Michelle Palmer: Chopped salad with mom’s dressing (recipe)

Spring has sprung! Well officially it was this past Monday; mother nature did not get the memo for some reason. Many are escaping the snow by traveling to where there is none. So bathing suit weather is still going to happen here in Northern Nevada at some time, we hope.

Salads have come a long way from the iceberg only days to the chopped salad aka early 1960s the celebrity salad was an obsession. Angelinos were eating shards of iceberg; romaine, salami, and mozzarella, all hacked so fine you barely had to chew. It was, like most of LAs cultural exports, a celebrity-driven phenomenon, one that began at a clubby Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1956.

La Scala was where the charismatic restaurateur Jean Leon fed his famous friends. Natalie Wood is often credited with first having the idea to chop the restaurant’s “gourmet salad.”

It’s an apocryphal story that drives Jean’s daughter Gigi Leon crazy. The reality, she says, is that “people were wearing evening gowns and tuxedos and complaining that the salad was messy and hard to eat, so my dad and the chef thought, why don’t we chop it?”

It was a practical solution to a 1 percenter’s problem, and, while it may not have been the first salad to be diced to death, La Scala was the first to ink the words “chopped salad” on a restaurant’s menu. They still serve about 400 chops a day. For a younger generation of eaters, it’s just as famous and addicting as the one she fell in love with nearly 40 years ago. (Gillian Ferguson, 2017, Bon Appétit)

My belief is for an entrée salad you need plenty of dark leafy greens, some being bitter, treating protein as a condiment, not the center of the plate. Lots of color from the elements on the plate for eye appeal and healing properties that comes from them.

Years ago, I learned about natural healing properties of natural color in food from farmer Mary MacDonald (RIP) of Beautiful Food Farm that was in Silver City.


1 cup arugula

1 cup romaine, thin chiffonad

1 cup green cabbage, thin chiffonade

1 cup iceberg, thin chiffonade

1 cup beet greens, thin chiffonade

6 spring onions, sliced thin on the angle

1 cooked yellow beet, small diced

1 small red onion, small diced

1 English cucumber, seeds removed, small diced

1/2 cup saffron cooked barley

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

2 hard boiled eggs, shredded

6 pearl tomatoes’ sliced 1/8 inch

2 ounces cooked diced chicken

For the salad

In a large salad bowl toss arugula, green cabbage, beet greens, romaine, iceberg, spring onions, red onions, English cucumbers, sliced pearl tomatoes.

Add dressing and toss gently until well coated. Sprinkle diced beets, quinoa, barley, diced chicken, and top with hard boiled eggs. Add additional kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Chefs note: For more color; pedals from edible flowers can be sprinkled.

For the dressing

Whisk in a bowl, 1/3 cup mayo, 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon dijon, 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, 1 shallot diced small, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Rest at least 1 hour for flavors to marinate. Servings for two. Enjoy.

Michelle Palmer is owner of Absolutely Michelle’s Chef-for-Hire. 


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