When the weather is warm, a southwest salad as a meal really satisfies. Vegetables like tomatoes, corn-on-the-cob, and colorful bell peppers are at their best. Just stand back and let them shine.
This southwest salad really sings with crispy air fryer tortilla strips for crunch, avocado for fatty creaminess, and a cashew salad dressing to bring it all together. Vegan & gluten-free.
For me, the key to a craveable salad is one that has a variety of flavors and textures. I want a different combination of tastes in every bite. And so many favorites that I just can’t stop looking for that perfect bite.
Ripe off the vine summer tomato plus avocado? Perfect.
Warm tortilla strips straight out of the air fryer plus cool green leaf lettuce? Perfect.
Grilled corn plus creamy cashew dressing? Perfect again!
That’s what makes this Tex-Mex style southwest salad such a treat for a light-but-filling lunch or dinner. It is a salad that is a full meal, not a side dish afterthought.
How to make southwest salad
Start by grilling an ear of corn. Shuck the corn and put it right on the grill.
(If you like, you can lightly oil it first. But that’s not really necessary.)
For the best grill marks, I aim the corn to be positioned right over the flames. Let the corn get some nice grill marks before rolling it to expose a new part of the corn to direct heat.
Keep going until the entire ear has some color on every section. Then take it off the grill.
Let the corn cool a little, so that you don’t burn your fingers. Then put the ear of corn on its side on a cutting board, and use a knife to cut the kernels from the core.
(Don’t have access to a grill? No problem! I have other options in the notes section of the recipe card.)
Add the grilled corn kernels to a salad bowl with:
- Green leaf lettuce
- Cabbage mix
- Tomato or salsa
- Red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
- Crispy air fryer tortilla strips
Creamy cashew dressing
To top this southwest salad, I use my longtime favorite, creamy cashew salad dressing. I have been making this dressing for a million years.
It’s an oil-free dressing that has tons of body by way of raw cashews. Combined with freshly squeezed lemon, tamari, garlic, and a handful of cilantro, it is right at home in this Tex-Mex style salad.
Make it your own
Instead of using fresh tomato, add ½ cup of your favorite salsa. Chipotle garlic salsa from Trader Joe’s is my current favorite. But a fresh pico de gallo would also be really good here.
Instead of grilling corn on the cob, use fresh corn cut straight off the cob.
Or thaw & heat frozen corn. Lots of grocery stores carry frozen corn that was grilled before being cut into kernels. You’ll get a similar look & flavor without any extra work.
For ease, I like to use a shredded cabbage mix that includes carrot. (You can use the rest in vegan coleslaw!) But if you’d prefer to shred cabbage by hand, that works too.
Instead of air frying corn tortillas, grab a couple handfuls of tortilla chips and use those instead. Simply crunch them in your hands before adding them to the bowl.
Add fresh cilantro leaves, shredded cheddar-style vegan cheese, or diced red onion for an extra pop of flavor & color.
What to serve with southwest salad
This southwest salad is great as a full meal in a bowl. But if you’d prefer to serve it as a side, it pairs well with any of these entrees:
- Veggie fajitas with mushrooms
- Double decker tacos with black & refried beans
- Grilled tofu with lemon & rosemary
- Vegan BBQ sandwich with Soy Curls & coleslaw
- Picnic sandwich with jalapeño cashew cheese
Southwest salad with grilled corn
- 1 ear corn on the cob shucked
- 4 cups chopped green leaf lettuce
- 1 cup shredded cabbage mix from a bag or shredded by hand
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 tomato diced or 1/2 cup salsa
- 1 avocado diced
- 2 batches air fryer tortilla strips or a couple big handfuls of tortilla chips, crushed in hands
- 1 batch creamy cashew dressing*
- Start by grilling the corn on the cob. Bring an outdoor grill to 500 degrees. Put the shucked corn directly onto the grill above the flame, and cover the lid. Open the lid and turn the corn every few minutes, after it has gotten dark grill marks on the part touching the grill. Keep turning the corn until it is has some nice color on all sides. The whole process will take about 15 minutes.
- Remove the corn from heat. And allow it to cool for a few minutes, while you chop the other vegetables in the salad. Once it is cool enough to touch, turn the corn on its end on a cutting board. Use a knife to cut the kernels away from the cob. Add them to a large salad bowl.
- Put the other vegetables in the salad bowl - chopped green leaf lettuce, shredded cabbage mix, diced yellow bell pepper, diced tomato, and diced avocado. At that time, you can either add the air fried corn tortilla strips to the bowl, top with creamy cashew salad dressing, and toss. Or you can put the salad into individual bowls, and top each one with tortilla strips. Then let guests add as much creamy cashew salad dressing to their bowls as they prefer.