mexicali. cha! cha! cha!

MEXICALI is a new word for me (and you know how I adore great words). When I came across this Mexicali Chop with Crunchy Tortilla Strips recipe, I assumed “Mexicali” termed a festive blend of regional cuisines—perhaps Mexico and California? Okay, so 3 seconds of research proved me wrong. Mexicali is a city in Baja California, Mexico, located across the border from Calexico, California. So I wasn’t too far off.

With lots of corn and tomatoes on hand, I invited Andrew’s parents over for un poco Mexican feast. A Mexicali chop salad, caramelized onion & Jack cheese tortillas, cantaloupe ruffles, and pineapple-cilantro chicken.


I’ve always been afraid of cantaloupe. Don’t ask me what’s so intimidating about cutting into large, heavy fruits, but I’m admitting here and now I’ve not worked my way up to a pineapple.

Sure enough, once I sliced both poles of my fruity globe, the peel was not a challenge from there. (A small Wednesday triumph). Now, one can chop into traditional wedges at this point, but you know I love experimenting. And I love vegetable peelers. When I make one of my favorite dishes, egg noodles with zucchini and carrot ribbons, I blanch beautiful vegetable strips easily produced by a vegetable peeler. I played around with the same idea here.

Once you remove the skin, cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds, just start peeling strips from the flat core. Press the peeler firmly to cut strips that aren’t too thin.

That’s it! Arrange the ribbons in piles, or little swirls. Garnish, as I did, with lime zest and a light drizzle of honey. For very sweet cantaloupe, the honey really isn’t necessary, but a little lime juice on top of the zest is just right.

So easy and elegant.


This salad has three components in the prep: the tortilla crunchies, the dressing, and the salad pieces. It may sound a little tedious, but the prep doesn’t take long. Besides, you can adjust the salad parts to your preferences (as I did), making the dressing ahead of time, and hopefully you will also find that you have a lot of these ingredients on hand.

Here’s a visual so the parts make sense:

the dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/4 cup chopped green onion

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

pinch cayenne pepper

I have an aversion to most recipes with over five ingredients, but the photo of this salad in Vegetarian Times was irresistable.

You will need a blender (or an immersion blender). Heat the oil, garlic, cumin, coriander, sugar, and salt in a saucepan for 2-3 minutes over low heat, or until the garlic begins to sizzle. 

(With all of these dried spices, the dressing can be a little gritty. Be sure to stir the contents over the heat so the sugar dissolves.) Blend the remaining ingredients with a garlic-spice oil. That’s it! Stick in the fridge or just set aside.

the crunchy tortilla strips

1.5 tsp. canola oil

3 6-inch corn tortillas

1/2 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

Corn tortillas are bland on their own but trust me that you need them for this recipe! Preheat the oven to 350F and brush the oil on the tortillas. Cut in half, then cut into 1/8-inch wide strips.

Spread the strips on a baking sheet and combine the chili power, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the strips. Now I ended up doubling the chili-salt-sugar mixture. I didn’t find this given amount to be enough, and since I used a mild chili powder blend, ample spice on top was just delicious.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until crisp. Set aside to cool while you assemble the rest of the salad.


1 head romaine lettuce, sliced thin (8 cups)

2 medium tomatoes, chopped (2 cups)

1 avocado, diced (1 cup)

3 celery stalks, sliced think (1 cup)

1 seedless cucumber, diced (1 cup)

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (thawed)

3/4 cup cooked pinto beans

1/2 cup jarred roasted red bell peppers, rinsed, drained, and sliced thin

1/3 cup finely chopped red onion

As I said before, you can certainly adjust these ingredients to your own preferences. I excluded pinto beans and celery in my version. Toss all the salad ingredients together with tortillas strips and 1/4 cup dressing. I recommend serving the dressing on the side, so as not to make those crunchy bits all soggy. Serving your salads on a flat platter allows your eaters to get all those delicious and teeny ingredients that might otherwise spend their evening in the bottom of the bowl. 🙂

per 1 and 3/4-cup serving: 160 calories, 4 grams protein, 8 grams total fat (1 gram saturated fat), 21 grams carbs, 0 mg cholesterol, 229 mg sodium, 6 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar (this recipe is gluten free and vegan)

Since you’re enjoying such a healthy, crunchy salad, you may consider my onion-jack cheese tortilla wedges on the side. To use up the remaining few corn tortillas, I sprinkled them with caramelized onions, topped with shredded colby jack and sharp cheddar cheeses. While I broiled the pineapple-cilantro chicken tenderloin, I placed a baking sheet of these tortillas beneath. Next time, I’ll place the tortillas on a cooling rack over a baking sheet to crisp the underside. Once you pull the tortillas out of the oven, drizzle lightly with the following: sour cream thinned with lime juice, a generous sprinkle of lime zest and chopped cilantro.

The salad recipe is from the July/August 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times.



Filed under dinners, health

2 responses to “mexicali. cha! cha! cha!

  1. Jen

    everything looks beautiful AND delicious! I always love looking at your pictures 🙂

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