I’m not really much of a restaurant foodie. I have no particular interest in finding the hottest or most out-of-the-way restaurant in a city, or in reviewing every aspect of a restaurant experience. I try not to spend a lot of time singing the praises of this or that high-priced restaurant dish. With one exception: the chopped salad at Chaya Brasserie in San Francisco.
I cannot shut up about this salad. I’ve been to Chaya for a few business lunches, and I order it every time. At a restaurant renowned for its exquisite sushi and pitch-perfect entrees, it’s the salad that gets me. It’s basically a Niçoise salad on steroids, with chicken and smoked salmon and olives and green beans and eggs and cheese and bell peppers and nuts and croutons and probably other stuff too, all diced into perfect miniature cubes and dressed with a gauzy lemon vinaigrette. It’s hefty and satisfying, yet light enough that I don’t have to roll down the sidewalk afterward. The mingling of textures–creamy and crunchy and fluffy and prickly–is exactly what a salad should be. It’s beautifully composed and perfectly seasoned. I dream about this salad.
But I can’t afford to eat it all the time. So I have to do the next best thing: try to make it myself. My version of this salad is rougher and less manicured than the Chaya version, like a younger cousin without quite so much jewelry. But you know what? It’s still just as delicious.
For my chopped salad, I blanch a handful of haricots verts and hard-boil a couple of eggs, chop up a pepper and flake some lox with a fork. Then it all gets piled on greens, maybe with a few herbs mixed in, and some olives and goat cheese to bump up the salty-rich factor. Then I make a quick dressing with some of my beloved preserved lemons, and mush everything all together with my fork. It’s a real riot on the plate, nubbly and colorful and full of powerful flavors. Even my boyfriend agrees that it’s one of the best salads he’s ever had.
This salad is easily a meal in itself. It’ll fill you up without knocking you out. Add a glass of wine, and maybe a nibble of something sweet, and I seriously cannot think of a better self-pampering lunch.
Chopped Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette (makes 2 entree-sized salads)
Inspired by Chaya Brasserie
4 oz haricots verts or green beans
1/2 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup (a couple handfuls) pitted Kalamata, Nicoise, or other black olives
2 oz feta cheese or goat cheese, crumbled
3 oz smoked salmon, flaked into small pieces
4 oz mixed salad greens, washed and thoroughly dried
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 tbsp fresh chopped dill
For the vinaigrette:
1 1/2 tbsp minced preserved lemon
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
*Here’s my usual method for hard-boiled eggs: place the eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by about an inch. Cover the pan and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat and let the pan stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and immediately run them under cold water until they’re cool enough to handle.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water, then add the green beans and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water until the beans are cool to the touch. Pat dry, and set aside.
Whisk together the preserved lemon, vinegar, and black pepper in a small bowl or measuring cup. Set aside for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. (Use this time to prepare the other ingredients.)
When ready to serve, whisk the olive oil into the vinegar mixture in a slow, steady stream, until the vinaigrette is thick and glossy. Toss together the salad greens, parsley, and dill, then divide between serving plates. Top each plate of greens with the beans, egg, bell pepper, olives, cheese, and smoked salmon. Drizzle over the vinaigrette, and serve immediately.