In praise of: the chop salad.

Recently, we had occasion to dine at Bluebeard in Indianapolis — a great farm-to-table restaurant with a terrific vibe in an up-and-coming neighborhood south of downtown. Of all the yummy things we ate and drank, the chop salad was the one thing we “oohed” over the most, and the one dish I kept sticking my fork into long after I was satiated.

Bluebeard’s chop salad overhauled the way I think of this basic dish — a foundation of lettuce with all manner of chopped add-ins. First, it was perfectly seasoned — a reminder of how important it is to salt and pepper your salad ingredients before you add dressing. Second, there was just the right amount of dressing: The salad was flavorful but not swimming in oil and vinegar. Third, the mix of ingredients was just right, with not too much lettuce. (By contrast, I had a lunchtime salad at a big-chain eatery last week that was 99.9% lettuce. Ick.) And the lettuce was crisp, a blend of iceberg and cabbage. (Don’t use a soft lettuce like butterhead in this salad recipe.)

I’ve made a version of this chop salad at home several times since we dined at Bluebeard, and continue to love it. Here’s a basic chop salad recipe to get you thinking; feel free to include your own add-ins. Use a boldly flavored cheese. Go for your run-of-the-mill iceberg or cabbage, and keep the lettuce in proportion to the other ingredients (you don’t want a bed of lettuce underneath). Bring the ingredients to room temperature before serving. And even though it’s a bit fussy, peel your tomatoes — it makes for a better texture.

Really Good Chop Salad

for the salad — per serving:

1/2 cup (lightly packed) chopped iceberg lettuce and/or shredded red cabbage
1 medium very ripe tomato, peeled, seeds removed, torn into big chunks
1/4 cup canned chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup chopped cucumber
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. cup shredded Fontina, crumbled blue or other flavorful cheese
1/4 cup slivered ham or diced roasted chicken
1 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts

Combine the lettuce, tomato, chickpeas, carrot, cucumber and bell pepper in a large salad bowl; season well with salt and pepper. Add cheese, meat and pine nuts. Dress very lightly with dressing just before serving.

for the dressing:

1 small garlic clove
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. dried oregano or mixed Italian herbs
1/3 cup white wine or rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Mash the garlic clove together with the salt using the blade of a knife to form a paste. In a lidded jar, combine the garlic/salt paste, the mustard, dried herbs and vinegar. Shake well to combine. Add the olive oil and shake vigorously to combine. Keeps for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

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