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Growing up in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to enjoy just about every version of the famous Brown Derby Cobb salad that was offered. You can still find the original Cobb salad, named after Bob Cobb, the owner of the Brown Derby, at any number of California restaurants. In fact, this salad has become a national favorite in restaurants across the country. Chopped iceberg lettuce is the basic ingredient, along with blue cheese, cooked chicken, crisp, crumbled bacon, diced avocado and tomato garnishes. Sometimes it comes mixed and other times it is presented with a pretty design of all of the ingredients on top.
Chefs love to create their own signature versions of this classic, and so can you. Some other flavor additions or substitutions you might consider include sweet red or orange bell peppers, cucumbers, provolone, feta cheese or even olives. Another favorite of mine is to chop up chilled grilled vegetables and top with some goat cheese.
This reinterpreted recipe is a family favorite when it's just too hot to cook. Take the freshest greens, add perfectly ripe chopped tomatoes, raw sweet corn, a sprinkling of sliced hearts of palm and toasted pistachios, and dress with a peppery basil vinaigrette. For a more substantial main course salad, add cooked chicken or seafood. Begin with bowls of your favorite chilled soup for an al fresco light lunch or dinner. Don't forget some crusty French or Italian bread and small bowls of fruity olive oil for dipping.
Summer Chopped Salad with Basil Vinaigrette
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup packed coarsely chopped basil leaves
1/2 pound of fresh mixed salad greens, finely chopped
1 large ripe tomato, coarsely chopped
1 (14.5 ounce) jar hearts of palm, rinsed and sliced
1/4 European cucumber, finely chopped
1 fresh ear of white or sweet yellow corn, husked and kernels cut off (see note)
1/4 cup shelled and chopped pistachio nuts, toasted
1 avocado, peeled and sliced, for garnish
1. In a food processor, combine the shallot, vinegar, lemon juice and mustard, and process to combine. Slowly add the oil, whisking to incorporate. Add the salt and pepper and basil, and pulse until well blended. Taste for seasoning.
2. Combine all salad ingredients into a large salad bowl. Add dressing and toss until all vegetables are well coated. Transfer to serving plates and garnish with avocado slices. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper on the salad if desired, and serve.
Note: To remove the corn kernels from the cob, break the husked corncob in two. Hold each half vertically, resting on the blunt end for stability, and slide a chef's knife down the sides, releasing the corn kernels.
To toast the pistachios, place on baking sheet in 350 F oven and toast for 3 to 5 minutes. Cool.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Holidays," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)