~ Chicken, Shrimp or Steak Chop-Chop Taco Salad ~
Chop-chop salad, or chopped salad, can contain anything your heart desires, as long as the ingredients play well together. Whether it is well-planned in advance, or a casual melange of leftovers, all of the ingredients get chopped, sliced or diced into similar-sized, fork-and-mouth-friendly morsels, then judiciously drizzled, not drenched, with with some sort of cuisine-appropriate dressing or vinaigrette, tossed together, placed on a plate or in a bowl, and, served immediately. Try not to confuse "chop-chop" with composed salads of chopped ingredients that are meticulously lined up side-by-side (like the famous Cobb salad), or, carefully layered.
The basic, "chop-chop" is a flavor-packed mixture of cooked protein, fresh or marinated vegetables, crispy lettuce or a mix of greens, and, an optional herb or two. Past that, the list of optional "toppings" (that is what they're called when ordering a chopped salad at a chopped-salad bar) is lengthy. To name a few: cheeses, eggs, beans, lentils, dried fruits, crunchy nuts, seeds, toasts or, croutons. Chop-chop salad can be served as a starter course, a side-dish or the entree, but, unlike its cousin, the tossed salad, where you pick and choose each forkful:
A well-conceived chopped salad is like eating a sandwich sans the bread. The components are evenly distributed and they're not overdressed. There's a taste of everything in every bite.
Every culture that eats salad has their own ethnic version of the chop-chop salad. Chopped salads have been around for a very long time, but, they became epidemically popular here in the Northeast in 2001 when a chain called Chop't was launched in NYC. As a salad lover, I hopped on-board that train, and, for a while, if a restaurant had a chop-chop salad on their lunch menu, I was inclined to order it in place of the my usual favorites: a grilled chicken Caesar salad, or, an all-turkey chef's salad. Then, as it is goes with many things in the food industry, the foodie powers-that-be couldn't leave a good thing alone. Instead of me enjoying a carefully-chopped, flavor-packed, colorful melange of "healthy harmony", I found myself eating over-chopped, pre-digested-looking mounds of unappetizing ingredients (that looked like they were run over by a lawnmower). Nowadays, I stick to making my own chop-chop salads.
Since I cook all sorts of cuisines, sometimes my chop-chop salad takes on an Asian twist, an Italian flair, a Mediterranean tang or an Eastern European earthiness. In the case of today's chop-chop, thanks to more than a few leftover ingredients from an entire week's worth of Tex-Mex blog posts, it's the bold flavors of the American Southwest we're eating tonight.
12 cups 3/4"-1" chopped crispy iceberg or romaine iceberg
3 cups cooked and 1/2" cubed chicken breast, shrimp or steak
1 1/2 cups 1/4" cubed Montery Jack, white or yellow cheddar cheese, or, 1 1/2 cups crumbled Cojita or queso fresco cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked and well-drained corn kernels (Note: If using corn shaved from the cob, take a moment to separate the kernels so they are not in clusters.)
1 1/2 cups 1/2" diced avocado
1 1/2 cups 1/2" diced cherry or grape tomatoes
1 1/2 cups peeled seeded and 1/2" diced cucumber
1 cup 1/4" diced green or red bell pepper, or a combination of both
3/4-1 cup 1/4" diced red onion
3/4-1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
For the dressing and garnish:
1 cup chile-lime mayonnaise (Note: To get my detailed recipe for ~ A Very Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment: Chili-Lime Mayo ~, click the Related Article link below.)
12 6"-round corn tortillas, cut into quarters, quarters cut into 1/4" strips, for tortilla wisps
corn oil and sea salt, for frying
~ Step 1. Prepare the chile-lime mayo first, and place it in the refrigerator, to allow it time to to chill and thicken. To prepare it, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree until smooth (about 30 seconds):
1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup minced cilantro, a well-drained 8-ounce jar pickled jalapenos, the juice and zest of 1 lime, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.
~ Step 2. Prep all of the ingredients, as listed and as directed, except for the avocado, placing each one in a separate container, then, cover and chill everything for about two hours.
Note: Because the avocado turns color, from pretty green to unappealing gray, as much as I love it in this salad, I do not dice it or add until just before I am ready to serve this meal.
Tip from Mel: When making a chop-chop salad, the name reveals: be prepared to chop. Besides the size of the chop and the recommended quantity, there is little more to say in the instructions. That said, in a chopped salad, I like my cheddar cubed, not shredded, and, I like it about the same size as the corn kernels. If you have a wire butter slicer (which can be purchased on-line for $6.00-$10.00), it makes short work of "cutting the cheese"!
~ Step 3. While the ingredients are chilling, cut tortillas into quarters. A few at a time, stack and and slice into thin strips. Add 1/4" of corn oil to a 12" skillet and heat over medium-high until wavy lines appear across the surface of oil.
~ Step 4. In a large bowl, place all of the salad ingredients, except for the lettuce and the avocado. Using two large spoons, toss everything together, cover and refrigerate one more hour, to give flavors time to marry.
Note: Why do I refrigerate the prepped ingredients separately and then a second time after they are mixed together. The first chill gets each one of them cold quickly, the second chill allows just enough time for the flavors time to marry. If you mix them all together first, it will take too long to chill them as a whole, resulting in a compromise in their texture -- it will be like eating leftovers.
~ Step 5. To serve, place 1 1/2 cups of lettuce in each of eight shallow salad bowls or make a bed of lettuce on eight plates. Generously portion the chopped topping mixture over the lettuce. Drizzle or dollop a bit of dressing over each salad and garnish with tortilla wisps. Serve immediately, allowing each person to toss their own, with additional dressing at the table.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; a variety of 1-cup and 2-cup food storage containers w/ lids; 12" skillet; paper towels
Cook's Note: I enjoy using corn tortilla wisps to garnish more than a few things. One of my favorites, another meal with a Southwestern edge to it is: ~ Cod Cakes w/Creamed Corn & Crisp Tortilla Wisps ~. Just click into Category 19 or 20 to get this recipe along with ~ Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed-Corn ~!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie'e Kitchen/Copyright 2015)