Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author

Make Great Chopped Salad (without plastic cheese or luncheon meat)

Chopped salad. Many people love chopped salad. Yet I was never a devoted fan because too often the salad lacked purpose along with a definite lack of satisfaction. Prepared quickly in advance and costing little, this profit-maker transitioned from restaurants to grocery store take-out counters and sandwich shops. Nestled throughout the mix of limp lettuce are cubes of brightly-colored mystery cheese and luncheon meat of dubious origin making it worth ignoring on the way to the check-out counter.

To make great chopped salad commanding attention as a main course, one that excites and satisfies, give it respect. Sure, use up the remaining celery stalk or spring onion in your vegetable bin, but the main ingredients must be good quality and prepared specially for this salad to make it memorable. No leftover luncheon meats. Select a great salame. Leave the processed cheese cubes for someone else. (Who really wants them anyway?) Shave artisan-made aged cheese instead and garnish the salad with lacy shards.

It’s so attractive that it invites nibbling, making it hard to resist during preparation. Crunchy romaine lettuce adds just the right amount of freshness, holding the dressing well while accenting other ingredients. I like to include a few fresh basil and celery leaves to give the lettuce base surprising taste.

For parties, lay-out a casual buffet of bowls of ingredients so everyone creates, it's fun! Serve it at poolside, on the terrace, at a picnic, or take a big bowl of it and watch your favorite movie. Make a great chopped salad that is fresh, bright, and nutritious following these suggestions:

* Base: Choose 2 or more types of leafy greens, from tender and delicate to crunchy. Fresh micro-greens, mache, spinach, arugula, frisee, romaine, bibb, endive, radicchio, kale, and escarole are commonly available and blend well with ingredients. Herbs: Mix in whole leaves of fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, sweet marjoram. Julienne shiso leaves or costmary, and snip chives into small lengths.

* Main protein: Choose 1, 2, or 3 to feature as main ingredients. Choose any seafood you like. Grill tuna steak or beef steak  then let it cool and dice. For chicken or turkey breast or thigh, lightly season then saute, roast, broil, or grill. For quick prep, purchase rotisserie chicken or smoked chicken breast. Tofu, pressed tofu, and hard-boiled egg shine. Add legumes, such as adzuki, black beans, borlotti, cannellini beans, chickpeas, edamame, even boiled peanuts, as one of the main ingredients or as an accent.

* Accents: Not only does heat and humidity makes us wilt, it dampens our taste buds and enthusiam for just about any meal. Accenting a main dish salad with the unexpected ingredient perks up the taste buds, so include bits of zesty salame or bresaola. During hot weather, we need a little salt in our diets. So preserved anchovies, pickled capers, olives, marinated artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, pickled mushrooms, pickled cauliflower, pickled beets, giardiniera, or sweet-sour marinated roasted sweet peppers really hit the spot.

* Fresh Vegetables, Fruit, Seeds, and Nuts: Support your salad with seasonal fresh produce, raw, steamed, boiled, or roasted. Broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, carrots, celery, fava beans, peppers, potatoes, green string beans, yellow wax beans, Roman flat beans, peas, tomatoes, or zucchini and other soft squash blend well as do apples, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, melon, watermelon, mango, papaya, raisins, dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds, and berries. Include any seeds and nuts you like such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, or nigella seeds. These choices add texture, color, fiber, and valuable nutrition.

* Salad Dressing: Flavor ingredients with a light dressing. Whisk together fresh citrus juice, vegetable juice, or vinegar, with oil. Season with salt, pepper, fresh basil, oregano, or other herbs. Perhaps add a bit of prepared or dry mustard, ground cayenne red pepper, grated fresh garlic, grated citrus zest…whatever spikes flavor for you. Be sure to separately toss the leafy greens with the dressing. Main ingredients improve with a light coating of dressing, too.

* Garnish: Top your creation with aged semi-hard or hard cheese for meat or poultry salads. Shave Caciotta or other Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Montasio, Asiago, Piave, Castello de Montalban, Gouda, Comte, Emmanthal, or Cheddar, or crumble bleu cheese and sprinkle over the top. For seafood and shellfish salads, shaved bottarga tastes great! Tender young sprouts make a good garnish, too.

Variation: Chopped Salad with Shrimp, Squid, Salame,
Cauliflower, Potatoes, Green Beans, and Capers

For casual meals during the heat of summer, chilled seafood hits the spot. So why not make a chopped salad with seafood, vegetables, and cooling lettuce?  As shown in the top photo, it is wonderful – balanced, light, and positively delicious! Shrimp, squid, and salame are made to complement one another. (If you've tasted the combination of seafood and chorizo, you know how special it is. So select a salame with deep flavor, maybe a little smokiness and chili pepper too.) Add any vegetable you want, any herb, mix 'n match ingredients in any quantity. Make yourself happy with every bite while enjoying summer's breeze.

4 servings as a salad or 2 main course servings.

Chopped Salad Ingredients:
8 ounces (225 g) raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, split in half
8 ounces (225 g) raw cleaned squid, cut into rings
2 ounces (60 g) firm salame, diced (Genoa-style, chorizo, or artisan)
2 medium red bliss or yellow potatoes, peeled, diced
1/2 small cauliflower head, trimmed, separated into pieces
4 ounces (115 g) green beans, trimmed, cut into small sections
1/2 head romaine lettuce
1/2 head frisee or arugula

Fruity extra-virgin olive oil
White wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
Whole small capers in vinegar, rinsed, drained, or freshly grated lemon zest

1. Preparing Ingredients: In a small pot of lightly salted boiling water, add the shrimp and squid. After a few seconds, turn off the heat, cover, and let set in this hot water to poach for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain, cool. The shrimp and squid are cooked through and remain tender. Steam or boil the potatoes, cauliflower, and green beans until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes, or as you prefer them cooked. Drain, cool. Cut the romaine lettuce into strips. Keep each ingredient separate. What is so appealing about this salad is everything can be made in advance. Assemble it at the last minute, making it ideal for impromptu entertaining.

2. Dressing: Combine ingredients to taste, whisk until thick and emulsified.

3. Combining and Plating: In a bowl, combine the romaine lettuce and frisee or arugula and toss with a small amount of salad dressing. Do not make it too moist. Season to taste. Arrange as a bed in shallow serving bowls or on plates. In the same bowl, combine the shrimp, squid, salame, and vegetables. Toss with a small amount of salad dressing. Season to taste. Arrange on top of the lettuce. Garnish with sliced onions and capers or freshly grated lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Variation: Chopped Salad with Chicken Breast,
  Salame, Peppers, Basil, and Shaved Cheese

4 servings as a salad or 2 main course servings.

Chopped Salad Ingredients:
1 pound (454 g) cooked chicken breast or thigh, cubed, sliced, or julienned
4 ounces (115 g) firm salame, diced (Genoa-style or artisan)
1 medium sweet red pepper, diced
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, diced
1 medium stalk celery, sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 head romaine lettuce
Fresh basil leaves

Fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Prepared mustard
1 whole garlic clove, lightly crushed
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Aged Provolone, Pecorino Caciotta, Montasio, Ubriaco, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Piave, or Asiago cheese, shaved

1. Dressing: Make at least 1 hour before serving. Combine ingredients to taste, whisk until thick and emulsified, refrigerate. Just before using, remove the garlic clove. Whisk again to emulsify.

2. Combining and Plating: Keep all prepared ingredients separate. Remove the celery leaves from the stalk and reserve. Cut the romaine lettuce into strips, then combine with the celery leaves and fresh basil leaves in a bowl. Toss with a small amount of salad dressing, do not make it too moist. Season to taste. Arrange as a bed in shallow serving bowls or on plates.

In the same bowl, combine the chicken, salame, peppers, celery, and onion. Toss with a small amount of salad dressing, then season to taste and arrange on top of the lettuce. Garnish with shaved cheese or crumbled cheese. Serve immediately so this salad looks bright and appealing with different colors and aromas, and each bite bursts with fresh flavor.



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