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This chopped salad with lemony dressing is what we want on hot spring days

Chopped salad
(Hanna Carter / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started. Each day we’re going to post a new skill here and go into detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.

Lesson 28: Chopped Salad With Citrus Soy Dressing

Somewhere between all the quarantine cookies and cakes and crusty loaves in my kitchen, there’s salad. A lot of it. If you’re a born-and-bred Angeleno like me, salad is nostalgia, especially when temperatures rise above 80 degrees. On those days, all I want is cold, crisp vegetables in a light, bright dressing.

When I was a kid, that meant iceberg lettuce with Chinese-chicken-salad dressing. Whether or not the salad included chicken, the dressing hit the spot every time. It was a little sweet and a little sour with the umami savoriness of soy sauce and the unmistakable toasted richness of sesame oil.

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I’ve updated the sugary vinegar mix I grew up on to this lemony version. It’s a way of capturing the last of the citrus season by using lots of zest and juice. Limes or other tart citrus work as well. Citrus juice has a more mellow sourness than vinegar, and its tangy side is highlighted here with the nuanced sweetness of honey or maple syrup. The other ingredients are adaptable as well. Although I often stick with soy sauce, I sometimes use miso instead. Garlic provides a sharp bite, but onion, scallion or shallot can as well.

I usually avoid pulling out my blender because I don’t want to wash it, but I think it’s worth it here. Blending the bits of lemon zest and garlic into the dressing not only distributes their flavors evenly, it also thickens the dressing a bit for a more satisfying salad. (Of course, you can whisk this mix by hand after grating the lemon zest and garlic.)

As for the salad itself, anything goes. This tastes as good on delicate mixed greens as it does on sturdy kale and works for grain bowls too. I love it most on chopped salad though.

To compose the best chopped salad, get whatever crisp vegetables look best, wash them well and dry them, then cut into ½-inch pieces. Whether you slice or dice, you want the bits to be uniform and the right size for getting a mix of goodies in each mouthful. The key to ensuring a delicious meal is tossing the dressing with the mix rather than simply drizzling it over, which will give you some really tasty bites and some bland ones.

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You can include cooked vegetables, such as chilled roasted ones. For a heartier vegan meal, add grains, beans or nuts. A vegetarian option can include boiled jammy eggs or cheese, and a fully loaded salad can be topped with flaked, cooked or tinned fish or shredded leftover chicken or sliced meat in any form. As long as you keep a jar of this dressing in the fridge, you can have a meal ready in minutes.

This simple salad dressing recipe combines tangy lemon juice with salty soy sauce and rich toasted sesame oil. It tastes great tossed with any chopped vegetables.


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