Grilled southwest salad with creamy cilantro dressing {vegan}

grilled southwest salad with creamy cilantro dressing

There are about a million and one things I miss about living in NYC. Family/friends, a dog named Mollie, the Museum of Natural History (seriously), the kid who plays the sax at Union Square....just to name a few. 

But you know one kind of weird thing I miss? Like, really really miss??


Hopefully I don't have to spend too much time convincing anybody that chopped salads are superior to not-chopped salads. It's an actual fact. Studies have been done, the votes are in, it's written in history. 


grilled southwest salad with cream cilantro dressing

For two years I could find one on every corner, and  it was glorious. An overpriced weekday lunchtime triumph, if you will. Within 15 steps of my office I could go build my perfect salad and watch as someone chop, chop, chopped it into bits perfectly mixing everything with my dressing of choice. No need to worry about inconsistent bites because everything is everywhere (in salad terms this makes sense, I promise)! No concern over looking like a baby who just discovered solid food while trying to fit a weirdly large piece of lettuce in your mouth because it's all been chopped into perfect. tiny. bites.  

But now? Nothing! To be honest, I'm mostly annoyed because I live in a city that I actually think would welcome chopped salad bars with open arms. We're all over here drinking kombucha and hiking and I just really think we need a place to fulfill some salad dreams. 

Okay fine, that's a lie. I'm not hiking. I do drink a lot of kombucha though. Sometimes I add alcohol. BUT SOMETIMES I DON'T!

( I should pause here and mention that I could be totally wrong about all this, and there might actually be a place a girl can get a salad here? Seattle people HALP!)

grilled southwest salad with cream cilantro dressing

So now that we've established my feelings toward chopped salads, it feels like a great time to tell you this salad I'm sharing today is not, in fact, chopped. 

Do you hate me now? I hate me now. 

But look, as delicious as I think it is this salad just did not photograph well when chopped. So for the sake of food photography these are regular ol' boring salads, but please don't let that stop you from giving yours the chop treatment.

And chopped or not, I love this salad. It's easy to put together and super customizable. Use your favorite vegetables, or better yet use the ones that have been in your fridge a smidge longer than they should. You're grilling most of them up anyway! Because I kept the dressing vegan, I decided to go all the way and left off the cheese and meat with this one. But by all means, do not be afraid to throw some grilled chicken on here. Or steak! Or shrimp! Some feta cheese wouldn't suck either!

And this dressing? I am SO into it. I unabashedly love creamy dressings - even when they negate the health benefits of a salad - and loved the idea of making something really creamy without any cream or yogurt. Enter coconut milk! Along with the avocado it simultaneously makes the dressing super creamy, while also balancing the heat of the jalapeno. So good! I made it over and over again for testing purposes, and the last two times neither batch even saw a salad. Instead I just stood over my sink dipping anything and everything into it. Cucumbers, carrots, tortillas, crackers, roasted potatoes, whatever I could get my hands on.

Again, SO GOOD.

grilled southwest salad with cream cilantro dressing

Grilled southwest salad with creamy cilantro dressing

Serves 4

  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 small red onion, halved (or ½ a large one)
  • 8 cups romaine lettuce

Creamy cilantro dressing:

  • ½ large avocado (or 1 small one!)
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 TB lime juice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2-4 TB water

Rub the corn, poblano peppers and green onions with oil and season with salt. Grill until softened and charred (I did this on the stove in my grill pan, but you can obviously do this on a real grill!). When done, let vegetables cool slightly and then chop the peppers and green onions and cut the corn off the cob.

While the other vegetables cook, chop up the romaine lettuce, thinly slice the red onion, dice the red pepper and drain and rinse black beans.

(P.S. Feel free to grill up that red pepper if you want! I just happen to love it raw, but it's 100% delicious when grilled too.)

Divide everything between 4 bowls and drizzle with dressing OR combine everything in one large bowl and let everybody serve themselves!

Make the dressing:

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. If it's too spicy, add some more coconut milk or avocado! Want more acidity? Add more lime juice! Tinker until it's perfect for you and then add the water last to control the consistency - I usually start with 2 TB of water and add more if I need it. The amount is up to you based on how thin you want this to be.


The dressing keeps well in the fridge for a week, and is awesome on everything so don’t be afraid to make a double batch. I especially LOVE using it as a dipping sauce for roasted sweet potatoes.

I keep the seeds and ribs in my jalapeno because I like the heat. If that's not your jam, you can either remove all of that or just start with half a pepper and go from there.

To make this a chopped salad (sorry I have to), I like to build a bowl and before dressing it pour all the veg out on a large cutting board. Then I chop it to my heart's content before putting it back in my bowl and mixing with the dressing. It's unnecessary work, but I've never regretted it.