If you’ve ever fallen in love with a zesty, colorful bowl of greens, radicchio, tomatoes, and yellow peppers, then this vegan Italian chopped salad is for you! It’s a plant-based spin on a classic, and it incorporates chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes for heartiness and umami without meat. An herbed Italian dressing and cashew “Parmesan” cheese ensure that the salad is packed with flavor.
Today’s vegan Italian chopped salad is posted in honor of an annual event: my winter salad craze.
Yes, summer is usually hailed as salad season. But without fail, come January or February, I start to find myself craving salads like crazy. In fact, I crave them more right now than I ever do in the summertime.
Much as I’m enjoying winter this year, it’s a lot of time indoors.
A big, bright, colorful, crispy, and crunchy salad feels like the perfect counterbalance to many weeks of sunlessness, soup, and root vegetables.
But the type of salads that I need to help offset the drag of winter are bursting with color. They’re boldly flavored and have lots of acid.
And what could possibly offer more crunch and color than an Italian chopped salad?
Much like Italian dressing, Italian chopped salad is really an American recipe. It features chopped vegetables and mix-ins that are associated with Italian cuisine.
The precise combination of ingredients can vary from recipe to recipe. Most Italian chopped salad recipes will call for any combination of the following:
As you can see, there’s some range. I’ve even seen short, cooked pasta, like ditalini, thrown into the mix. (Not a bad idea.)
The dressing for Italian chopped salad is usually Italian vinaigrette.
I have a vegan recipe for this. Like most Italian dressings, it’s made with olive oil, red or white wine vinegar, herbs, and a touch of sweetness; I use a scant teaspoon of maple syrup.
Chopped is part of the recipe description because most salads of this kind are chopped into similarly-sized pieces before mixing and serving.
As I was looking into the history of this recipe, I was able to trace it not to any single Italian antipasti dish, but rather to a few iconic chopped salads from Hollywood restaurants.
One of them—the OG, perhaps—is the famous La Scala chopped salad. It’s different from many Italian chopped salad recipes, but it’s certainly a relative of them.
Maybe I’ll veganize that one next!
Most Italian chopped salad recipes rely on salami and cheese for umami and substance. In order to make a vegan version of the recipe, I made added three intentional ingredients.
First, I added a legume, chickpeas, to the salad. I wouldn’t say that they’re a replacement or substitution for meat from a flavor or texture perspective, but the chickpeas are certainly a nutritious plant protein source.
I love chickpeas in a salad, and I also associate them with Italian fare. The pasta e ceci is possibly my favorite recipe in my cookbook, The Vegan Week.
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
Chickpeas help to give my vegan chopped salad heartiness, and their texture is pleasant with the other ingredients.
If you’d like to give the salad even more texture (and flavor), you could use my crispy roasted chickpeas in place of regular cooked chickpeas.
Secondly, I helped to preserve the spirit of the original dish by throwing in finely chopped, sun-dried tomatoes.
These tomatoes are super rich in umami, and umami is the savoriness and taste perception of protein that’s often associated with meat.
In addition, sun-dried tomatoes have a wonderfully concentrated, salty flavor.
Finally, I add a few big spoonfuls of my cashew parmesan cheese to the chopped salad. This “cheese” is really a finely ground mixture of cashews, nutritional yeast, and salt.
It’s a delightful, versatile topping that delivers umami and saltiness, just as grated cheese might in an omnivorous recipe.
Taken together, these ingredients help to make the vegan Italian chopped salad authentic, while allowing it to have a spirit of its own.
As I mentioned, each version of this type of salad is bound to have its own list of ingredients. Here’s what I like to use:
A few notes about those components.
First, the sun-dried tomatoes. These tend to come in a few different forms.
One is whole or julienned and packed in a mixture of olive oil and herbs. That variety is fine to use for this recipe. Their marinade ought to add extra flavor.
Another type of sun-dried tomato that you might encounter is preserved, yet ready to eat. It’s easy to find this kind of sun-dried tomato if you poke around Amazon or look in stores.
They should be plump, soft, and tender, and they’re great for use in the chopped salad.
Finally, you might also come across sun-dried tomatoes that are very dry, and they’re not labeled as ready-to-eat. Instead, they require soaking in hot water in order to be reconstituted and soft enough for eating.
I don’t love this latter variety of tomato; I just don’t think they have the same intensity of flavor as the first two to begin with, and water soaking only dilutes the flavor further.
If they’re the only type of sun-dried tomato you can locate, that’s OK, but I’d try to find one of the first two options if you can.
I don’t have a high tolerance for heat in food, so banana peppers are my go-to rather than pepperoncini, which are considerably spicier.
Both types of marinated yellow pepper are a standard addition to Italian chopped salad, and you can use whichever you prefer. Banana peppers are usually labeled as “mild,” and they’re not hard to find in grocery stores or online.
The salad calls for red onion, which can be raw if that’s what is easy and what you have at home.
For less of a raw onion “bite,” you can use my 10-minute quick pickled onions instead.
You can use chickpeas that are straight from a can or you can use my crispy roasted chickpeas in the recipe. If you like to soak and cook beans from dry, you’ll need about 1 1/2 cups in order to make the salad.
I love the way that this dressing, which is a vinaigrette, works in the chopped salad. However, you can substitute another dressing that you love.
Essentially, the preparation process for this vibrant salad is as simple as chopping—lots of chopping—and then mixing.
You’ll begin by chopping and dicing all of the main ingredients, then piling them into a good, roomy mixing bowl.
Next, it’s time to use your palate in order to season and finish dressing the salad.
I always start by adding the cashew Parmesan and about half of the dressing. I mix well and taste the salad.
To adjust the seasoning, I add any additional salt that’s needed. I also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. My heat tolerance may be modest, but this salad is supposed to be zesty, after all!
Then, I add as much additional dressing as needed. The salad should be quite well dressed, but not dripping with vinaigrette.
I find that adding the dressing in stages helps me to incorporate just the right amount.
At this point, the salad is ready to serve.
I tend to think that this salad is best when it’s just freshly mixed, or after 1-2 days in an airtight container in the fridge.
A little bit of time to marinate actually helps all of the flavors to meld. Too much storage time can result in a limp salad.
If you need to, you can cut the recipe in half. You can also meal prep the salad by getting all of the chopping taken care of—the most laborious step in the recipe—then store the components and mix freshly when you’re ready to eat.
That’s what I do when I’m planning on serving the salad to friends, as part of a meal (I’m big on make-ahead cooking when I play hostess).
And I can vouch for the fact that the chopped salad is a big crowd pleaser.
I’m hoping that this bright, zippy bowl can be a pleasant side dish for some of your upcoming meals.
Now matter how you serve it, enjoy!