Though I can understand the appeal of "semi-homemade" food to people without the skill or inclination to cook proper meals, part of me cringes whenever I see a recipe that is entirely made of processed foods. If I spot a photo on Pinterest of some dessert that has been concocted by combining cake mixes, Jello mixes, pudding mixes, soda, and/or Cool Whip, I die a little on the inside and scroll on to the next thing. The same goes for casseroles or slow cooker dinners that are made up of some combination of chicken, flavoring packets, canned cream of something soup, canned vegetables, Rotel, and/or salad dressing or barbeque sauce. Call me a snob, but in my mind, these "meals" barely qualify as food.

That's why it's so embarrassing to me that I have a beloved recipe in my own arsenal that comes perilously close to these "semi-homemade" recipes that are forever floating around the internet -- taco salad. It was one of the few recipes I learned to cook from my mother, meaning that it was one of the first dishes I ever learned how to prepare, period. I still make it with relative frequency too, not only because it is delicious, but because it has a powerful nostalgic connection to my childhood. I've resisted blogging about it for the past four years because I was kind of ashamed of it, but I figured since I was photographing it anyway for the cookbook Justin is making me as a belated birthday gift, I might as well come out of the closet and share it with the public.

This recipe has no redeeming nutritional value, in fact, I usually eat more than a recommended portion size of Doritos while I have the bag out to crunch up some chips for the topping. Since these pulverized Doritos make up the crunch factor of the salad, it may make the recipe a soupcon healthier than the traditional deep-fried tortilla bowl version, but probably not by much. Really, if you think about it, the addition of Doritos to this salad was way ahead of its time, considering that Taco Bell did not introduce the Doritos Locos Taco until 2012 (and they just came out with Doritos Locos Tacos flavored Doritos, which actually aren't that bad, even if the concept makes my head hurt.)

I guess the beans are good for you, and the substitution of black beans for kidney beans was only contribution I have made to this recipe since learning it from my mother, since I prefer the texture of them. However, I'm pretty sure that any nutritional benefit you may get from consuming the nice, fibrous beans is negated by the sodium-laden packaged taco seasoning on the ground beef, the ground beef itself, the iceberg lettuce, and all that delicious, delicious cheese and taco chips. At least I use low-fat salad dressing?

This dish is definitely a guilty pleasure for me, and perhaps it can be for you as well. If you are less adverse to vegetables than I am, you can feel free to embellish upon this base recipe. When Mom makes it for Dad, she often cuts up a tomato and adds it to his plate, and I do the same for Justin, with the addition of a cubed avocado. Bell pepper might be good, though I can't be sure, since I don't eat them. Feel free to let your imagination run wild, and treat yourself to this tasty delight, being sure to take a night off from worrying about the caloric consequences of your choices.

Taco Salad
adapted from Mom

1.25 lbs of ground round
1 packet of McCormick taco seasoning (mild)
1 medium-large head of iceberg lettuce, washed well and torn into bite-size pieces
shredded cheddar cheese to taste
one small white onion, diced
1 15-oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 handfuls of Doritos tortilla chips, crushed

1. Brown the beef over medium-high heat, then blot off the grease with a paper towel.
2. Add the taco seasoning and 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Allow to cool slightly.
4. In a large salad bowl, combine the lettuce, cheese, diced onion, beans, and beef.
5. Serve garnished with the crushed Doritos.

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