When you have lots of small amounts of vegetables in the fridge, the garden, or from a CSA box, a quick and easy chopped salad is a great way to use them up and highlight their fresh flavors with something other than the standard lettuce-based salad.
We eat this salad a lot, using the basic recipe and varying the flavors depending on the season and vegetables available. Some of our favorite combinations include:
- In the spring use sliced snap peas and green onions dressed with a sesame-based vinaigrette for an Asian flavored salad.
- Corn, black beans, tomatoes, and peppers dressed with a spicy vinaigrette is perfect for a summer Tex-Mex meal.
- Tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta, and garbanzo beans turns the salad into a Greek feast in late summer.
- And winter may bring a salad of blanched cauliflower, carrots, onions, and kale dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.
But most of the time, it’s a use-what-you-have version like I show here, which is just a great way to use up odds-and-ends vegetables from the fridge. From the garden came a few carrots, a yellow zucchini, and Walla Walla onions, and from the fridge I added a store-bought red pepper. To use up last year’s frozen corn before the garden started producing this year’s corn, it became a base for the salad as well as some black beans from the freezer.
It’s a good idea to add beans and/or cheese to chopped salads for the added protein which makes it work as a light dinner on it’s own or lunch the next day. Adding optional ingredients like green or black olives bring greater depth of flavor- marinated mushrooms or artichoke hearts are great additions, as well.
Assembling the salad is as simple as chopping all the ingredients to roughly the same size, adding them to a serving bowl as you cut them. And feta cheese is one of my favorite additions to a chopped salad!
Most of the time I use a simple homemade vinaigrette that I’ve customized according to flavor (to the basic recipe, add sesame oil and soy sauce for Asian, cumin and cayenne for Tex-Mex, etc.). It really lets the flavor of the vegetables and other ingredients shine through.
Occasionally I’ll add some homemade mayonnaise to the vinaigrette to make a creamy-Italian type dressing and sometimes I’ll use Honey-Mustard Dressing. Fans of Ranch Dressing could use it to dress a salad of tomatoes, onions, beans, and a few cooked bacon pieces – the variations really are seemingly endless.
Some chopped salad recipes use lettuce, but I’ve found that the lettuce gets soggy and isn’t good the next day or as a make-ahead dish. We also just enjoy the change from basic lettuce salads, though it’s great to serve this on a bed of lettuce or spinach, too.
When I bring chopped salads to potlucks or family events I’m always surprised at all the compliments I receive – I think people like that it’s different from a typical salad. Try it and see if you don’t agree!
- Salad Base:
- 3-4 c. chopped vegetables (onions, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, kale, etc.; lightly blanch vegetables like cauliflower and green beans)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Optional Additions:
- 1 c. beans (white, black, garbanzo, etc.)
- ½ c. green or black olives, artichoke hearts and/or marinated mushrooms
- ¼ -1/2 c. cheese (feta, queso fresco, Parmesan, blue, grated cheddar, etc.)
- Basic Garlic-Herb Vinaigrette:
- ¼ c. vinegar (rice, white wine, cider, balsamic, etc.)
- ½ c. olive oil
- 1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. herb of choice (basil is a standard)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Add vegetables to a large serving bowl as you chop them into similar, bite-sized pieces (tip: any vegetables that need to be softened can be blanched while chopping the other vegetables: boil water, add the cut vegetable for 30 seconds, remove to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and drain before adding to the bowl of salad ingredients)
- Chop and add any other ingredients you choose.
- Toss the vegetables with the vinaigrette.
- Make-Ahead Tip: This salad can be made a day ahead, covered and kept in a refrigerator.
Asian: sliced snap peas, carrots, bean sprouts and green onions dressed with a sesame oil-based vinaigrette.
Tex-Mex: corn, black beans, tomatoes, black olives and peppers dressed with a cayenne-cumin vinaigrette.
Greek: tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta, kalamata olives and garbanzo beans with a red wine-basil vinaigrette.
Winter: blanched cauliflower, carrots, onions, and kale dressed with a mustard vinaigrette.
BLT Ranch: tomatoes, onions, red beans, and crumbled bacon mixed with Homemade Ranch Dressing and served on a bed of lettuce.