Thursday, July 15, 2010

Veggie Might: Chopped Salad Rules

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian. She continues CHG's No-Cook Month.

Chopped salad is my favorite way to eat salad. It’s so good, in fact, I’m going to put my vegetarian food blogger reputation on the line and say it’s the BEST way to eat a salad. People will argue that knife blades should never touch lettuce leaves, but I say, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening!”

There is only one difference between a chopped salad and a regular salad: all the veggies, beans, nuts, and extras are chopped and mixed together with the dressing so you get all the flavors in each bite. No huge, unruly leaf of lettuce that won’t fit in your mouth. No mounds of carrot and celery left at the bottom of the bowl when everything else is eaten. You get all the good stuff in every forkful.

Arguably, the way to achieve chopped salad perfection is to use a mezzaluna, a dual-handled, curved blade knife. But I try to follow Alton Brown philosophy number 1: No unitaskers.

Not to fear! You can still have a beautiful, delicious chopped salad with just a knife and a cutting board. And salad fixin’s. The trick is to cut the salad greens as well as the toppings. Say you’re working with a head of romaine lettuce:

1. Peel off a few leaves, wash, and dry.

2. Stack the leaves on the cutting board. With the tip of your knife, slice down the center vein, lengthwise. (Depending on the size of the leaves, you may want to slice the halves in half again.)

3. Roll the halves (or quarters) lengthwise and cut into thin ribbons.

4. Repeat until you have enough for the salad you’re making.

This trick works with spinach, green and red leaf lettuce, and any other large, flat leaf green. If you like mixed baby greens in your salad, just take a handful onto your cutting board and chop the way you would with fresh herbs.

When making a chopped salad, I like a finer dice for my toppings, but do what feels right. Here’s a great (and quick) video showing how to dice a red pepper. And if I’m adding a hard root veg, like a carrot, I’ll probably whip out the ol’ box grater.

Otherwise, it’s salad—though I’m told salad is not as simple as it seems. Turns out, there are plenty of people (my Charming Boyfriend, for one) out there who don’t know a head of lettuce from a candied walnut.

My mom always made a basic side salad of iceberg lettuce, carrots, celery, cucumbers, and green peppers. Only two of those remain in my current salad repertoire. But I understand that growing up in the kitchen and cooking regularly, enables me to combine flavors and textures without much thought.

There are only 2 rules to composing a perfect salad:
1. Use ingredients you like.

2. Combine complementary tastes and textures, like sweet and sour, savory (umami) and salty, smooth and crunchy.

For example, a traditional Greek salad combines savory, salty, and sour by bringing together stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives, and red wine vinaigrette among the crisp romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion. Give these links a peek for more salad combo ideas.

This is one of my all-time favorite chopped salad combinations. When I first made this salad for a take-to-work lunch, I thought I’d invented fire. It's in heavy rotation around here, and with canned chickpeas, it's perfect for No Cook Month.

Chopped salad rules!

If you dug this post, point your shovel this way:
Kismet Salad
Relaxed Kale Salad
Strawberry and Avocado Salad

Veggie Might Chopped Salad
serves 4 as entrée or 6 as side salad

6 cups romaine lettuce (about 1/2 head), chopped to ribbons
1 small red pepper, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, grated
1 rib of celery, finely diced
1 cup chick peas, drained and rinsed
blue cheese or feta, optional
dressing of your choice (I’m partial to my homemade citrus vinaigrette.)

1. Dice vegetables and mix with your hands in a large salad bowl.

2. Cut romaine lettuce into ribbons. (See numbered instructions above.) Combine with vegetables in salad bowl.

3. Add chickpeas to salad bowl and toss with your hands.

4. Sprinkle with blue cheese or feta if you like.

5. Dress at the table and serve. Enjoy the magical flavors of the chopped salad.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
Per serving (totals/4): 97.8 calories, 1g fat, 6.25g fiber, 5.5g fiber, $.58
Per serving (totals/6): 65 calories, .7g fat, 4.2g fiber, 3.6g protein, $.39

6 cups romaine lettuce: 48 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 6g protein, $.50
1 small red pepper: 23 calories, 0g fat, 2g fiber, 1g protein, $0.37
1 small red onion: 20 calories, 0.1g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.25
1 small carrot: 25 calories, 0g fat, 1g fiber, 2g protein, $0.16
1 rib of celery: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 1g protein, $0.08
1 cup chick peas: 269 calories, 4g fat, 15g fiber, 12g protein, $0.95
Totals: 391 calories, 4.1g fat, 25g fiber, 22g protein, $2.31
Per serving (totals/4): 97.8 calories, 1g fat, 6.25g fiber, 5.5g fiber, $.58
Per serving (totals/6): 65 calories, .7g fat, 4.2g fiber, 3.6g protein, $.39

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Claire said...

OK, this maybe is a stupid question, but when you say roll up the leaves lengthwise to slice them into ribbons, do you mean roll them up so that you have a long, skinny tube, or so that you have a much shorter, fatter tube? I'm thinking the former, as if it were the latter, you'd end up with some mighty long ribbons. But I just wanted to make sure.

everythingisjustwonderful said...

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that the red pepper video has drastically changed my life for the better. All those hours wasted in the kitchen dicing one slice of bell pepper at a time! D'oh!

That salad sounds wonderful. I think I'll whip it up for dinner tonight.


Laura said...

I agree with the "no unitasker" rule, but a mezzaluna looks like it could be pretty useful for a lot of chopping? I kind of want to get one now :)

Sancia said...

I like this idea; I hate it when I can't get the right ratio of tomato lettuce or whatever. Haha.

Hillary said...

I have a mezzaluna and use it all the time. ALL the time. My sister bought it for me as a gift and I thought, when I opened it, that I'd never use it. But it's great for chopping up fresh herbs, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate ... basically anything. I use it when I bake and when I cook. It's always on my counter and I'd say it gets used at least once a week.

Cindee said...

"I thought I invented fire" made me laugh out loud. Chopped salads also make me laugh and weep with joy. I want a mezzaluna.

MS said...

I totally identify with this post! I've been on a huge-salad-for-lunch kick lately, and I felt so stinkin' proud of myself for bringing a bowl of chopped veg and a small jar of homemade dressing for lunch that first time. My veg combo is pretty similar, too, though I've been favoring red leaf butter lettuce over romaine lately, and I don't do onion in salad (I loves me some peeled cukes, though). Is there a recipe for your homemade citrus vinaigrette?

Simply Life said...

oh that salad looks delicious!

Leigh said...

Clare, yes, the former: roll into a long skinny tube for shorter ribbons. Sorry if I wasn't clear in my instructions.

...wonderful, glad the video was helpful. I found it to be a revelation too!

Okay, Hillary, you are selling me on the mezzaluna. Plus I like saying "mezzaluna."

Hee. Thanks Cindee, my sister in chopped salad.

MS, thanks! I thought I linked the citrus vinaigrette specifically, but you can find it at the Kismet Salad link above. Sorry about that!

Thanks everyone. Chopped salad forever!

Bianca Tamburello said...

I totally agree chopped salads give any salad 5 times more flavor. Thanks for the tip.