If you ask me, chopped salads are a genius invention.
This main dish Tex-Mex inspired salad makes a family-friend supper that’s teaming with texture and flavor. Crunchy vegetables and sweet corn pair with a tangy, cilantro-flecked dressing.
It’s tossed with chicken thighs dredged in old-school taco seasoning mix and cooked in a hot skillet. Crunchy tortilla chips and salty Cotija cheese help the whole thing come together.
It’s a crowd-pleasing dish that runs on the lighter side, a perfect warm weather meal.
Who Invented the Chopped Salad?
As far as I can gather, the concept of chopped salads sprung from the Hollywood scene.
Some say the trend started in the 70s at a Beverly Hills restaurant called La Scala, but if you consider the Cobb, the original chopped salad, that was invented in the 1930s at the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles.
Since then, entire restaurant chains have been built around the chopped salad. You can find every possible iteration, right down to this scrumptious Tex-Mex version.
What Is a Chopped Salad?
When it comes to chopped salads every ingredient is cut small and about the same size. The beauty of this dish is you get a taste of every ingredient in every single bite.
If you turn a classic chicken Caesar into a chopped Caesar, for example, you’ll get lettuce, crouton, cheese, and chicken in every forkful rather than just a single leaf of Romaine draped in dressing.
How Do You Make a Chopped Salad?
There is no formula for making the perfect chopped salad. It’s more of a general idea. That said, I consider the following to be key elements:
- Plenty of texture
- An assortment of ingredients
- Everything cut small and relatively uniform
Chopped salads emphasize crunch, so Romaine, Little Gems, and iceberg are prized over delicate lettuces, like arugula and spring mix. In addition to the lettuce, crunchy raw vegetables, diced fruit, toasted nuts, and little croutons are all fair game.
You can work in the likes of chickpeas, dried fruit, diced cheese, and other softer ingredients, as long as the rest of the salad has texture and crunch.
Chopped Salad Flavor Variations
As for flavor, anything goes, but make sure the ingredients belong together.
- Mediterranean: cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and mint.
- Italian: romaine, red onions, salami, and peppers.
- Waldorf: celery, walnuts, apple, and chicken.
- Classic Cobb: lettuce, chopped egg, and bacon bits.
A Family-Friendly Salad
This Tex Mex chopped salad checks the box for its appeal to less adventurous eaters. It’s got everything folks love about old-school, hard shell tacos, only in salad form. For the more selective in your crew, serve this salad deconstructed and let everyone assemble and dress their own.
How Long Does a Chopped Salad Last?
Once all of your ingredients are prepped and before you dress the salad, you can stash the pre-chopped ingredients in the fridge for one to two days before it really starts to head south. Leave any crunchy bits, such as croutons, tortilla chips, or toasted nuts separate and add those just before dressing the salad.
Swaps and Substitutions
This salad lends itself to endless swaps and substitutions. You can swap proteins, add different vegetables, or use different cheeses. Almost anything goes.
- Animal protein options: Pork tenderloin, flank steaks, shrimp, or chicken breast can all be swapped for chicken thighs. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed.
- Make it vegetarian: Use extra-firm tofu cut into slabs and then prepped just like the chicken. It’s delicate, so pile it on top of the salad instead of tossing it in.
- Add beans: One to two cups of cooked black beans will add some heft and dose of healthy fiber.
- Go greener: Add diced avocado seasoned with a pinch of salt
- Swap the cheese: use grated sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack.
More Crisp and Crunchy Salad Recipes
- Cobb Salad
- Easy Greek Salad
- Chicken Panzanella Salad
- Tomato, Onion, Avocado Salad
- Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad
Tex-Mex Chopped Chicken Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing
- For the salad
- 6 cups Romaine lettuce, chopped and packed
- 1 medium red pepper, diced
- 1 cup English or Persian cucumber, diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon plus1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or frozen and thawed
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
- 12 corn tortilla chips
- 1/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese
- For the dressing
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine salad ingredients:
Combine the lettuce, red pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions in a large serving bowl. Set aside.
Char the corn:
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium or large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the corn.
Season corn with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until blackened in spots and tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Season the chicken:
Sprinkle the taco seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon salt over the surface of the chicken, rubbing it in and coating so chicken is fully seasoned.
Cook the chicken:
In the same skillet used to cook the corn add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook until deeply brown along the bottom and the flesh turns opaque about halfway up the side, 4 to 5 minutes.
Flip the chicken and continue cooking, until brown on the second side and fully cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes.
Cut the chicken:
Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. Once it is cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized pieces.
Make the salad dressing:
Place the lime juice, vinegar, honey, cumin, salt, pepper, cilantro, and olive oil into a blender and blend until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of water, if needed, to get the blender going.
Alternatively, make this dressing by hand. Finely chop the cilantro and place in a medium bowl. Combine all salad dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth.
Finish and serve the salad:
Add the corn and chicken into the bowl with the salad ingredients. Crumble the tortilla chips over the top.
Add about two-thirds of the dressing and toss to lightly coat. Add more dressing and toss again, if needed. Divide salad into 4 bowls, top with crumbled Cotija cheese, and serve.