Although you can serve chopped salads year round, they are perfect summer fare. They are easy to make, portable enough for picnics and barbeques and refreshingly juicy in warm weather: salad, vegetable and salsa all rolled into one. They are a wonderful foil for simply-prepared meat, poultry and fish.
Every cuisine seems to have its own version – witness the Moroccan “Gazpacho” and Southeast Asian Slaw included here, along with my version of the classic Chopped Salad from the 21 Club.
The basic premise – chopped or grated vegetables bound by a flavorful dressing – lends itself to easy improvisation. You can vary the vegetables and proportions according to what you find in the market. Just about anything goes, as long as it makes a satisfying mix of crunchy and juicy: from shredded cabbage (the essential slaw ingredient) or crisp romaine lettuce, to juicy diced cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and fennel, to grated root vegetables like carrots, celery root or beets, singly or in combination, dressed with simple vinaigrettes or creamy dressings, spiked if desired with chopped fresh herbs, lemon zest, or toasted nuts.
Recipe: Chopped Salad from the 21 Club
This is my version of the “21” Club salad my mother used to make. All the vegetables (except the onion, which will become acrid if cut too soon) can be prepared up to a day ahead and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Toss them with the dressing and the chopped onion just before serving.
Serves 4 to 6
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons prepared chili sauce
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon prepared grated horseradish, drained
2 large carrots, pared, cut into1/2-inch dice
2 celery ribs, peeled and cut into a scant 1/2-inch dice
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 to 4 ounces extra-sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, aged jack cheese or American cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 Vidalia onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, chili sauce, salt and horseradish.
In a medium bowl, toss the carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell pepper and cucumber with the cheese. Cover and refrigerate the vegetables and dressing in separate bowls until ready to serve, for up to 1 day.
Add the onion to the vegetables, dress the salad and toss thoroughly. Season liberally with ground pepper, toss again and serve at once.
Recipe: Moroccan “Gazpacho”
This simple Moroccan chopped salad lends itself to many embellishments. You can add chopped greens or radishes or a tablespoon or two of minced preserved lemons. Zat’ar, the Middle Eastern herb mixture which contains thyme, sesame seed and sumac, giving it a lemony tartness, is another possible addition.
I sometimes throw this salad into the food processor with a splash of sherry vinegar to make a great gazpacho soup. If you prefer a chunky gazpacho, pulse the salad in the food processor instead of letting the motor run.
The quality of the cucumbers is critical. In summer, use kirbys or Asian cucs from the farmer’s market. Otherwise, use the long European variety that is widely available in supermarkets.
Olive Oil and Lemon Dressing:
1 garlic clove – smashed, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ripe red or yellow tomatoes, halved, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 pound cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small sweet onion or red onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup chopped cilantro, basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley, in any combination
Pinch of crushed toasted cumin seeds
2 ounces green olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
1 1/2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Thirty minutes before serving make the dressing: Rub a large bowl with the garlic; leave the garlic in the bowl. Add the lemon juice, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt; whisk in the olive oil. Let the dressing stand until it tastes as garlicky as you like, then discard the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, fresh herbs and the cumin to the bowl and toss. Add the olives and feta, season liberally with salt and pepper, toss and serve at once.
Recipe: Southeast Asian Slaw
My friend Margot Wellington improvised this Asian slaw years ago and I’ve been amazed at its endless permutations ever since. It doubles as refreshing condiment and salad to accompany grilled or roasted meat, poultry or fish. The dressing offers a perfect balance of salty, sweet and tangy flavors. This salad can be made with any combination of the raw vegetables and fruits listed below. A mandoline or a food processor makes quick work of the shredding and julienning. You can cut the vegetables several hours ahead and store them in a plastic bag until you’re ready to dress them. (I also use this dressing to make a delicious Vietnamese-style shredded chicken salad with Napa cabbage, mint and cilantro.)
Ginger and Lemongrass Dressing
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce such as Thai nam pla or Vietnamese nuoc mam
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced lemongrass, inner white bulb only
Pinch of cayenne pepper
10 cups shredded or finely julienned vegetables and fruits, such as green or napa cabbage, endives, radicchio, red peppers, green papayas, mangoes, snow
peas, seeded cucumbers, scallions, jicama, carrots, pea shoots, daikon, radish sprouts or mung bean sprouts.
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts
To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let the dressing stand at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight. (The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)
At least 30 minutes before serving, toss together the shredded vegetables and fruit with the cilantro. Add the dressing and toss well. As the salad sits, the vegetables will give off their own liquid and dilute the sauce to the right degree. If the sauce is too intense, add a little water to dilute it. Sprinkle with the peanuts just before serving.