I’m not a salad guy. Usually when someone suggests I have a salad, I’m offended. Do I look like cattle? Do I look like I enjoy grazing? Give me people feed, please.
Then, one day, I was flipping through Jake Cohen’s Jew-ish cookbook. I came across a beautiful-looking dish in the salad section.
“What’s this?” I ask my wife, Melanie.
This was not the salad that I’ve come to associated with instant rage. This was a salad without the leafy greens, focusing instead on fresh veggies, like tomatoes and cucumber, alongside stale bread. This was a panzanella––a Tuscan chopped salad.
Many recipes I’ve come across recommend toasting the bread instead of waiting for it to go stale. I bake a challah just about every Friday, so I have bread to toast. I’ve also married into a Greek-American family and have learned that almost every dish can be enhanced with a little feta. Then, I throw in the traditional cucumber, tomatoes (sometimes cherry, sometimes plum), and whatever other veggies I’ve got handy. In this case, I used red bell pepper and I topped it all with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and balsamic crema.
This is a salad I actually crave, especially on the kind of hot summer afternoon and evenings we’ve been having as I write this in Berlin. The way the bread soaks up the goodness of the balsamic is what makes this dish for me. If you’re someone who similarly loathes the idea of eating salad and salad alone for a meal, give this one a try. You might be surprised.
Panzanella Tuscan Chopped Salad with Challah and Feta
- 225 grams challah (or other bread) chopped into cubes
- 2 tbsp olive oil drizzle over bread cubes
- 1/2 onion sliced
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 3-4 tomatoes medium sized
- 1/2 cucumber chopped and quartered
- 1/2 red bell pepper chopped
- feta to taste
- 1 tbsp olive oil drizzle over salad
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar drizzle over salad
- 3-4 basil leaves whole or cut
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- Pre-heat oven to 350 F (175 C) and chop challah (or other bread) into cubes.
- Put bread cubes into a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until toasted.
- Slice one onion, place in a bowl, and cover with lemon juice––a tip my wife got from a Samin Nosrat podcast.
- Chop tomatoes and place in the bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Peel, chop, and quarter half of a cucumber.
- Place everything in the bowl into a colander and let liquid run out. Place everything back in the bowl.
- Cube as much feta as you want and throw it into the bowl.
- Assemble your salad.
- Take the bread cubes out of the oven and place into your salad.
- Cut 3-4 leaves of basil into your salad.
- Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad. (Balsamic crema, optional.)