No matter how hard I try to branch out and try new things, I have a lot of go-to meals at certain restaurants. And, when possible, I try to recreate them at home because, for one thing, it’s generally cheaper, and for another, my homemade version gives me a little more control over how many calories the dish contains.

Why the hell it took me so many years (YEARS!) to try making the Topopo Salad from El Azteco in Lansing and East Lansing, Mich. (what up, my Spartans!), I couldn’t begin to tell you. Well, okay, I guess part of it is that, in the original recipe they include chicken, and since I’d never had it without, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. And I haven’t had one in so long, I didn’t quite know where to start.

And then I remembered The Internet, and both problems were solved. I found a Topopo Salad recipe (listed below) on Forest Street Kitchen that mentions making it vegetarian, and I set to work. Oh, you guys, the unbelievable deliciousness of this salad is beyond compare. It’s absolutely tremendous. And yes, it was a little more time and labor intensive than most salads I’ve made, but it was SO worth it.

topopo salad

El Azteco's famous Topopo Salad, made a million miles away in my kitchen in Florida. Much more efficient than delivery from the Michigan State campus.

Because it was just me tonight, I cut the recipe in half, ate until it hurt, and still had a good bit left over. So many veggies! And beans! And yes, a decent amount of cheese, but hey, that’s just dairy, which is GOOD for you, right?

On an entirely separate, un-salady note, did anybody else have a freaking amazing day today? I saw a couple of mentions on Facebook and Twitter about it, and boy, was I ever on. I don’t know why, but everything just felt right, and I was weirdly happy and optimistic all day. (Well, most of the day anyway, other than when I tried giving Meeko her fluids and did a piss poor job. Poor cat. Guess I’m not as great as I thought I was, huh?)

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Topopo Salad recipe from Forest Street Kitchen (my notes in italics)

  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded or cut into small pieces (I used romaine hearts)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 16 0z. bottle salsa
  • 8 ounces frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup finely shredded, white Mexican cheese (Queso Blanco)
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
    1 -2 jalapenos, finely chopped (I had no jalapenos, so I went without, but I think they would’ve really added something — next time!)
  • Tortilla chips (I used broken up tostadas because they’re less salty)
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 cups guacamole (purchased or homemade)
  • 2 cups finely shredded, cooked chicken (or leave this out and go “veggie)
  • 2 cans refried beans

“Topopo” means volcano, and as prepared at El Azteco, this is a HUGE salad for two people. You may, of course, choose to spread the ingredients over several plates.

First, mix lettuce, peas, white cheese, chicken, jalapenos, green onions and tomatoes in a large bowl. In a jar ow bowl mix canola, rice vinegar and sugar to create a vinaigrette dressing. Add a small (!) amount of vinaigrette, no more than 1/4 cup to salad mixture. You are not really “dressing” this, just holding it together and adding a bit of flavor). Mix again to coat very lightly with vinaigrette. You may decide that you want to use more dressing next time, but you really don’t want it to be more than a hint of background flavor and a binder for the salad ingredients.

Warm refried beans in microwave or on top of the stove.

On the bottom of a large plate, place a hearty layer of tortilla chips. Warm refried beans and layer evenly over chips. Top with cheddar or jack cheese and run under the broiler to melt. Top melted cheese with guacamole spread evenly, and then a cup of the of salsa.

A true Topopo is presented with the salad on top of the nacho base in a pyramid. (You remember: the whole volcano thing). Begin piling your salad mixture on top of the nachos to cover completely, gradually adding less and less as you build upwards to form a pyramid. Serve with additional salsa on the side.

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