Cooking inspiration often comes to me from unexpected places. A few weeks ago, a friend posted this photo on Instagram:
The textures and the colors intrigued me. With a little digging, I pinpointed the salad to be the Stetson Chopped from Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Not having any plans to travel to Scottsdale in the near future, I set out to recreate the salad in my kitchen. A few recipes are floating around on the internet with slight variations in quantities but consistent with the actual ingredients. Although nothing about making the salad is incredibly difficult, the components can be hard to come by — or labor intensive and time consuming in and of themselves.
For example, I couldn’t find dried sweet corn either at my local Farmer’s Market or at Whole Foods (so instead I used dried corn mixed with fresh sweet corn). And instead of making my own pesto and aioli (I was in a rush since every moment from seeing that photo above was another moment I wasn’t eating those flavors), I used store-bought, prepared options.
The result was one excellent salad. It had great crunch from the dried corn, a sweetness from the currants, a saltiness from the smoked salmon — each and every element had its purpose. My husband declared it the best salad that he has ever eaten.
Truth be told, recreating the flavors from a dish never before tasted — but only imagined — pricked me with stings of insecurity and self-doubt. While the others around my dinner table happily (one could even say joyously) inhaled the salad, I chewed thoughtfully. “Is this what it tastes like at Cowboy Ciao?” “I bet it would be better if I made my own pesto — especially that Ina Garten recipe...” “I’m sure it’s even better with the dried sweet corn — can I order it online?” And so on.
But the fun starts here. This recipe is a great base and I will tweak as appropriate for my next few tries. And maybe when we roll through Scottsdale months from now (golf, anyone?) and order a Stetson Chopped, it will be an entirely different beast from my own. And there’s some fun in that.
2 cups chopped smoked salmon
2 cups dried sweet corn kernels
1 cup grated asiago cheese
1 cup roasted pepitas
1 cup dried currants
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 cups chopped arugulaDressing
2 small shallots, diced
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup aioli
1/2 cup pesto
Aioli (pulse all ingredients in food processor)
3/4 cup good quality mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pesto (pulse all ingredients in food processor)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaf
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Arrange rows of the individual dry ingredients on a large round shallow serving plate.
- Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, combine the shallots, buttermilk, 1 cup aioli, 1/2 cup pesto, lemon juice, and pepper.
- Serve the dressing in a pitcher for your guests to drizzle on their salad. Reserve the remaining dressing in a glass jar, refrigerated, for other salads.