Chopped salads that are little better than a random collection of cut-up produce from the crisper drawer exude moisture that turns the salad watery and bland.
We wanted lively, thoughtfully chosen compositions of lettuce, vegetables, and perhaps fruit⎯cut into bite-sized pieces⎯with supporting players like nuts and cheese contributing hearty flavors and textures.
Salting some of the vegetables-cucumbers and tomatoes-to remove excess moisture was an important first step. We halved a cucumber, scooped out its watery seeds, and diced it before tossing with salt and draining it over a colander. For the grape tomatoes, we cut them into quarters to expose more surface area to the salt, which indeed, helped to release more water. As for the dressing, most recipes we tried called for a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar-fine for a leafy green salad, but not a chopped salad. A more assertive blend of equal parts oil and vinegar was far better at delivering the bright, acidic kick needed in salads boasting hearty flavors and chunky textures. We also found that marinating ingredients such as bell peppers, onions, and fruit in the dressing for five minutes before adding cheese and other tender components brought a welcome flavor boost. Focusing on the composition of the salads, we determined that mild, crisp romaine and firm-tender cucumber were musts in every variation, as was the bite of red onion. We also liked the crunch of nuts along with the softer texture of cheese. For a Mediterranean combo, we added chickpeas, feta, and parsley into the standard mix. Another boasted red pepper with pear, cranberry, blue cheese, and pistachios; a third featured fennel and apple with tarragon, goat cheese, and walnuts.