The 29 Dimensions of a Chopped Salad

chopped salad
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (I never read the book, but I watch Iron Chef!)

“How you select your produce at the market indicates how you pick your significant other.” – Anonymous (paraphrased, because I heard it a long time ago)

Oh, the girl/guy/relationship psychology related to food. It covers everything from girls therapeutically eating their way through two pints of Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche “Light” ice cream after a break-up to your hatred of Thai and Vietnamese food being traced back to a cheating boyfriend. Some of it is true, some of it malarkey, and well, men are from deep-fried Mars bars and meat, women are from an entirely different galaxy made up of nutella, ice cream, and Girl Scout cookies.

Forget Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, and Dr. Neil Clark Warren and his eHarmonious 29 dimensions of compatibility. Forget about filling out “personal” questionnaires about yourself and what you want in significant other, whether that’s a significant one night, or a significant lifetime. Go to Umberto, spend $80 on a haircut and blow-out, daaaah-ling, buy those Jimmy Choos he wouldn’t let you buy for yourself, and toss your “checklist” out with his boxers. Everything now depends on…a chopped salad.

I don’t know why, but somehow, I find that everything about the chopped salad is exactly how I find myself thinking about guys. Psychoanalysis in a salad? Yes. Just straight up…psycho? I wouldn’t have it any other way. :)

chopped salad with chopsticks
psychoanalysis in a salad

Many restaurants around LA make good chopped salads, but none of the salads are great. None of them have ever fit my vision of the perfect chopped salad. It’s too big, it’s too small, there’s a little too much dressing, the dressing is too tart/salty/sweet, something’s missing, something’s there that shouldn’t be, the lettuce is wilted, the vegetables aren’t chopped. Restaurant chopped salads are never quite right. I make chopped salads at home because I can make it exactly, perfectly, complementary the way I want for my persnickety tastes. Maybe that makes me a perfectionist. Or an idealist. I call it…romantic. My knight in shining artichoke hearts can only be had at home.

My all-time favorite salad is the Caesar, but the chopped salad comes in a very close second. The Caesar salad, you see, is a salad that I associate with and reserve for dining out, because a fabulous Caesar requires a great deal of effort, and thus, is reserved for those special nights when I let a professional do all the work. It is entirely dependent upon making a luxurious dressing from scratch, and I certainly don’t trust myself with raw eggs. The very best Caesar salads require prim and proper fork and knife to cut whole hearts of Romaine. However, the vegetables and other ingredients in a chopped salad are already chopped, so there’s no work involved in eating – all I have to do is dive right in. Does that mean I like laziness and unrefinement when I eat a chopped salad or does that mean I like an appreciation for the finer things, but at the core, comfortably casual?

Unlike the Caesar, which can hide beneath an elegant exterior of exotic anchovies and Worcestershire sauce, chopped salads are entirely about the basic quality of the vegetables. They have to be so fresh and flavorful that they require nothing more than a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper. No injectinos with hormones, no over-time at the gym and the tanning salon, no superficial glossy wax, nothing. Just about any vegetable can go into a chopped salad, but again, I choose the ones that I love – and they’re never anything as fancy as an eggplant. There might be a little dirt on the soft, sweet, but slightly lopsided, tomatoes. Hey, it’s all natural. The cucumber might be a little small and crooked, but it’s firm. Take them home, rinse them off a bit, just as long as they taste better than they look.

I bounce back and forth between bright fresh green peppers and silky, slippery sweet roasted red peppers, but in either case, I’m getting something that tastes fabulous and is helpful in keeping me looking fabulous with all that vitamin C. It’s nice to know that I’m doing something good for me, mind, body and spirit.

Adding some certain vegetables is a little more complex than a mere wash and chop, but I just couldn’t have it any other way. Raw red onions make me cry. They also give me wickedly fiery heartburn, but I love them, and it’s worth every backhanded swipe of my eyes, worth every plop, plop, fizz, fizz. To be quite honest, I like it when it hurts so good. *blush*

Broccoli and carrots, too, require some effort. Like bell peppers, they’ve got secret hidden things that keep my body , but they also offer me a moment of indulgence. Not indulgence the way a tres leches cupcake is an indulgence, but pampering. I don’t need to be showered with flowers, gifted with expensive sparkly jewelry, or taken out to wildly luxurious dinners (at least, not every night). But I do like to be spoiled with a little TLC once and again – locked up in a sauna, a dip in a mineral spring, a deep-tissue massage. And conversely, I love to give a little TLC. I am a giver. A nurturer. My horoscope sign is cancer. Broccoli and carrots let me pamper them with a quick, hot, steamy plunge in boiling water to brighten their color and soften them a bit. They don’t have to do it; they’re fine the way they are; but it makes me infinitely happy to think that even with a salad, I’m cooking. (*gasp!* Don’t call me Sandra Lee a> – it’s totally different. Totally.)

Of course, I can’t do without the tangy, puckering, sometimes shockingly sour flavor of pickled vegetables. Hearts of a palm are a luxurious bonus, only noticed as a lovely surprise, but never missed if they’re not there. However, I most certainly cannot do without artichoke hearts and olives. Perhaps that’s why I don’t need any sort of dressing as an accessory. And if there’s no spice, no heat, well, then, I think I’d rather go out, even if alone, to eat the Caesar to begin with. Banana peppers? No, love, not hot enough. Something that makes me sweat.

Italian chopepd salads often have salami, ham, and other dried, cured meats. I don’t like meat in my salad. Interpret as you wish. ;)

I do however, believe in the power of protein, some comes from dairy in mozzarella cheese and some from garbanzo beans – my favorite source of non-meat protein. Garbanzo beans have a flavor all their own, and yet, are so versatile, able to fit in anywhere from a simple Italian soup to exotically ethnic chana masala to falafel and hummus right off a dirty street cart. Garbanzos beans and I are like two chickpeas in a pod. *eesh* Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

chopped salad - fin
clean up the mess in the morning

All these glorious ingredients in the chopped salad, each one so very particular to a specific taste, but they’re all sitting on a foundation of good ol’ American Iceberg lettuce. I can appreciate peppery arugula, fancy frilly frisee, even the smooth bitterness of endive. But when it all comes down to my chopped salad, I want simple. I need solid. I love honest and reliable. I pick through all the color and crunch and tang of the vegetables and ingredients on the outside with my chopsticks (yes, I eat salad with chopsticks – I haven’t figured that one out yet, either), but I love to finish it off with a crisp, icy bang.

And when there’s a little bit of a mess of left when I’m done, *eh* just leave it. I’ll clean it up in the morning. ;)

** a year ago today, i don’t play “just the (thai) tip” **

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  • Sam

    “How you select your produce at the market indicates how you pick your significant other.”

    ok – so what’s the produce selection method that equates to drunkeness then?

  • sarah

    LOL! down a half bottle of alize, hobble and sway through the market, and see what you pick up. when you wake up the next morning in a strangers bed, just hope that the salad was French. ;)

  • Anonymous

    No meat, huh? You don’t like the salami. Hmmm… Now that speaks volumes, my dear.

    And Alize? I haven’t heard about that since…high school.

  • onetomato

    i eat everything with chopsticks. when i’m home that is. salad, pasta, even french fries. ee hee hee. and i get ya on the picky thing. my mom gives me dirty looks when i start sentences with “i don’t like…”

  • sarah

    onetomato: everything. i eat everything with chopsticks. they’re just so much easier to pick up individual pieces and little things, rather than stabbing away at stuff with a barbaric fork. LOL! i kind of wish i had one of those little tiny pink hello kitty cases that looks like a pencil case, but actually hold chopsticks. then i’d bring chopsticks out to restaurants with me, too. :)

  • Maure

    So your sign is cancer, you’re ambivalent about hearts of palms
    yet garbanzo beans hold a special
    place in your heart.
    I think we have the perfect match for you. He’s scorpio, loves the trader joe’s 69 cent can of corn, feels strongly about condiments (especially their packaging).

    oh, also writes his mother and parole officer dutifully.

    great post sarah – made me hungrier than a new born kitten.
    and want to buy a slice-o-matic ’06

  • Catherine

    Mmmm…your pictures look great!

    There are two chop salads in L.A. that I really like: Daily Grill’s Cobb Salad and Gaucho Grill’s Manager’s Special :)

  • sarah

    maure: oooh…scorpio. bad sign!

    cat: i think i had that salad at gaucho grill and remember thinking that it wasn’t bad.

  • hermz

    “just the (thai) tip”… hahaha!

  • Anti Guiliani New Yorker

    best diet food ever

    this is why/how rich people are thin – have staff to chop the stuff

  • Anti Guiliani New Yorker

    best diet food ever

    this is why/how rich people are thin – have staff to chop the stuff

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