You can pile a bunch of delicious chopped salad ingredients into a big bowl or you can arrange them artfully in a platter. It’s all the same stuff and it ends up in the same place, so why make the effort to organize everything? I was pondering this as I carefully arranged lines of turkey, corn and cranberries, considering which colors and textures look best side by side. I came to the conclusion that food tastes better if it’s presented in an attractive way. I’ve always believed that. Also, I remember an article from Scientific American about all the things that can influence taste: “…Potato chips taste crisper if you hear a crunch over headphones. White wine with a drop of red food coloring tastes like red wine—even to experienced wine tasters….A block of cheese with sharp edges tastes sharper than one with round corners…” The bottom line is deliciousness is not just about what hits our tastebuds. All of our senses come into play when our brain tells us how delicious something is.
This chopped salad is inspired by a lunch my friend made for me many years ago. I didn’t remember the particulars, only that it was dazzling and delicious. A few weeks ago I asked my friend for the recipe. She directed me to The Stetson Chopped Salad from a restaurant in Scottsdale Arizona called Cowboy Ciao. Here’s the ingredient list for the Stetson: Israeli couscous, diced tomatoes, dried sweet corn, chopped arugula, diced smoked salmon, asiago cheese, dried currants and toasted pepitas. The dressing is basil pesto, mayonnaise, shallots, buttermilk, and lemon juice.
The Stetson salad is something special and I highly recommend that you try it. And if you’re like me you will then start imagining all sorts of other salads that you can arrange in rows. It got me experimenting in the kitchen with different combos and I arrived at my favorite, this chopped salad with herb buttermilk dressing. It’s heavily inspired by the Stetson but with my own twists.
My chopped salad has a generous amount of arugula, pearled Israeli couscous like the Stetson, smoked turkey, shredded asiago cheese, cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, sweetened dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds. I opted for a lighter dressing than the Stetson, no mayo and heavy on herbs – a bright and tangy dressing of buttermilk, vinegar, garlic, chives and olive oil.
This is a great dish for company. In addition to good looks and great taste, it’s also a practical dish for entertaining because you can make the dressing and do all the chopping ahead of time. You can even get it all arranged into stripes a few hours ahead. Just cover with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge until your guests arrive.
Set it out somewhere where everyone can enjoy the view. Let the anticipation build. Toss it at the last minute, just before you eat.
This chopped salad can easily be made vegetarian and/or gluten free. Sub in cubed avocados instead of turkey and quinoa or rice instead of couscous.
A beautiful chopped salad like this one is the perfect dish to serve for a special lunch or brunch. It’s got that coveted combo of healthy and irresistibly delicious.
Here’s the recipe for my chopped salad with herb buttermilk dressing. If you make this, please come back to let me know how it turned out.
- 1½ cups cooked Israeli couscous, cooled (from ½ cup uncooked) (or substitute 1½ cups cooked farro, or arborio rice or quinoa)
- 4-6 ounces smoked turkey, diced (substitute cubed avocado, smoked salmon, smoked ham, grilled chicken or steak)
- ½ cup shredded asiago cheese (substitute shredded parmesan or pecorino)
- ⅓ cup dried sweetened cranberries (or substitute currants, raisins or chopped dried apricots)
- ⅓ cup toasted pumpkin seeds (or substitute toasted nuts - pine nuts or slivered almonds or your favorite toasted nuts or seeds)
- 1 dry pint sweet cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1½ cups cooked sweet corn kernels, cooled
- 4 cups loosely packed arugula leaves, chopped (3 ounces)
- Buttermilk Dressing:
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar or good quality white wine vinegar
- 1 large clove of garlic
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped chives (or substitute scallions or shallots)
- ¼ cup chopped basil (optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or fine sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Make the dressing: Combine buttermilk and vinegar in a jar or bowl. Use a garlic press to squeeze garlic into the mixture. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then the herbs and salt. Season with black pepper, to taste. (Can be made up to a day ahead. Store in the fridge. Bring to room temp before using)
- Assemble the Salad: In a large shallow bowl arrange ingredients into stripes. You can use a spatula as a divider, to help create crisp lines, as you add one ingredient next to another. (The salad can be arranged a few hours ahead. Cover and keep in the fridge. Bring to room temp before dressing and serving)
- When ready to serve, toss with dressing.
Here are some other delicious salads that would look great arranged in rows: Classic Salad Nicoise, Greek Salad with Grilled Turkey Tips, Thai Steak and Noodle Salad.…