Good Food: Santa Fe Ranch Salad / by emily penn


There's a chain called Corner Bakery Cafe that had a location in the town where I grew up. Corner Bakery does sandwiches, salads and soups. Their food has a big time nostalgic pull for me - me and my friends would hang out there for hours from middle school all the way through college. Me and my best friend were obsessed with one salad in particular - the Santa Fe Ranch.

Does it sound weird that one of my favorite "comfort foods" is a salad? For sure - but this is a really good salad. BUT - restaurants generally use shitty oils, sugar and other questionable ingredients - even in “healthy” items like salads. So I wanted to recreate my favorite salad using ingredients that I feel 100% good about.

My version of this salad includes making many of the components from scratch, so you know exactly what’s in them. I ditched the cheese and replaced it with avocado (duh). I also ditched the chicken and used jackfruit instead to make it vegetarian. If you wanted to replace the jackfruit with organic shredded chicken, that would be cool – or you could even omit it altogether and the salad would STILL be good.

PS - you could opt to buy a few of these salad components because I realize it looks like a lot of effort (although each step is really pretty simple).

the good

The ranch dressing makes this salad, hands down. So don’t skimp on that part. And don’t be afraid to really lather your lettuce. Opt for crunchy romaine lettuce – it holds the dressing well. The corn salsa – wow, this stuff is way better than even I was expecting. The crunchy tortilla bits, the chunks of avocado… Actually it’s the symphony of everything all together that make this salad so damn good and satisfying. Be heavy handed with the toppings. Make this salad a MEAL.

the medicine

Romaine lettuce is a powerhouse of nutrition – it’s packed with trace minerals, vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene and folate.

Cashews are a great source of healthy fats, vitamin E, vitamin K and minerals like copper, zinc, phosphorous and more. They also pack some antioxidants. Cashews support heart health, eye health and blood health.


People are generally confused about corn, myself included. What you need to know is that the corn that our ancestors ate was vastly different than our GMO, subsidized-by-the-government varieties that dominate the grocery stores today. Corn is also used as a filler in processed foods and of course, turned into high-fructose corn syrup. This is why I will be firm when I say that you should seek out organic, non-GMO corn products and consume them in moderation. That being said, corn actually does have some nutritional value, including fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrates and antioxidants.

Jackfruit, relatively new to the mainstream food scene, is a great source of antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium and vitamin B6.

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a potent antioxidant know to fight cancer and also help to maintain bone density.

Avocado – the darling of my and so many other people’s lives. Packed with heart healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber. So tasty and so satiating.


Finding jackfruit – you can find fresh jackfruit at Asian markets, but most grocers are now carrying canned jackfruit. Trader Joe’s even has canned jackfruit!

Don't be a pyscho like me (unless you want to be) - you definitely don’t have to make every component of this salad from scratch. My intense desire to make as much from scratch as possible is a personal issue. Really the only thing I insist you make is the dressing. You could easily buy pre-made corn salsa, use crushed tortilla chips and omit the jackfruit or replace it with chicken or black beans.

DON’T SKIMP ON THE DRESSING - that will be the last time I tell you.


Santa Fe Ranch Salad

total time 30ish minutes
serves 2 but you'll likely have some leftovers

the salad
1 head of romaine lettuce, washed + chopped
1 cup of ranch dressing
½ cup jackfruit
½ cup corn salsa
1-2 small roma tomatoes, diced
½ large avocado, diced
tortilla strips
fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped (optional)

1.    In a large bowl, toss the chopped romaine with the ranch dressing until lettuce is well-coated.
2.    Divide the salad between bowls. Add the rest of the ingredients on top of the salad. These are suggested quantities, no shame if you add more.
3.    Enjoy the tastiest most satisfying salad ever and maybe one day salad will be your comfort food too!

ranch dressing
1.5  cups cashews, soaked overnight
¾ cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
juice of one small lemon
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp onion flakes
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
¼ cup chopped parsley

Place everything except parsley in a high speed blender or food processor. Process until the cashews are completely smooth. Add chopped parsley and pulse a few times until it’s incorporated.

1 can of jackfruit, about 1 cup
1 tbsp olive or avocado oil
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp liquid smoke
salt + pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Allow to sit and marinate as long as you can, up to 24 hours. You can use it as is or warm in a pan before adding do your salad.

corn salsa
16 oz bag of frozen organic corn, thawed, or about 3 cups fresh organic corn kernels
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 poblano pepper, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Mix everything in a bowl and allow to sit for a few hours for flavors to blend. You can make this a full day ahead of time if you’d like.

tortilla strips (honestly so easy, but feel free to just buy organic tortilla chips)
4 organic corn tortillas
coconut, olive or avocado oil (if you have one of these in a spray can, use that)

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the corn tortillas into long strips. Toss with oil and salt until there’s an even sheen on the tortillas. Place in oven. Check at 10 minutes. If they’re not done yet, keep checking every 2 minutes until your desired doneness.