This Homemade Meal Is Cheap, Healthful and Requires No Cooking

Woman chopping celery for salad
Photo by miya227 / Shutterstock.com

It’s no exaggeration: Chopped salads can make you healthier and wealthier.

They’re a great way to make use of whatever you’ve got on hand in the kitchen. Throw one together when you are short on time or trying to avoid a trip to the grocery store. Experiment with ingredients to find flavor combinations you like.

No recipe is necessary, and cooking is optional.

There’s just one rule: Use a knife — preferably a big chopping knife — to cut ingredients into bite-sized bits that are roughly the same size.

What is chopped salad?

Chopped salads typically have few leafy greens and sometimes none at all. Heavier ingredients — proteins, vegetables, fruit, grains, beans and nuts — play a starring role.

This makes chopped salads substantial, filling and perfect when fresh greens are expensive or out of season.

A tossed salad, by comparison, is lighter and made mostly of greens. Heavier ingredients are bit players.

The trick to making chopped salads is cutting ingredients into pieces of roughly equal size. When each component of your salad is about the same weight, everything tosses together well, giving each serving some of every ingredient.

With tossed salads made mostly of greens, heavy goodies can sink to the bottom of the salad bowl.

Protein

Proteins often play a key role in chopped salads. Possibilities include:

  • Sliced deli meats, salami, chicken, beef, lamb or pork
  • Smoked or cooked fish
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Canned tuna or salmon (drained)
  • Tofu is a healthful source of plant-based protein. Drain and dry it before chopping. Marinate it if there’s time, or buy tofu that’s seasoned and roasted or barbecued.
  • A dollop of hummus
  • Shredded, chunked or crumbled cheese: It’s high-fat but high-flavor, so you won’t need much. Consider a bit of crumbled feta or goat cheese, or grate a hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago.
  • Cooked beans are a no-fat, high-nutrition source of protein. Cook beans ahead of time and freeze them in meal-sized portions, or drain canned beans and pat them dry.
  • Tree nuts, peanuts and seeds: These healthful protein sources add flavor, texture and satisfaction. Nuts and seeds tend to work best lightly toasted. Spread a single layer in a dry frying pan and toast on low heat on the stovetop. Or bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven — just watch them closely, as they burn easily.

Veggies

While they’re not required, leafy greens by all means can be used in chopped salads. Lettuce, arugula, beet greens, chard and spinach all work well. But don’t stop there.

The heart of your chopped salad is vegetables. Load them on — raw, cooked, roasted or canned. Raw vegetables in particular supply crunch, sweetness and lots of nutrients. Possibilities include:

  • Beets, fennel, squash, pumpkin, carrots and cauliflower
  • Peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas and corn
  • Celery, radishes and peeled broccoli stems
  • Olives, artichoke hearts, pickles, hearts of palm, capers and pepperoncini peppers
  • Large or mini sweet peppers

Tubers and grains

Roasted or boiled tubers like potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams work well in a chopped salad. So do cooked grains like rice, amaranth, millet and quinoa. Pasta is another option.

Fruit

Fresh fruit is a delicious addition. Berries and small chunks of apple, papaya, mango and pear lend bursts of sweetness. Avocados and tomatoes work wonderfully, too.

Dressings

Gild your salad with a dressing that complements the ingredients. Buy one off the shelf or shake one up yourself. Epicurious and The Food Network offer many dressing recipes.

Inspired combinations

No recipe is required to make a chopped salad. But these flavor combinations can serve as a starting point if you’re new to chopped salads, or they may inspire you to put your own twist on them:

  • Corn, black beans, cilantro, red onion and lime
  • Roasted beets, toasted walnuts, goat cheese and orange segments
  • Sweet peppers, corn, tomatoes, barbecued chicken, avocado and ranch dressing
  • Chicken or shrimp, cucumber, sweet peppers, shredded carrots, cilantro, toasted peanuts, wonton strips and a slightly sweet dressing
  • Feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, scallions, Greek olives, oregano, and oil and vinegar
  • Raw fennel, apple, chicken, goat cheese, cucumber, tarragon, red onion and romaine lettuce
  • Fennel, cucumber, pomegranate seeds and pear

Feel free to innovate and invent.

Do you have a favorite chopped salad combo that’s not mentioned here? Share it with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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