Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Salad Smarts

For much of my childhood and into adolescence, I never quite understood the importance of salad. This was partially due to how very little attention I paid vegetables unless they were sitting on my plate, but more so it was due to the Muppets. Yes, like any other child growing up in a media-infested world, Sesame Street and the Muppets were the center of my universe. (Of course now children have their choice of Sesame Street, Baby Einstein, The Wiggles, and don't forget Dora the Explorer, but that's beside the point.) And the Muppet Movie, "Follow That Bird" was one of my favorites. At the beginning, there's a scene in a diner and whenever someone orders a tossed salad, the Muppets wearing chef hats throw some lettuce into a bowl, place it on a catapult and literally toss the salad over to the customer. Lettuce flies everywhere and covers most of the diners who don't seem to mind. (I must admit I'm smiling to myself as I write this - gets me every time!)

And such was my image of salad for most of my childhood: nothing to take note of unless flying through the air, launched by Muppets. But years have wizened me and I have come to love salad for its nutritious qualities and endless options. However, it wasn't until last week that I truly understood the amazing possibilities. Paging through a recent Crate and Barrel catalog, I stumbled upon a kitchen gadget of sheer genius. It's called the Toss & Chop. And I love it.

It looks a lot like a scissors with two parallel blades, if you can picture that. The idea is that when you hold the Toss & Chop vertically over a bowl of lettuce, the extremely sharp blades cut up the salad at you toss it. A handy safety lock ensures that I don't chop off my fingers (being the klutz that I am) and it's dishwasher safe, so clean up is easy. Thus, it is with a reluctant heart that I bid a final farewell to
my tossed salad notions and fully embrace this new world of greens... that doesn't include Oscar the Grouch.

You can find the Toss & Chop online on the Crate and Barrel site for $19.95.

Whether you're lucky enough to have the Toss & Chop or you must resort to the old-fashioned knife and cutting board, this chopped salad is a must-try. It's got a little bit of everything and an irresistible homemade dressing.

Kitchen Chopped Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette

Herb-Mustard Vinaigrette:
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
2 tsp. minced fresh shallot
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 C. red wine vinegar
1 1/3 C. pure, mild-flavored olive oil
3 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cleaned trimmed and chopped into 1/8 inch-wide strips
1/2 head romaine lettuce, cleaned trimmed and chopped into 1/8 inch-wide strips
12 large leaves basil, chopped into 1/16-inch-wide strips
2 C. (1/3 lb.) dry Italian salami, cut into thin strips
3 C. (2/3 lb.) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 C. chopped garbanzo beans
4 C. (2 lb.) ripe tomatoes, diced 1/2 inch
3 C. (1 lb.) turkey breast, diced 1/2 inch
2 Tbs., chopped scallions, 1/4-inch pieces


To make the dressing: Process all ingredients except oil and Parmesan using a hand-held, propeller-blade type mixer (or use a whisk in a small bowl). Slowly blend in oil. When all oil has been incorporated, stir in Parmesan. Set aside in the refrigerator. To make the salad: Toss first 6 ingredients and dressing together in a large mixing bowl. Transfer the salad to chilled salad plates. Surround each serving with a ring of diced tomatoes and top with diced turkey breast. Garnish with chopped scallions.

Also try these for yummy chopped salad options:
Cucina Cucina Chopped Salad
Fiesta Chopped Salad