CLEAN* Copycat Cafe Rio Pork Salad!

Clean eating | Nut-free | Gluten-free option

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This past weekend was General Conference for our Church: one of two weekends a year when our prophet and other Church leaders speak to members worldwide about how to be better Christians, better parents, better spouses, better neighbors, better people. These are times we look forward to a great deal, but it’s a lot of listening to lots of talks for small kids to process, so we’ve found small rituals that help them look forward to it too. One is the food. It’s like the Mormon Super Bowl: cinnamon rolls for breakfast, snacks during the sessions, Chick-Fil-A picnic lunch on the living room floor (the only time this is allowed), and Cafe Rio pork salads.

Cafe Rio (and its copycat/competitor Costa Vida, which we personally prefer slightly) is an institution in Utah and other areas with a high LDS population. Their pork barbacoa salads were one of my favorite foods when we lived there. In fact, when I had a medical problem requiring me to be on blood thinners for several months, my biggest concern wasn’t all the needle pokes every week to check my levels (though it was that too); it was the fact that I couldn’t have leafy greens, and that meant no Cafe Rio salads! And then we moved away and I haven’t had one in SIX YEARS.

So I started finding and making copycat recipes every General Conference. But have you seen some of those recipes? Half a bottle of Coke, a cup of brown sugar? That nasty Ranch dressing powder? Sugar in the rice, even? Even before I started eating clean it kinda grossed me out and left me feeling sluggish and dissatisfied.

So this time around I found clean* versions. I add the asterisk because the pork contains canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, and the dressing does contain mayonnaise, so they are not 100% clean. But they feel and taste a heck of a lot better than the other ones I’ve found. I will say that the pork by itself doesn’t taste like what I remember (go figure, since it doesn’t have Coke and brown sugar in it), but put the whole thing together and it really brings back the memories! We had the missionaries over for the Saturday afternoon session this weekend, and one of them gave me the award of “best meal so far on his mission!” So there’s your official unbiased review from a real born-and-bred Utahn.

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Original recipe here

  • 3 1/2 to 4 lb. pork loin roast
  • 28 oz. diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 chipotle chilies (from canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce; freeze the rest for later)
  • 1 Tbsp. coarse Kosher salt
  • up to 1 Tbsp. chili powder (it was plenty of heat for us with about 2/3 Tbsp.)
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup honey (increase to 1/2 cup if you want it sweeter, but it tastes great not as sweet as the real 6,000-calorie thing)
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  1. Trim excess fat off of the pork and cut into 2 or 3 large pieces if it’s excessively large. Place in your Crock Pot and turn it on high.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over the roast in the Crock Pot and cook 5-6 hours on high.
  3. Shred pork with 2 forks and return to slow cooker for at least 20 minutes to absorb the sauce.

Cilantro Lime Brown Rice

Adapted from here

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 2-4 Tbsp. lime juice, to taste
  • 1 drop lime essential oil (or 1 tsp. lime zest)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  1. Bring water and chicken broth to boil. Add rice, salt, and cumin, cover, and reduce heat.
  2. Simmer 45 minutes, until rice is tender and the moisture is absorbed.
  3. Add juice, essential oil, and cilantro, fluff with fork, and keep covered until ready to serve.

Cafe Rio Black Beans – triples or quadruples easily for a crowd!

Original recipe here

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/3 cups tomato juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (1 Tbsp. dried works great in a pinch, if you’re like me and make these all the time but don’t have fresh on hand all the time)
  1. Heat oil in a large pot on medium heat. Saute garlic and cumin until fragrant.
  2. Add beans, tomato juice, and salt, (dried cilantro, too, if you’re using dried instead of fresh) and simmer until heated through. I prefer to let it go for 10-20 minutes so that it thickens.
  3. Stir in fresh cilantro before serving.

Cafe Rio Tomatillo Ranch Dressing

Original recipe here

  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (make your own! Put less than a Tbsp. white vinegar in the bottom of a measuring cup and fill with milk to 3/4 cup, then let sit several minutes)
  • 3/4 cup mayo (NOT Miracle Whip. Also, you could try a “cleaner,” European-style mayonnaise, but I’m betting it won’t taste right.)
  • 2 small tomatillos, quartered
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1/2 Tbsp. fresh dill (or a scant tsp. dried)
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley (or a Tbsp. dried)
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground mustard
  1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

Assemble the salad:

Top a whole-grain  or gluten-free tortilla with the rice, beans, and pork. Top with romaine lettuce, and dress with dressing, Mexican or cojita cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, tortilla strips–whatever you want to make it awesome!

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