Chopped salad might sound mundane, but it’s not

By Marlene Parrish

Since the first of May, I’ve eaten at least 100 salads, probably more. How do I choose a good salad? Sometimes it’s simple mixed greens and herbs, a pristine bowl of butter lettuce, greens with add-ins, all tossed with good olive oil, lemon juice; other times it’s all fruit, or all veg, and potato, egg and tuna salads; or composed salads such as Nicoise, Italian, Greek; and single subjects such as asparagus, carrot, green bean, tomatoes and other salad plates. Dressed, topped and drizzled. If there is a salad fork in the road, I’ll take it.

One type of salad, however, is too often overlooked, forgotten and ignored. It’s the decidedly mundane, banal and clear-out-the-vegetable bin chopped salad. That’s what I thought before I tried the Chopped Salad at Atria’s, a popular Mt. Lebanon watering hole on Beverly Road. It has a whopping dozen veggies, all precision chopped, tossed with garlic vinaigrette and topped with avocado and blue cheese. The game-changer chopped salad, for $4.99, is big enough to share.

Atria’s salad includes romaine and iceberg lettuces, but not too much, and cubed carrots, celery, red onion, cucumber, corn kernels, tomato, scallions, pimento, avocado and something else that I forgot.

After flying into Pittsburgh International Airport, my husband and I often make a pit stop at Ditka’s in Robinson for lunch or supper. It serves a killer chopped salad, too, with all the usual suspects plus red and green sweet peppers, chickpeas and pickled pepperoncini for snap. Blue cheese and tortilla chip strips top Dikta’s hearty salad ($7).

Maybe the drama queen of chopped salads is the Cobb Salad where the chopped ingredients are arranged in bars or stripes over a bed of greens. Rows of hard cooked egg, bacon crumbles, roasted chicken shreds, avocado, tomatoes and the ever-present blue cheese and vinaigrette dressing are the other ingredients. The diner does the tossing, but still, it’s a chopped salad.

To make a chopped salad at home, think very fresh vegetables, refreshing and cold, cut into uniform shapes and above all, crunchy. I like to add cubes of apple and a handful of nuts, too. Toss lightly with a highly seasoned dressing and top with cheese crumbles, real bacon bits and small crunchy croutons.

So good.

Marlene Parrish: 412-481-1620 or

Cobb Salad With Creamy Pesto Dressing

PG tested

A salad of colorful stripes is a real eye catcher. Cobb salads are served with the ingredients lined up in neat rows, and then the diner tosses it all together, or not, as he or she chooses. Got vegetarians? Lose the bacon and chicken, but add more veggies. Almost any dressing will do — creamy pesto, Ranch or a simple vinaigrette.

  • 6 cups slivered romaine lettuce (or a combo of romaine and iceberg)
  • 8 slices crisp bacon, cooked and roughly crumbled
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into large dice
  • 2 medium-size tomatoes, seeded and cut into large dice
  • 1½ cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 avocado, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • Optional rows: chickpeas, English peas, diced sweet peppers, cook’s choice
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Creamy Pesto Dressing

Scatter the lettuce over a large serving platter. Over the greens, make neat rows of crumbled bacon, eggs, tomatoes, chicken, avocado, onion and blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle Creamy Pesto Dressing over the salad, or serve it on the side.

Creamy Pesto Dressing

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves (or half basil, half mint)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Blend or whisk together mayonnaise, buttermilk, basil, cheese, garlic, and salt and pepper until everything is well combined. Transfer to a plastic container. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will last for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 cup.

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