I wish I could say that the inspiration for this meal came from a stroll through my farmer’s market — from those gorgeous bunches of lacinato kale and bushels of Romano beans; from the juicy blackberries and rosy, plump apricots and white nectarines; from the summer spinach that seems to coo: Come hither! Slather me in olive oil and toss me around a little!
But the inspiration didn’t come from the farm. It came from a strip mall — specifically from Marshalls, the sale rack, aisle 13. Because sandwiched between a pile of scented candles and a wicker desk organizer was a stack of white bowls. There were only two of them, but they were just the right size, shape, depth, design, price. ($6.99 each!) Nothing fancy. Not too big, not too small. They seemed to coo: Buy me! Fill me up with summer salads! With lacinato kale and Romano beans! With summer spinach and nectarines!
And then a few days later, after reading a newsletter from my friend Pascale, the director of my farmer’s market, who told the story of her father’s famous chopped salads, I knew what had to be done. I collected all the refrigerator scraps — the lone shallot, the four small tomatoes, the single ear of corn, a few orphaned sugar snap peas, feta, sunflower seeds, etc. — and I put my two new bowls side to side, designating one the Definitely Bowl (to hold everything the kids would definitely eat) and one the Maybe Bowl (to hold any ingredient with deal-breaker potential) then started chopping.
The Definitely Bowl: Chopped tomatoes, corn off the cob, shredded poached chicken (see below for instructions), sugar snap peas, a light green pepper, boiled-and-blanched green beans. Bacon should have been in here, but I spaced.
The Maybe Bowl: Lacinato kale (de-stemmed and cut into shreds), sunflower seeds, crumbled feta, shallots, snipped chives, fresh thyme leaves from about 3 sprigs, nectarine, bacon, preserved lemons (you could use lemon zest).
After everything was chopped, but before the two bowls were combined and tossed with dressing, the girls chose what they wanted. Once they were happy with their selections (see bowls on right) we mixed both salads together for the grown-ups and tossed with a light vinaigrette. If I had to do it again — and I will — I might add a little orange and lime juice to the vinaigrette to give it a little more sweetness, a little more brightness.
For the poached chicken, I simmered three breasts, half an onion, half a lemon, in generously salted water for about 15-18 minutes, until chicken was cooked through. Remove from water, pull chicken pieces apart with forks, then chop the shreds with a knife. If you have time, chill in the refrigerator. You can also use storebought rotisserie or last night’s leftover grilled chicken.
The key to the chopped salad is, not surprisingly, the fine chop. You want to be able to experience as many different tastes in one bite as possible. Another good rule to keep in mind: You should aim to include something sweet (like fruit), something salty (like feta), and something crunchy (celery or snap peas, sunflower seeds).