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!
Quick & Easy Chopped Salad - a Use What You Have Recipe
- 3 to 4 cups chopped vegetables*
- 1 cup beans white, black, garbanzo, etc.
- 1/2 cup green or black olives**
- 1/4 cup cheese feta, queso fresco, Parmesan, blue, grated cheddar, etc.
Basic Garlic Herb Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup vinegar rice, white wine, cider, balsamic, etc.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon herb of choice I like basil, thyme and rosemary is also good
- 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.
- Add any other ingredients you choose, beans, olives, cheese, etc.
- Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl or jar and mix well. Toss the vegetables with the vinaigrette and serve.
- Asian: sliced snap peas, carrots, bean sprouts and green onions dressed with a sesame oil vinaigrette.
- Tex-Mex: corn, black beans, tomatoes, black olives and peppers dressed with a southwest 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.