Heart of Romaine Salad with Pico de Gallo and Avocado Dressing

Last week, I spent time hanging out in Denver with old friends, eating with favorite bloggers, and admiring the state’s famous clouds, which were so fluffy and low that I wanted to reach up and touch them.

On the other hand, I’ve let this week get the better of me. When my brief, simple trip home morphed into a drawn-out aerial tour of Missouri, things started to go south. Too bad the center seat prevented me from looking out the window. Since then, I’ve been attempting to complete two weeks’ worth of work in one day while also serving as the star of my own individual Extreme Makeover: Pantry Edition episode. You ought to see my pantry right now!

Between Denver and now, summer turned into October at some point. But here in the middle of the nation, it’s still tomato-and-sandals season, so I figured we could savor the last of the summer with one more vibrant, fresh salad. The time for pumpkins and scarves will come soon enough.

Also read: Greek Salad with Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomatoes


Cherry tomato pico de gallo

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced into small rounds
  • ½ small purple onion, chopped
  • ⅓ cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, deseeded and membranes removed, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon olive oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

Creamy avocado-cilantro dressing

  • 1 large avocado, halved and pitted
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • ⅓ cup cilantro leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Spicy black beans

  • olive oil
  • ½ small red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 cans (14 ounces each) black beans or about 3 ½ cups cooked black beans, with the cooking liquid
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • salt, to taste


  • 2 hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise
  • Optional garnishes: toasted pepitas, crumbled feta cheese


  1. To make the pico de gallo, combine the ingredients in a medium bowl and set them aside to marinate.
  2. To make the dressing, combine the avocado flesh, lime juice, cilantro, red pepper flakes, and salt in a food processor or a reliable blender. As you drizzle in the water and olive oil, blend. Blend the dressing consistently until it becomes smooth and creamy.
  3. To reheat the beans, heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. After a few minutes of sautéing, add the cumin and continue to cook for another minute. Pour all of the cooking liquid from one can of black beans into the pot, then drain the other can, reserving the juices if necessary. The remaining beans should be added to the pan along with the cayenne and chili powder.
  4. For 7 to 10 minutes, simmer the beans at a medium-high heat. About half of the beans should be mashed with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. If the mixture appears too dry, turn down the heat as needed and add more cooking liquid. After taking the beans off the heat, season them with salt to taste and sherry vinegar.
  5. To serve, heap a lot of beans on a salad plate, then top with a romaine lettuce half. The romaine should be covered with a generous amount of avocado sauce and topped with plenty of pico de gallo. If desired, garnish with crumbled feta cheese or toasted pepitas.