Every summer I become fixated on a new salad recipe and this season my attention turned to the Stetson Chopped Salad.
I love chopped salads -- probably because their bite-sized pieces are so easy to eat -- and this version delivers a combination of bright, salty and smoky flavors with unexpected textures.
While you might associate chopped salads with Mediterranean cuisine, where salads often include an assortment of fresh chopped vegetables on a bed of greens, this style of salad can be made with any combination of vegetables and some restaurants are happy to transform any salad into the chopped variety before delivering it to your table.
The Stetson Chopped Salad -- a combo of chopped salad that combines peppery arugula, diced tomatoes, couscous, chewy dried currants, buttery pepitas, sharp Asiago cheese and sweet crunchy dried corn and a pesto buttermilk dressing -- finds its roots at the Cowboy Ciao restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona.
At the restaurant chef Bernie Kantak adds smoked salmon to the lineup. He presents the salad as rows of individual ingredients. Servers drizzle the dressing table side and plate the dish for diners.
I owe my exposure to this special salad to my friend Linda who brought it to a "layered-" themed luncheon. At that first bite I was drawn to the freeze-dried corn.
For me, freeze-dried corn makes this salad. It is as light as a feather, crunchy and so sweet that if you close your eyes you'll think you're at a summer picnic. Unfortunately, this ingredient is not available at all grocery stores. I've found it at the Spice House in Geneva where owner John Cirpinski assures me the super-sweet corn is freeze-dried at its peak of sweetness.
Freeze-dried corn is so sweet that you might think it's been sprinkled with additional sugar, but the only ingredient is corn. The Spice House staff suggests using this corn instead of croutons in salads and soups or stirring it into corn muffins and trail mix. Until this salad, my favorite way to eat it was right out of the bag! If you can't find it, use a high quality fresh or frozen variety corn.
Another nice feature of this salad is its versatility. Feel free to substitute ingredients (except the corn!) to suit your tastes or consider using the dressing as a great vegetable dip.
Later this summer I'll demonstrate this salad and my California Roll Salad (May 2013) at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn. Stop in between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aug. 26 for samples and conversation. You've been reading about my culinary adventures, come out and tell me some of yours.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.