A Salad for All Seasons: Chef Michel Nischan's 'Use a Spoon' Chopped Salad
When it opened in Westport, Conn., in 2006, the Dressing Room — which, sadly, was shuttered in 2014 — was a pioneer of the region’s now ubiquitous farm-to-table movement. Co-founded by Chef Michel Nischan and the late actor Paul Newman, the restaurant embraced local and organic ingredients in such dishes as Iroquois White Corn Soup and Hook-and-Line Crisp Baked Chatham Cod. Here, many a meal began with the crisp, easy-to-eat “Use a Spoon” Chopped Salad, an antidote to the plethora of bowls dominated by unwieldy iceberg chunks.
Nischan, a longtime champion of eating sustainably, now devotes all his time to Wholesome Wave. The nonprofit organization, launched in 2007 at Newman’s urging, makes fresh and healthy produce more accessible to low-income families in underserved communities so that they can turn out such seasonally flexible creations as the “Use a Spoon” Chopped Salad in their own kitchens.
Nischan encourages you to use your imagination when whipping up this salad, using whatever is at its peak in the market. “So, depending on where you live, in the spring that could be strawberries, asparagus, sugar snap peas or softer herbs like young parsley,” he explains. “Even spring-dug parsnip, which is doubly sweet after being in the ground so long, is a great addition when lightly roasted or poached. Goat cheese matches all these flavors.”
While the salad’s makeup is contingent upon the market’s bounty, Nischan says it’s important that several taste and texture profiles are always accounted for: earthy, tangy, crunchy, rich and sweet. Even the oils can rotate through, say, olive, grapeseed, sunflower and argan.
“Experiment. Don’t be afraid to mix it up,” he says. “This dish gets to be your journey through the seasons.” Here’s one beloved version.
“Use a Spoon” Chopped Salad
Recipe courtesy of Chef Michel Nischan
1 1/2 cups Riesling vinegar or other white wine vinegar
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large red bell pepper, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 heirloom apple, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin or Roxbury Russet, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup sliced treviso or radicchio
1 cup sliced arugula
1 cup thinly sliced napa, savoy or other soft cabbage
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups crumbled local goat cheese
1/2 cup toasted almond slivers
Bring the vinegar to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery and carrots. Remove the pan from the heat. Set aside to cool.
When the vinegar is cool, add the bell peppers. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
Strain the chilled vegetables through a sieve. Reserve the vinegar and the vegetables separately.
Mix together the apple, cucumber, treviso, arugula and cabbage in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the reserved vinegar and the oil, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the goat cheese and almonds to the bowl and toss to mix. Divide among 6 small bowls or plates.
Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer who covers the intersection of food, drink, travel and design. She launched her career by opening boxes of Jamie Oliver books as a Food Network intern.