Let’s be honest here. Salads can be hit or miss. Digging through piles of droopy spinach with a lonely cherry tomato rolling around can drive anyone to the vending machine. Where’s the flavor? Where’s the fun? That’s where a good chopped salad can save the day. (Here are a few of our other lunchtime favorites.)
There are two main reasons why chopped salads are the best salads out there:
- They have a lot of ingredients, from leafy greens to crunchy vegetables to eggs, meats, cheeses, herbs…virtually anything you want. The perk? You can customize your salad to highlight your favorite seasonal ingredients (or just use up whatever’s in your crisper drawer).
- Those ingredients are-well-chopped into small, uniform pieces. The perk? You get varied flavor and texture in every bite.
I talked to our Test Kitchen to get the scoop on making these lunch counter favorites at home.
How to Make a Chopped Salad
Not just any chopped salad-our Test Kitchen’s favorite.
A bunch of veggies. You can swap out a few of these, if you like:
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Step 1: Get choppin’
This recipe involves a decent amount of prep work-but don’t let it intimidate you. Practice makes perfect when it comes to knife skills, so put on some high-energy music and go to town. The better acquainted you are with your chef’s knife, the faster and more precise your cutting skills will be. (You can use a handheld chopper, too.)
After washing your vegetables, take to the cutting board. With a sharp knife, start by slicing the bell peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Remove and discard the seedy cores.
Test Kitchen Tip: For prep work like this, keep an extra mixing bowl nearby to collect the scraps for trash or compost. (This makes it easier to work in a small space.)
Cut the peppers lengthwise into matchsticks, then horizontally into small squares about 1/2 inch in size. Then, dice your tomato into similar-sized pieces as the pepper. (Don’t worry about being exact!) Continue chopping the cucumber, zucchini and green onions to that same uniform shape.
Phew, good work! Now take a breather and toss all your chopped soldiers into a large bowl along with minced parsley.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you’re adding an ingredient that’s already small, such as beans, crumbled cheese or chickpeas, skip the chopping step and leave them whole.
Step 2: Make the dressing
This chopped salad recipe has you making a simple homemade dressing. Take out a small bowl and whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. If you’re serving the salad right away, drizzle the dressing over your veggie mix. Give the salad a quick toss to combine.
Test Kitchen Tip: When making this recipe in advance (or if you have guests who are picky about dressing), keep the vinaigrette in a small mason jar on the side. Give it a quick shake before using.
Step 3: Fold in delicate ingredients
Peel and chop the avocado into small cubes. Gently toss them in a small bowl with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Apart from giving the salad a zingy citrus flavor, the lemon juice will help prevent the avocado from browning over time. (This trick works well if you’re adding apples, too!)
Test Kitchen Tip: For best results, we wait to add fragile ingredients-such as avocados, raspberries or flaked tuna-last. By gently folding them into the mix, you’ll keep them from getting bruised or crushed. That being said, if you’re not too picky, feel free to toss ’em in at any point.
Step 4: Enjoy
Give the ingredients one more gentle mix to ensure you’ve evenly combined all the ingredients. Now your colorful chopped salad is ready to bring to the table. Dish out the bright, beautiful helpings with a slotted spoon.
How to Make It Your Own
When you think about it, a chopped salad doesn’t actually require a concrete recipe. You can revamp practically any salad recipe by chopping each ingredient into a similar size. Mix ’em together and voila! A chopped salad is born.
Assemble your own creation by experimenting with different flavor combinations. Incorporate what you already have on hand, pick up fresh produce from the farmer’s market and choose ingredients that you (and your family) love. For inspiration, mix and match a few ingredients from the following categories:
- Crunchy raw vegetables: bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, celery, onions
- Leafy greens: romaine lettuce, bib lettuce, spinach, kale
- Protein: grilled chicken, cooked bacon, beans, hard-boiled eggs
- Short pasta: elbows, farfalle, rotini
- Cheese: blue cheese, Parmesan, feta, shredded cheddar
- Juicy fruits: apples, pears, grapes, avocado, tomatoes (… yes, tomatoes are a fruit.)
- Extras: dried fruit, corn, nuts, homemade croutons
- Dressing: creamy Caesar, Greek, ranch, honey mustard or a citrusy vinaigrette.
Psst. If you discover a flavor combination you adore, share your chopped salad recipe here.