th, 2007
  24. Theodore

    I have already enjoy your website, and it is so nice and cool. I will visit your website again. Thank you. Please More updates

    11:06 pm  May 31st, 2007
  25. tony

    nice web site, but Caesar salad must contain anchovies otherwise it can not becalled such

    9:23 pm  Sep 10th, 2008
  26. barbara

    I ate at El Torito many, many times when I lived in Hollywood in the 70’s. Interesting to know they are still there!

    I eat salad almost every day and I have a salad spinner. However. I haven’t tried to store my lettuce (I use several types also) as you suggest by drying the leaves, placing them in the spinner, on paper towels, and then large baggies. Great idea.
    I tried using the green bags, but I don’t find them of much use.

    On my salads I sprinkle feta cheese, garlic power, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I plan to try the cilantro pesto dressing. Thanks for sharing.

    10:05 am  Sep 24th, 2008
  27. Christine

    That’s a stunning photo. The cilantro pesto dressing recipe is a keeper – and me with cilantro growing in my garden… 🙂
    Thanks so much for the link!

    12:30 am  Apr 13th, 2009
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    Thats an all around amazing blog post!!!

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  31. carrian

    This looks delicious!!! I am linking it to one of my recipes for monday. Thanks for sharing!!

    9:40 pm  Jun 15th, 2012
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