This post comes to us courtesy of chef and writer Anne Brown.
A trip to a salad bar was always a treat when I was a kid. Perhaps because the opportunity to go to one was rare, as my Dad strongly opposed dining anywhere that implemented something called a “sneeze guard” as part of its functional decor. But I think the main reason was the freedom to create exactly what I wanted from a seemingly limitless array of ingredients without any input from a grown-up.
That lack of grown-up input is probably why my plate always ended up with the same salad composed of a pinch of iceberg lettuce blanketed with shredded cheddar cheese and a flowing river of ranch dressing, all coated with crunchy sunflower seeds, croutons and imitation bacon bits. I know, I know. Gross. But at the time, my salad creation provided me with the thing I still crave in things I cook today: the perfect bite, every time.
My Dad’s aversion to the sneeze guard was passed down to me, and I find that I avoid salad bars like the plague. I have learned that the only way to relive my childhood days at the salad bar is to craft my own delicious salads at home. I have also discovered that there are few better or easier ways to create a meal that achieves the perfect bite every time than the chopped salad. A mix of anything your heart desires, uniformly chopped, tossed with your favorite dressing and blended perfectly together to get a little of each ingredient in every forkful.
While there are some classic, universally liked chopped salad recipes out there, you can do whatever you want to attain your perfect bite. Here are three fantastic combinations I could eat over and over again.
Rotisserie Chicken Chopped Salad with Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette
One of my favorite restaurants in Chicago is the Mity Nice Grill, a no bull little gem serving American comfort food. They offer a rotisserie chicken chopped salad that left me dreaming about it for weeks. I did my best to recreate it from memory and I have made it countless times since.
2 rotisserie chicken breasts, skin removed, hand shredded
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 medium cucumber, chopped
1 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 lb. bacon (about 6 strips), roasted and chopped
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup ditalini pasta, cooked and chilled
Sweet Mustard Vinaigrette
3 Tbs. champagne vinegar (balsamic or white wine vinegar are also excellent)
2 1/2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 1/2 tsp. honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and shallot. Slowly whisk in the honey, followed by the oil, whisking steadily until the dressing is emulsified.
Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with dressing immediately before serving until well combined. Serves 6 as a main course.
Antipasto Chopped Salad
I love a traditional, family-style antipasto salad, but getting the perfect bite can be difficult once it’s been passed around the table. One person ends up with a plate full of meat and cheese with very little lettuce, the next with a pile of onions intermingled with whole olives and a few whole peppers. The last poor soul to get the bowl gets plain iceberg lettuce, with no sign that it had ever been part of something great.
Chopping all the ingredients evenly and tossing them with the dressing until well-blended gives everyone a share of all the goodness antipasto has to offer. Try it piled on top of a slice of warm focaccia or stuffed in a pita for a heartier meal.
Romaine lettuce, julienned
Iceberg lettuce, julienned
Black olives, thinly sliced lengthwise
Red onion, halved and very thinly sliced
Provolone cheese, thinly sliced
Genoa salami, thinly sliced
Pepperoni, thinly sliced
Parmesan cheese, grated
Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with your favorite Italian dressing until all ingredients are combined and coated evenly. Serve.
Grilled Mexican Chopped Salad
Fresh and exploding with flavor, this has become one of my all-time favorite salad recipes. When grilling the vegetables, do so just long enough to get the grilled flavor and a bit of caramelization from the heat. Don’t cook until soft. The corn will take the longest to get the desired char and grilled flavor, so put that on first.
Serve with your favorite dressing, or simply toss with lime juice, olive oil and a little salt. Another delicious way to dress this salad is with fresh salsa and a little sour cream. If spicy food isn’t your thing, omit the jalapenos and replace with green or red pepper. I don’t use lettuce but if you feel like it’s not a salad without it, add some!
For the grilled vegetables:
Corn on the cob (kernels stripped from the cob after grilling)
Queso fresco cheese, crumbled
Fresh cilantro, chopped fine
Corn tortillas, cut into strips, baked or fried until crunchy
Grill the first four ingredients on an outdoor grill. (In bad weather, I have also done this successfully in an indoor cast iron grill pan.) When cool, chop each grilled vegetable.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl, toss with dressing until combined and coated evenly. Serve.
So, are you craving for the perfect bite every time, made easy? What are you waiting for? Try this at home! Chop to it!
About the author: Anne Brown, a Michigan native, is a chef and writer who lives with her patient husband and a scrappy terrier. After her obsession with getting her favorite recipes right began to haunt her dreams, she enrolled in culinary school. After culinary school, Anne realized she liked to talk about food as much as she liked cooking it. In 2010, Anne earned a journalism degree and launched Anne Brown Creative, a copywriting firm dedicated to all things culinary. While she appreciates the song and dance involved in a five-course meal, she craves a great meatloaf followed by a warm chocolate chip cookie more often.