Jen’s Jalapeño Buttermilk Ranch Salad 3 Ways. Carnivore, Pescatarian, Vegetarian? I got you!

I love a big bowl of salad filled with a rainbow of colors, and all kinds of contrasting flavors and textures. Especially when it has the sort of dressing that you’d happily dip chips into. But you’re not. You’re producing hard. Produce-ing. As in produce. Vegetables. Not like you’re having a productive day. Anywho. Here’s a delicious bowl of the good stuff. I’ve given three different protein options so carnivores, pescatarians, and vegetarians can all have a big happy bowl of yum. Happy produce-ing, peeps! 😀 Edit: 9/25/2020. I just weighed this out for the 800 gram produce challenge, and it’s 435 grams per plate. WooHoo!


Jen’s Jalapeño Buttermilk Ranch Salad 3 Ways

Carnivore, Pescatarian, Vegetarian? I got you!

Dressing (Plenty 😀 – Make just 1/4 of this if you want dressing for just 4 salads)
1/4 recipe   |  full recipe
6 1/2 T          |  1 2/3 cups Greek yogurt OR 1 cup mayonnaise & 2/3 cup sour cream
1 T + 1 t        |  1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup         |  (1) 7 ounce can salsa verde (tomatillo salsa – I use Herdez)
1/4                 |  1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded (leave the seeds if you want more heat! Yes, that’s a jalapeño in the pic. They turn red if you leave them on the plant a little longer. :D)
1/2                 |  2 cloves garlic (only 1 clove if you’re not a garlic-head)
1 T                 |  1/3 cup fresh cilantro, stems are fine, too. Just trim the ends off.
1/2 T              |  2 T Penzey’s Buttermilk Ranch OR 3 T Hidden Valley Ranch OR 2 T Hidden Valley Ranch Homestyle powder(see notes about that below…)
1/2 T               |  2 Tablespoons lime juice
Blend everything til nice and smooth, about 20 seconds on high.IMG_5792

Salad base (4 servings)
½ head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 bell pepper, sliced, then cut the slices in half
1 lb (about 3 cups) tomatoes, chopped (my favorite are the little Campari tomatoes at Costco, but buy whatever smells the most tomato-y at your store)
½ cup frozen corn, thawed
4 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 -2 avocados, sliced
6 oz shredded cheese, optional – preferably Tilamook or Sargento
24 candied pecans, optional (see notes about that below)
Arrange on 4 plates in a wreath pattern.

Center o’ the salad – pick one!

Carnivore – Chicken Breast and Bacon Lardons
3 chicken breasts – love the frozen red bag at Costco
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat (or the grill!). Generously sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. When the skillet’s nice and hot, add the olive oil, swirl it around, and add the chicken in one layer. Cook, flipping once, until an internal thermometer registers 165°F or until all the pink is gone from the center. Slice it up and add to the center of those plates.

½ pound bacon, cut into lardons
Cutting into lardons just means that you cut the bacon across the slices about ever quarter inch. You’ll have a pile of cute little bacon rectangles. Add those to a cold skillet. Turn it to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until they reach your desired level of bacon doneness. My family is team crispy, so that’s about 30 minutes. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle over the chicken. (I do a full pound of lardons and put the extra in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. One of my kids likes to use them in breakfast sandwiches. Another adds them to her mac and cheese. I love them for salads and eggs. If you pre-make your lardons, just measure off 2/3 cup, cooked. That’s the equivalent of ½ pound.)

IMG_5705

Pescatarian – Shrimp
1 – 1 ¼ pounds* shrimp, deveined and peeled I leave the tail on, but you do you. (if you hate cleaning shrimp, the ones marked EZ peel have already been deveined. Yay! Best convenience food ever, amirite?)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Heat a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat (or the grill!). Generously sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. When the skillet’s nice and hot, add the olive oil, swirl it around, and add the shrimp in one layer. Cook until they are just opaque, about 2-3 minutes per side. Pile into the center of the plates.

I've been bamboozled

* I normally use about a pound. With Costco’s 13/15 (that just means 13-15 shrimp to a pound), 16 shrimp weighed 1 ¼ pounds. If I give my family just 3 shrimp on their salads, they look like Burger Meister Meister Burger in that old Christmas movie, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, “I’ve been Bamboozled!”

If you’re not a pescatarian, but just want the shrimp version – because yum – the bacon lardons play very nicely here, too. Or else try the smoky coconut below.

Vegetarian – Spiced Black Beans & Smoky Coconut
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ red onion, chopped
½ red pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 14 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to take on golden edges, about 9 minutes. Add the beans, seasoning, and ¼ cup of water, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid’s gone, about 5 minutes. Pile into the centers of the plates.

Now you need some smoky goodness on there. If you want a product to buy, Morningstar Farms breakfast strips taste a little like bacon flavored Pringles. You’d like something more natural? Sure! I remember enjoying the Shiitake Bakin’ in The No Meat Athlete Cookbook, and the Smoky Coconut Flakes in A Beautiful Mess Weekday Weekend. I made batches of both just now to see what we liked about each, then made my own hybrid combining our favorite points of each, and it’s really nice and smoky, and has a great texture.

Smoky Coconut
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or liquid aminos
2 teaspoons liquid smoke, optional, but awesome – I like mesquite or hickory best
2 teaspoons molasses
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon regular old salt
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
Whisk together.
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Stir in and let it rest while the oven preheats. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Toast at 325°F for 12 minutes, stirring after 6. Immediately slide the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto the counter to cool. I top all the salads with about 2 Tablespoons of the smoky coconut. My kids added extra to theirs.IMG_5794IMG_5802


Candied pecans…. These are my three favorites. The left and center are from Trader Joe’s. The one on the right is from Costco. The pecans from Trader Joe’s are much more lightly sugared (4g and 5g sugar per quarter cup), whereas the pecans from Costco are pretty well crusted in sugar (9g per quarter cup serving). We keep all three in the house, and use whichever we’re in the mood for. If you can’t stand having open bags in the pantry, just under 3 of the TJ’s bags fit in a quart size ball jar.


Ranch dressing… The Penzey’s is my favorite, but all of these are delicious. The Hidden Valley Ranch on the left contains MSG. The Hidden Valley Ranch Homestyle in the center, and the Penzey’s on the right do NOT contain MSG. Just mentioning for those who prefer to avoid it.


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My Vitamix. It’s a 5200. The best!

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Escali Primo P115C Precision Kitchen Food Scale

My favorite knife. It’s a 7″ full tang Santoku. I chose the Ikon handle design, which is wonderfully ergonomic. I have spent hours on a produce sculpture before and my hand was just as comfy at the end. It’s worth the pennies.

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Wusthof WU4176 Classic Ikon 7-Inch Santoku, Hollow Edge, Black

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WÜSTHOF CLASSIC IKON 8 Inch Chef’s Knife

My favorite cast iron skillet is a 12″ Lodge dual handle pan. Why, the long handles are too heavy to hold with a single hand when they’re loaded up. Since you’re using two hands anyway, you might as well get the ones that take up less space and stack so much better!

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Lodge 12″ dual handle cast-iron pan

Best sheet pan

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Same sheet pan with a cooling rack/roasting rack insert. Ooooo!

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I get asked about my spice wall all the time. The magnetic tins on the wall are great for any spices or salt-free blends. Salt corrodes the tins, so anything with salt is in a glass jar on the counter underneath.

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20 magnetic spice tins