Mexican Caesar Salad

This recreation of the Mexican Caesar Salad at El Torito Restaurant has crispy romaine lettuce and a tangy cilantro and pepita dressing with a touch of heat.

Mexican Caesar Salad with Cilantro-Pepita Dressing
Mexican Caesar Salad with Cilantro-Pepita Dressing

Did you know that the original Caesar salad has its origins in Mexico?   Developed by Caesar Cardini, in Tijuana Mexico, it was a desperation salad that came together during a rush in his restaurant, from whatever ingredients he could pull together.  My Mexican Caesar Salad pays homage to these roots with the same bright and refreshing elements of a classic Caesar salad with a Mexican twist!

Mexican Caesar Salad

Mexican Caesar Salad

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  • 3/4 cup light olive oil or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 1 roasted jalapeño (or 2 roasted serrano peppers) I’ll tell you more in the directions.
  • 2 cloves rough chopped garlic (they’re going in the food processor, so just give it a good smack with the side of your knife to get it started.)
  • 1/4 cup grated cotija cheese (plus extra to sprinkle on top of the salad)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 3 tbsp toasted pepitas (plus extra for garnish) You probably won’t find pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds) with the other baking nuts, but I can always find them with the bulk foods in the Natural Foods section of my local Mega Market.
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro (mostly the leaves), or about 3/4 cup.
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • One avocado, mashed (optional)


  • We’ll start the recipe, as always, by getting everything ready and gathered. First we’ll roast the jalapeño (or Serranos if you can’t find a jalapeño). If you don’t want any spice in your dressing, and I respect that choice, just skip this part. You can either pan roast the pepper in a very hot pan until browned on all sides, or you can put it under a broiler, turning often, until nicely browned. Remove the stem (of course) and remove some or all of the seeds inside, depending again on how much spice you want. The pepitas will also be toasted in a dry pan on the stove over medium heat. Shake them and stir them around and they’ll start to make popping and hissing sounds and quickly start browning. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn. When done I take them immediately out of the pan and onto a plate so they can cool before adding to the other ingredients.
  • Start placing all of the ingredients into the bowl of your food processor, except the cilantro, the mayonnaise and the milk. Those we’ll take care of later. Buzz, buzz, buzz, until everything is combined and then add in the cilantro and let it go! For an even creamier, more rich dressing, add in the mashed avocado at this point and blend it in. Delicious!!
  • Add the buzzed ingredients to the mayonnaise and milk, that have been whisked together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Done!
  • I like to serve this on a half head of romaine lettuce for each person, drizzle the dressing all over and garnish with store bought tortilla strips (found in the salad dressing aisle of your Mega Market, or you can fry your own), more shredded cotija cheese, more pepitas, and some jalapeño slices. It’s fun to slice into this, like a salady steak, or, you know, you can put it all in a bowl like regular salad eating people. I’m a rebel.
  • Sometimes I even serve this salad with a combo of romaine and kale, especially when I’ve added avocado to the dressing. However you decide to serve it, it’s sure to become a regular on your salad rotation. Enjoy!

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