Tuesday, September 21, 2010

School Night Chopped Salad

It isn't like when we were kids and the streets were jammed with marauding school children swarming down the sidewalks, metal lunch boxes in hand, dressed in new clothes heading for the first day of classes.
 These days the first sign that school is truly back in business around here is the monumental traffic jam early in the morning.  Lining up to spit out the kids are the mini vans, giant SUVs, and the ever more present limousine and Bentley, though the schools do ask parents to refrain from the delivering children in the latter. 
By the time I arrive, the coffee shop is packed with moms (and some dads) who have finished the morning drop-off and gym routine and are taking a java break before speeding off to the next errand.

My favorite coffee hangout, which always does a brisk business caffeinating the Geek Squad around here, is regularly jammed after school begins.  There are no solo tables available from 8AM to 10:00AM and everyone shares space. 

Recently hearing a collective murmur of “what’s for dinner” I replied with some smarty pants remark like ask Martha Stewart.   Forty one eyeballs (someone had an eye patch) turned to me and I’d be dust if those glares were lasers.  I never did that again – but I was ready the next time to win friends and influence mothers.

This time when they got around to the predictable dinner discussion, I said to no one and everyone, chopped salad with chicken.  This time, no eyeballs turned to laser me into dust and eye-patch-mom was fully functional again.  One cup of coffee later, I heard conversations around me mention salad fixings and that Trader Joe’s sells things already chopped, even the chicken.  I was not exactly winning friends, but I was influencing people.  One out of two isn’t bad that early in the morning.

Let’s try it here. 

What’s for dinner? 

How about chopped salad with chicken?  And don’t go buy those veggies already chopped – it is easier and less expensive to do it yourself on the weekend.  Roast a chicken on Sunday, chop up most of the veggies at the same time (after the farmer's market sojourn) and you can have dinner ready for Monday, a side dish on Tuesday and lunch on Wednesday.  That leaves only two more weekdays to worry about and that my friends, is success for a very busy household. 

Chopped salad used to be that oddity on the menu which usually meant the end of the ice berg lettuce with bits of tomato tossed in for color, and everything swimming in a sea of bottled Italian dressing.  No more.  These days chopped salad is making an improved appearance everywhere.   

There is a chopped salad that I wait for each springtime at a favorite restaurant and hope that it is on the menu once the early spring vegetables have hit the market.  It has a tiny bit of dill, some of those first baby peas that are actually green and sweet, some freshly blanched fava beans, and all kinds of other goodies.  Once I see it on the menu, I hit the farmer’s market or the best grocer’s produce section and buy a smattering of all the newly minted goodies. 

But other times of year I still crave a good chopped salad so we go with what’s ripe and local.  Sometimes we will have tiny pieces of freshly roasted beets, a little bit of blanched chard, and other times, just a variety of peppers, tomatoes, artichokes hearts, avocado, cukes, and herbs along with the freshly chopped varietal greens which always include nutty arugula, baby spinach and anything else that is fresh. 

Add in a little bit of leftover chopped roasted chicken and some hearty provolone or fresh mozzarella cheese sprinkled with grated asiago and it’s a meal.  A very pretty and very filling meal.
The key is to find stuff that is in season and local which is always cheaper, fresher, and way better tasting.  Take a walk around the weekend Farmer's Market to see what is in season right now.  Avoid produce from the grocery that is trucked from far away, if you can, because it is picked for shipping, not flavor or freshness.

Dressing?  Just a little bit goes a long way.  You want it to dress up the chopped stuff, not drown it.  I’d recommend your favorite homemade or artisanal vinaigrette.  Add an extra drizzle of your most special olive oil over the top and a smattering of freshly ground pepper and et voila! 

I'm patient.  Perhaps soon, instead of the dinner murmurs at the coffee shop, someone will start a conversation about dessert.  I have 750 different ways to mention chocolate.

Chopped Salad with Chicken

(Suggested) Ingredients
  • 1.5 to 2 cups of finely chopped leftover roasted chicken
  • 12 cups of mixed greens moderately chopped into ½ inch dice
  • Fresh or roasted red pepper ¼ inch dice
  • 1 cucumber ¼ dice (no seeds)
  • 2 tomatoes chopped (seed them) ¼ inch dice
  • 1 carrot peeled and ¼ inch diced
  • Jar of artichoke hearts cut into ¼ inch dice
  • 1 cup of cheese ¼ inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • Sprinkle of fresh thyme
  • Other favorite veggies, either ¼ inch diced or finely chopped
Prepare the chopped items and store overnight in the refrigerator separately (if you are working ahead).  To assemble, drop everything into a huge bowl and give it a good toss.  Add in tiny amounts of the vinaigrette until the salad just slightly glistens. 

Portion out four hungry person servings (or more not so hungry person servings) and add a sprinkle of grated cheese, a splash of really good olive oil and a dash of freshly ground pepper.  Croutons are nice but not mandatory.

Optional (diced) items
  • Charcuterie
  • Hardboiled egg
  • Other cheeses (goat cheese is great)
  • Cured olives
  • Other herbs
  • apple or pear
  • nuts
  • dried fruit

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fabulous to me. Our version of chopped salad often involves bacon made and enjoyed by my partner.