Your goal with a chopped salad is essentially to do everything but pre-chew the leaves. You slice and dice and slice and dice and slice and dice, reducing all the greens and hard vegetables to miniaturized version of their former selves. Then you deal with whatever fruit or nut you may have in the house, toasting the nuts (or not) and resuscitating any shriveled dried fruits with a splash of vinegar or a dribble of boiling water. Then you tumble these ingredients into a large bowl, moisten with half the dressing, and heap the salad onto a platter.
The very point of this exercise, an exercise that resembles traditional salad-making in function but not form, is to shake things up for yourself and any other diners who rely on you for sustenance, be they family, freeloaders, or an amalgam of the two.
Too often we -- and by we, I mean I -- do the same things over and over. We serve big leafy salads in gargantuan bowls, we plop a jar of dressing haphazardly on the table, and we forget -- we forget! -- that salad-making is a craft second only to papier-mâché. It is an art, but we overlook this fact in our rush to get something green in front of our families. We're so proud that we're not ripping the bodice from a bag of tater tots that we neglect to make sure the salad is appealing in color, flavor, and texture.
I am not talking about being fancy, or spending a lot of money, or plucking greens from the kale tree in your yard.* I'm simply talking about spending an extra two minutes on your salad so that the people at the table actually want to eat it. And the easiest way to do this is to chop the hell out of the thing if your normal M.O. is to serve leaves the size of pillowcases.
Of course, if you serve chopped salads all the time, please ignore everything I've written, grab your needle, thread, and a good-sized roll of scotch tape, and get to work piecing your chopped up leaves back together. Always go for the element of surprise.
*My son just asked me if kale grew on trees, and I assured him it does not and that you all would know this was a joke. He wasn't so sure.
Recipe for Winter Chopped Salad with sesame-ginger vinaigrette
This salad is as flexible as they come. My flavor choices below were inspired by a salad I ate recently at Lyfe Kitchen, a terrific new restaurant near me that I hope to learn more about, and write more about, soon. Their version included edamame, red pepper, broccolini, basil, and lime -- and mine doesn't -- but I tip my hat to them for the inspiration. A note on tomatoes: I can get beautiful local cherry tomatoes here in California, even in January, so I tossed them in. Please leave them out (as well as anything else) if the options near you are less appealing.
For the salad:
1/2 head napa cabbage, finely chopped
Big handful radicchio leaves, finely chopped
Big handful Russian kale, or other purple or red kale, stemmed, leaves finally chopped
8 small tomatoes, quartered (optional)
1/4 cup dried cherries (if plump, toss them in; if dried out, soak for a few minutes in vinegar or boiling water)
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
4 to 6 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 cup toasted, unsalted cashews
A few leaves of fresh mint, chopped
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger root
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small, covered jar; shake well. Pour half the vinaigrette over the salad; toss through with tongs to distribute evenly. Heap the salad onto a large platter. Serve, passing remaining vinaigrette alongside.
(This salad, even once dressed, will keep for 2 days, covered, in the fridge, so long as you use sturdy greens like kale and cabbage. You'll enjoy less longevity with frillier, more tender varieties.)