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Herb-tastic Chopped Salad

Set up your workstation

Before we get started, let’s set up this whole enterprise up for success (and efficiency)!

Get out 2 bowls:

  • a large one to contain all your chopped veggies and to mix your final salad in
  • a small one to contain all the trash

Having a trash bowl makes it easier for you to work quickly and keep your counter clean. It sure beats running to the trash every minute or so!

Set the bowls near your cutting board and let’s start.

Let’s quickly review our knife skills

If you’re already a certified ninja, feel free to skip this step.

Otherwise, let’s do a quick review of basic knife skills:

First, make sure you are holding your knife correctly. Grip the handle firmly in the center, or with your hand slightly forward so your index finger and thumb are grabbing the blade. Either is fine, just choose whichever one is comfortable for you.

Do not put your index finger on top of the blade, as this gives you less control over the knife.

Second, practice the correct chopping motion. You want to slide the knife forward with each downward motion. Sliding does the work of cutting the food for you. Do not move your knife directly up and down. This makes it hard to control where you place the next chop. It also means you have to work harder to force the knife through the food. (Try it on a tomato, skin side up, to see what I mean.)

Finally, make sure your non-knife hand is positioned correctly. The goal is to use your knuckles to protect the very tips of your fingers. You’ll do this by curling your fingertips under like a cat’s claw, and positioning the knife right up against the knuckles, which act like a kind of shield or guard. This has the added benefit of helping guide your cutting so it’s more accurate.

Whatever you do, don’t lift your knife higher than your knuckles. If you follow this one rule, you will never cut yourself.

By the way, I call this the “claw grip.” Because why not.

Does it feel weird to have the metal right up against your skin? Yeah, it takes some getting used to. But this is the way professional chefs do it all around the world, from Spain to China. It allows them to chop speedily and accurately. Learn it, take it slowly at first, and gradually you’ll adapt to it.

Okay, let’s get ready to chop some actual vegetables!

Cut vegetables into 1/2-inch dice; mince garlic and scallions (if using)

Here’s the fun part—magically turning food into smaller food!

The specifics vary depending on the type of vegetable you have, but in the video I will illustrate a couple different methods using a tomato, a cucumber, and a red onion.

Tip: How do you know what ½” is without consulting a ruler? Easy: measure your index finger, and make a mental note of roughly how wide it is. Next time you see instructions saying 1” pieces of ¾” dice, you’ll always have something on hand to reference! (Ahahahaa, I need to stop.)

Here’s how you cut everything:

  • Tomato – Pull off the little leafy stem. Cut the tomato in half vertically. Lay the cut side down flat for stability, and cut into ½” slices. Take the top slice, cut out the little stemmy bit, and then cut into ½” strips. Do not stack more than 2 slices at a time, as tomato can be slippery. Cut the strips into ½” cubes and you’re done!
  • Cucumber – Peel (optional). Then cut it in half the long way and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds (also optional). Cut the long strips the long way again until they are roughly ½” wide. Dice into cubes. Done!
  • Red onion – There is a special trick to dicing onions. First, cut off both ends, but not too much. You don’t want to see the rings on the root end. Then cut it in half, which exposes the layers. Grab the top layer to yank off the peel. Then lay the cut side down flat, and cut almost all the way, but not completely through to the root end. (Watch the video). Then (and this is tricky, so be super careful!) hold down the onion at the very top, and make a horizontal cut, again not all the way through to the root end. Finally, slice the onion parallel to the root end and you will see it fall to pieces. This is extremely fun and gratifying!
  • Red bell pepper – Cut the pepper in half vertically, through the stem. Then rip out the stem and seeds. If seeds are sticking, hold it over a sink or trash can and smack the pepper. The sseds will fall right out. Now slice the pepper into strips lengthwise. Grab a few strips at a time and cut them into dice. Repeat until done.
  • Avocado – Cut it in half around the pit, rotating to get all the way around. Twist to pull apart. Wedge the knife in the center of the pit using a gentle back and forth rocking motion. Do not force it—it could go onto your hand! Once the knife is wedged in there, twist and the pit will come out. Grab the pit with a towel (to protect your hand) and pull it off. Then take a spoon and scoop out the avocado in one piece. Cut into dice as you would a tomato.
  • Scallion – Cut off the root end, line ‘em up, and make close-together cuts to create tiny disks. Since scallions have such a strong flavor that you want them to be cut small, so you can evenly distribute them throughout the salad. Also limit yourself to one or two stalks.
  • Garlic – Lay your knife flat on top of a single clove and then HULK SMASH the knife with your fist. This will loosen the skin. Peel it off. Slice it thinly, then cut into small strips, then dice. It’s like dicing any other vegetable, except in miniature!

When you are done cutting everything, put it all in a large mixing bowl.

Exact proportions really do not matter. However, you may want to be careful how much alliums (members of the onion family) you add. Add too much, and your salad can be kind of intense and onion-y. So start off by adding ⅓ to ½ of your red onion. Adjust based on preferences. If you have any onions left over, sauté them and add it on top of a fried egg for breakfast. Yum!

Mince the herbs

The first thing you want to do (besides wash all the dirt off them), is pull off the tender leaves from the tough stems. Toss the stems, or save them in a ziploc baggie in your freezer for making veggie stock.

Now you have a nice big pile o’ leaves. Great!

Mincing herbs is a little bit different from cutting a nice big hunk of veg because… well, there are all these crazy little leaves scattered around. What to do?

Never fear, there is no wrong way about it. Basically you just kind of go nuts at them until they are small enough for your liking. Watch the video if you don’t believe me.

Okay okay, I’m being flip. There are some actual tips:

When starting out, try to gather the leaves as close together as possible. Use your fingers like a cage to keep them contained, remembering the very important rule of keeping your fingers curled inward (The almighty claw grip!). Then just do your best to cut them into thin strips.

Once they’ve gone through this initial pass, switch to placing your non-knife hand on top of the blade. Use it to pin down the front of your knife and pivot the knife around this point as you chop. The extra pressure from your hand helps cut all the way through the thin leaves.

And that’s all there is to it. Keep chopping this way until the herbs are nice and minced to your liking.

Add lemon juice and olive oil. Toss to serve.

Add about 2 tablespoons of good quality extra-virgin olive oil

Then squeeze in a quarter to a half of a lemon. Start with a quarter of the lemon first, then do a test test. If it’s not lemony enough, squeeze in the other quarter. You can slice the rest of the lemon thin and put it in water or iced tea.

Here’s a trick for keeping the seeds out of your salad: catch them with your other hand. The juice will leak through your fingers, but the seeds will stay put.

Finally, add some salt and pepper.

Toss, taste, and repeat until the seasoning is just right.

Let’s eat!

Nicely done!

You made some delicious food. Now go enjoy it!

P.S. - If you want to show off your work on the lesson gallery, send me a picture.

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