Chopped salad could well be described as a buttoned-down version of a tossed salad. For while the latter can be something of a leafy anarchy both in the tossing bowl and on the plate, the disciplined uniformity of size among the various ingredients in a chopped salad gives a definite structure that's appetizing to the eye and the tongue.
That structure comes from cutting greens, vegetables and perhaps meat or cheese into "fairly uniform pieces that offer a variety of flavors, colors and textures with every forkful," according to "Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home." Chopped salads run the gamut from the classic Cobb to the whimsically titled garbage salad to whatever you can whip up. And you can do it -- easily.
"A chopped salad is a great way to use up everything in your refrigerator. It's a great use for leftovers," says Kristine Kidd, the book's co-author. "The variety of flavors and textures make it fun."
Don't get too carried away, though.
"Something I realized in looking at what chopped salads have in common is you can make a chopped salad out of anything, but you have to put some thought into it," says Patricia Wells, a food writer, journalist and author of the new "Salad as a Meal: Healthy Main-Dish Salads for Every Season" (William Morrow, $34.99).
"Freshness, crunch, texture and color. There's nothing more important for a chopped salad."
Kidd recommends having staples on hand to help create the salad, items like canned beans, olives, Dijon mustard, cheese. Pair them with some romaine lettuce and last night's roast chicken for a quick, easy dinner, she says.
Wells also recommends taking a moment to make the chopped salad look its best. Take a tuna can, open both ends, and use it as a mold to plate the salad into an appetizing round, she says. Or, do as Wells did with a mussel, chorizo, tomato and basil salad and serve it atop thin slices of toasted sourdough bread like an open-faced sandwich.
"Dumping everything on a plate doesn't make it," Wells says.
> Original-ish Waldorf Salad
"It may seem old school, but give it a try and you'll see why this classic apple-celery-walnut salad has never gone out of style," writes Mollie Katzen in her book, "Get Cooking." She uses yogurt to make the salad more tangy than the original.
Chop 4 medium-size unpeeled apples in 1/2 -inch chunks; chop 1 stalk celery. Combine apples, celery and 1/4 cup raisins (dark or golden) in a large bowl. Whisk together 1 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup mayonnaise until smooth in a second bowl. Pour over the apple mixture; stir gently to coat evenly. Serve topped with 1/2 cup chopped lightly toasted walnuts. Makes 4 to 5 servings.
> Chopped Chicken Salad
Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Cooking at Home," by Chuck Williams and Kristine Kidd.
Chop 4 skinless, boneless poached chicken breast halves into small, neat dice. Chop into pieces approximately the same size as the chicken the following ingredients: 1 pound hearts of romaine lettuce, 1/2 small fennel bulb, 12 ounces mushrooms, 20 radishes, 4 small carrots, 1 small head radicchio and 1 small red onion. Combine the vegetables in a large bowl. Combine the chicken and lemon-tarragon vinaigrette in another bowl; stir to coat. Pour over the vegetables. Toss well. Makes 8 servings.
Lemon-tarragon vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 4 teaspoons each Dijon mustard and minced fresh tarragon and 3 cloves garlic, minced. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Let stand 30 minutes before serving. Makes about 3/4 cup.
> Crunchy Garden Salad with Tuna
Patricia Wells uses tuna packed in extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe adapted from "Salad as a Meal," and uses the oil to make the dressing.
Crunchy Garden Salad with Tuna
2 cans (5 ounces each) tuna in extra-virgin olive oil, drained, oil reserved
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup fresh salad burnet leaves or fresh parsley leaves
4 ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded, chopped
2 green onions, white part only, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 small cucumber, chopped
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon capers, drained
10 cornichon pickles, cut into rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine 3 tablespoons of the reserved tuna oil, lemon juice and zest in a small jar. Cover; shake to blend. Place the tuna in a large, shallow bowl. Break up the tuna into small pieces with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and the dressing. Toss to evenly coat. Taste for seasoning. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 286 calories, 52 percent of calories from fat, 17g fat, 2g saturated fat, 22mg cholesterol, 13g carbohydrates, 22g protein, 783mg sodium, 5g fiber.