The original chopped salad was created in the late 1950s by legendary restaurateur Jean Leon at his ritzy La Scala restaurant in Beverly Hills. Celebrity sightings were commonplace at La Scala – Leon himself claimed to have personally served Marilyn Monroe her last meal (not a chopped salad). And although Natalie Wood was rumored to have been the one to suggest they chop up the restaurant's signature salad, Leon's daughter, Gigi Leon, has reportedly maintained that the idea to mince and toss the ingredients together was purely practical. Guests at the restaurant were wearing tuxedos and gowns and the salad was messy to eat, so Leon decided to serve it pre-chopped. Whatever the origin story, the salad quickly became synonymous with glamorous Hollywood culture. Wolfgang Puck put his own spin on it in the 1980s at his Beverly Hills Restaurant Spago with the Chino Chopped salad, featuring a seasonal rotation of chopped fresh and cooked vegetables from the iconic Chino Farm in Southern California.
Seventy years later, La Scala is still serving hundreds of chopped salads every day. A riff on an antipasto salad, their original chopped salad consisted of iceberg and romaine lettuce, salami, marinated chickpeas, tomatoes and mozzarella, tossed with a punchy red wine vinaigrette. Iterations of the dish can be found on restaurant menus and desk lunches around the world, thanks to its inherent craveability and customizable nature.
David Radwine, former executive chef and general manager of the Sangamo Club in Springfield, created his own version of a chopped salad years ago on a whim. "We were having a cookout at my brother's house and I just kind of threw together this salad with ingredients he had lying around," Radwine recalled. "Everyone loved it so much we decided to put it on the menu at the club." A melange of finely chopped spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, yellow squash and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, Radwine's chopped salad is as hearty as it is beautiful. "You can prepare all the vegetables ahead of time, then toss them with the cheese and dressing before you're ready to serve," Radwine advises. "So it's perfect for parties or meal prep at home." Substantial enough for a meal on its own, the SC Chopped Salad also makes a lovely base for a piece of grilled salmon or chicken.
To build your own signature chopped salad, start with a crunchy base like lettuce, spinach or shredded napa cabbage, then begin adding layers of flavor. Liven up canned beans with a brief marinade in a bright vinaigrette to help their umami flavor shine through. Pickled or jarred ingredients like artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and roasted peppers are convenient and pantry-friendly ways to add dimension. You can tame the bitterness and heat of raw onions by thinly slicing and tossing with a generous sprinkle of salt and sugar. Let them sit for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Rinse them well under cool running water, then squeeze dry in a paper towel before adding to your salad. Salting the onions this way draws out the bitterness and makes them more palatable to eat raw. It's also important to chop your vegetables individually and by hand, Radwine cautions. Avoid the temptation to chop them in the food processor, as they can easily turn to mush. To finish, dress up your salad with a vibrant vinaigrette to allow all the different flavors and textures to shine through.
Sangamo Club Chopped Salad
1 small zucchini
1 small head broccoli
½ head cauliflower
5 ounces baby spinach
½ cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
For the dressing:
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the vegetables and chop them individually into a small dice. To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, grated garlic, honey, mustard and a tablespoon of water in a small bowl or jar. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking continuously to emulsify.
When ready to serve, combine the vegetables and crumbled cheese in a mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and enough dressing to just coat the vegetables (you will have some dressing left over – reserve for another use). Use caution not to overdress the salad. Serve immediately, garnished with additional crumbled cheese if desired.
Southeast Asian-Style Chopped Chicken Salad
1-3 red bird chiles, to taste
2-4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
2 tablespoons rice or cider vinegar
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
2 medium carrots, shredded
¼ cup each roughly chopped mint and cilantro
¼ cup chopped unsalted dry roasted peanuts
Combine the minced garlic, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar and shallot in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Let sit for 30 minutes. Add the shredded chicken, cabbage, carrots and herbs and toss gently to combine. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Top with chopped peanuts and serve.