What is it about a chopped salad that's irresistible? If there's one on a restaurant menu, we'll almost always order it—either for the fact that we can scoop up perfectly proportioned bites with every ingredient represented or that they're so pleasingly organized. As for what makes a good one, we have a few ideas...
These are only suggestions; obviously, a salad is unlike any other dish in its supreme ability to be customized. But we like our chopped salads crunchy, colorful, and properly dressed. Here are our tips:
• Consider a mezzaluna or a chopper. Now, this would be if you make a lot of chopped salads (although either would be useful for making salsa or simply mincing garlic and onions). A mezzaluna is a curved blade that you can roll back and forth across a pile of ingredients to finely chop very quickly. By a chopper we mean some sort of contraption that pushes a vegetable through a grid so that you get little pieces. Again, all you really need is a good knife and a little time, but if you want speed and uniformity, either of these tools will help.
• Skip the lettuce. The lettuce is usually the ingredient that trips you up in a salad; you're trying to get a bite and you've got a big piece of lettuce draped across the front of your face. We love chopped salads that skip it altogether, that are just diced vegetables and maybe some chicken or nuts. But if you do use lettuce, try iceberg or something like endive—both are firm and crunchy enough to shred easily. It can be hard to chop delicate leaves without bruising them.
• Use beans. They are already bite-sized and give a chopped salad a bit of creaminess to contrast the crunchy texture.
• Don't add too many watery components. By this we mean tomatoes, soft fruit, or anything else that can be hard to chop small without getting liquid all over everything. Stick to cherry tomatoes, quartered, or, if you have a big, beautiful beefsteak, consider serving the chopped salad over slices of it rather than losing half the flesh trying to chop it into tiny pieces.
• Always toss it with the dressing. You want the dressing to perfectly coat every little square and nugget, so that when you scoop up a forkful, you get all the flavors together. Drizzling the dressing over the top just doesn't seem to do the same job.
There are endless combinations of ingredients you can try. A few that sound good to us...
• With green beans and chicken, portioned for one person, from the Martha Stewart show
• With feta, beets, and a dijon vinaigrette, from Martha Stewart Living
• With grapes and mint, from Food & Wine
• With provolone, salami, and oregano dressing, from the Los Angeles Times (pictured above)
• With avocado, corn, and artichokes, from Food Network
• With shrimp and a sweet Asian dressing, from Cookstr
(Image: Kirk McKoy for the Los Angeles Times)