Chopping My Way to Glory

Lately when I’ve gone to the fridge feeling uninspired and not knowing what to make for dinner, I’ve often turned to something that was missing from my repertoire for years — the chopped salad.

While not codified in the same way as other great salads, the Caesar for example (romaine, anchovy, lemon, parmesan and garlic), or the Cobb (avocado, bacon, egg, chicken, etc.), it is precisely its flexibility that makes the chopped salad so great. Open to inspiration, creativity and resourcefulness, it is not a salad that will be easily boxed in. Mince up that leftover KFC chicken thigh in the fridge, that hardened end of parmesan you forgot about, the zucchini you had no idea what to do with… And the neighbor next door might be doing a whole different palette of their own chopping. I’ll even sometimes order it in restaurants, if I happen to be experiencing the misfortune of dining at some chain like California Pizza Kitchen or the Cheesecake Factory or lousy Italian spaghetti-and-meatball joint like Maria’s Italian Kitchen — knowing this one dish I’m served will at least always be fresh, edible and tasty.

And so here I was again, a Sunday evening having just returned home from an exhausting two days of amusement-park-and-beach-town kid fun, not really feeling much like cooking. And once again, I zeroed in on the low-stress elasticity of the chopped salad. Pull miscellaneous random items from the fridge, lock into the Zen of the chop, and feed my family a healthy meal prepared in almost no time.

Having stood at the fridge pondering all the possibilities — perhaps adding queso cotija, cilantro and roasted poblano chilies for a Mexican twist, or flinging in some fizzy, fermenty minced kim chee in a Eurasian mash-up sure to raise protests from the kids — I have a confession to make: I have, in fact, zeroed in on a pretty darned good line-up of ingredients for a memorable chopped salad, which I tend to fall back on and vary only slightly from time to time, depending on the particulars of what I have in stock. I have girded the very characteristic I sang the virtues of only two paragraphs above. Because the result is so darned good.

Like an all-star ensemble cast in a good movie, the principles recede in service to the whole. The insistent masculinity of the salami, for example, is balanced by the silky grace of roasted cauliflower — I could, and probably should, do an entire post on this magical ingredient alone! The cheeses — tiny cubes of milky mozzarella and zesty pecorino romano — happily share the spotlight with the saline intensity of black salt-cured olives, the supporting cast of chopped romaine, arugula and tomatoes gladly and honorably filling in the spaces between. And tying it all together, almost like a great musical score: a single large clove of grated garlic, some olive oil and red wine vinegar, and a sprinkling of Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper.

You could certainly be forgiven for setting free your own creativity and giving your chopped salad a personality all its own. But in this case, why would you? Save that for another night and do as your told.

*   *   *

Skinny Girls chopped salad
serves 4-6

1 large head romaine lettuce, funky outer leaves removed, chopped
1 cup arugula, chopped
1 1/2 cup cauliflower florettes, chopped
6-8 slices salami, chopped
4 oz. hard mozzarella (such as string cheese), chopped
4 oz. pecorino romano, chopped
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/3 cup pitted salt-cured black Italian olives, chopped
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (not balsamic, please)
flaky sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Roast your cauliflower: Place the chopped cauliflower on a piece of foil with the edges crimped up. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place in a 400-degree oven and roast for about 20-30 minutes, tossing occasionally, until cauliflower is golden, translucent and browning at the edges. Remove and let cool.

Place all your chopped ingredients, including roasted cauliflower, in a large salad bowl. As much as possible, try to get your ingredients chopped to roughly the same small size. (Don’t worry quite so much about this with the greens, but the salami, cheeses, olives and tomato should be cut small and square.) Grate the garlic clove on a microplane grater (or mince as finely as possible) and add to salad. Drizzle in olive oil and vinegar, add salt and pepper to your taste, toss and serve.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 04:27:40

    I love chopped salads. I even love iceberg lettuce in them. It just seems right, despite what some modern folks say. This one sounds really good, though, even with the fancy greens.

    Reply

  2. The Kat and The Falling Leaves
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 19:56:55

    Love the flavour of roasted cauliflower. Never thought adding it to the salad.

    Reply

  3. Benjamin Thompson
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 20:53:52

    “Not balsamic, please” LOL

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Nov 15, 2012 @ 20:58:08

      Yeah, you remember the movie “Sideways” — balsamic is like the merlot of the pantry. (Fun Hollywood trivia footnote: Alexander Payne, the director of “Sideways” and also “The Descendants,” lives on the hill right behind us!)

      Reply

      • Benjamin Thompson
        Nov 15, 2012 @ 21:03:32

        Yeah, I knew exactly what you meant. Speaking of vinaigrette, ever used walnut oil instead of olive oil? It’s pretty great, especially when you have chopped nuts in the salad to echo the flavor.

      • scolgin
        Nov 15, 2012 @ 21:05:43

        My only problem w/ walnut oil (and most of the nut oils) is that is oxidizes so quickly. I usually only get through 1/4 of a bottle before the flavor turns. But you’re right — great vinaigrette.

  4. Benjamin Thompson
    Nov 15, 2012 @ 21:09:58

    I store mine in the fridge. I wonder if you used one of those stupid wine vacuum systems, or wine preserving aerosol if it would extend the shelf life. I certainly never need that sort of thing for an actual bottle of wine. 😉

    Reply

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