*CLEAN* Fresh Mex Veggie Salad

For awhile now, I have been thinking about how to make “Utah’s Favorite Salad” Veggie Lisa style. I am so excited to share with you what I have come up with. Simple, healthy swaps that have every bit the flavor of the original, but a third of the calories, carbs and fats.

Nutritionally speaking, the Cafe Rio salad is a total disaster. Just because it is a salad doesn’t mean it is healthy. So I want to share with you what a typical Cafe Rio salad’s stats are.

Prepare yourself.

Take a deep breath…

I hope you are sitting down for this.

Normal Café Rio Salad has:

Calories 1359

Carbs 162g

Fat 57 g

Um. Yikes. Unless this is your only meal for the day, the calorie count, not to mention the fat grams is enough to have every nutritionist cringe. Ok, now that the hard part is out of the way, let talk about the good news.

How would you like to slash those numbers in thirds? Plus add some superfoods. And don’t worry I didn’t take away that guacamole!

There are a few moving parts to this salad but once you have assembled the ingredients, you can include this as part of your meal prep and eat it all week long! Add in some grilled chicken for even more protein!


1 soft taco size whole wheat tortilla

¼ cup Cilantro Quinoa (see recipe below)

¼ cup garlic black beans (see recipe below)

1 cup sautéed veggies (I like to use diced onions and peppers)

3 cups finely chopped red leaf lettuce

¼ cup pico de gallo

2 TBSP cojita cheese

¼ cup sweet potato crunchies (recipe below)

1 scoop fresh guacamole or avocado slices

Greek Yogurt Cilantro Ranch Dressing

Lime Wedge

Step 1: Find your base. I like to use Mission brand Whole Wheat Soft Taco size tortillas. If you want gluten free, corn is also a good option.

Fresh Mex Salad

Step 2: Add in 1/4 cup Cilantro Quinoa (see recipe below)

Fresh Mex Salad

Cilantro Quinoa

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 8 servings

  • 2 TBSP Olive Oil
  • ½ cup white onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ⅓ cup minced cilantro
  1. Heat the olive in a saucepan
  2. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic, quinoa and onion powder
  3. Pour in vegetable broth
  4. Bring everything to a boil, cover with tight fitting lid.
  5. Turn heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  6. When finished, fluff with fork and set aside until ready to assemble salad
Instead of using white rice, swap out for this flavorful cilantro quinoa
Step 3: Add in Garlic Black Beans (recipe below)

Fresh Mex Salad

Garlic Black Beans
  • ½ cup white onion, diced finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 can black beans (do not drain)
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  1. Spray sauté pan with cooking spray. Add in onion and garlic over medium heat.
  2. Add in beans. Cumin and chili powder. Bring to a boil.
  3. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes
  4. Set aside until ready to assemble salad
these beans are made with less fat but twice as much flavor!
Step 4: Don’t forget your veggies! I like to sauté onions and bell peppers in a bit of cooking spray. This is where you can add in your meat if you would like. Keep the marinades simple!

Fresh Mex Salad

Step 5: Add in your greens. My favorite lettuce to use is red leaf lettuce. Get creative! You can use spinach, baby kale and even butter lettuce. Top with a generous heap of pico de gallo

Fresh Mex Salad

Step 6: Now it’s time for the toppings! Guacamole is a must. You can even add avocado slices. I like to buy the 100 Calorie Wholly Guacamole pouches, but if you happen to have some ripe avocados handy those will be just fine. Keep your portions in check with the guac. It is easy to add too much.

Fresh Mex Salad

Step 7: You’re almost done! Time to add 2 TBSP cojita cheese and sweet potato crunches. We will get to the dressing in just a minute

Sweet Potato Crunchies
  • 1 medium yam, sprialized
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • Real Salt
  1. Place coconut oil in small, flat pan
  2. Heat slowly until oil is slightly bubbling
  3. Place sweet potato strings into pan and fry until they turn just a little bit brown. You will know when to take them out when they shrink in size. Roughly about 8-10 min
  4. Place strings on paper towel to drain. Store in airtight container until ready to serve
Ditch those boring tortilla strips for these colorful little strings! They will add a great crunch and flavor to your salad
Step 8: Greek Yogurt Cilantro Ranch Dressing

Now this is where we have really cleaned up this salad. The original recipe calls for not only mayonnaise, but buttermilk as well. This dressing replaces those unhealthy fats for lower calorie, higher protein swaps. This dressing is best made the day before so it has a while for the flavors to mesh. Also lets talk about how just about every prepackaged Ranch mix has MSG in it. Here is a very simple and fast, not to mention CLEAN Ranch mix you can make right at home.

Greek Yogurt Cilantro Ranch Dressing
  • 1 batch of Clean Ranch (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup nonfat, plain greek yogurt
  • ½ c lowfat milk plus ½ tsp white vinegar (mix and set aside)
  • 2 tomatillos, husks removed and roughly diced
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Jalapeno, seeded
  1. Mix ranch seasoning with Greek yogurt
  2. Place in high-powered blender and add all the other ingredients.
  3. Pour into large container and allow to set up in fridge
The most important part of the salad but with less calories and more protein!
*CLEAN* Ranch Seasoning
  • ½ tsp dried chives
  • ½ tsp dried parsley
  • ½ tsp dried dill weed
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ⅛ tsp Real Salt
  • ⅛ tsp fresh black pepper
  1. Mix all spices together.
  2. Store in plastic bag until ready to use
Don't buy the stuff at the store! This is much healthier option, plus it only takes a minute to whip up!
That’s it! You’ve done it! Now you can enjoy this HEALTHY version of your favorite salad.