I think I’m about to resonate with a lot of Midwesterners: Portillo’s is the holy grail of fast casual dining. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, it was a mandatory stop on every errand with my mom and dad. Some of my earliest memories involve sitting in a hard plastic booth, feet swinging beneath me, munching on crinkle fries. While Portillo’s is best known for Italian beef, burgers, and hotdogs, I always ordered penne with marinara (no surprise there). As my palate developed and I realized how tasty vegetables could be, I fell in love with Portillo’s chopped salad.
Portillo’s chopped salad comes with bits of chicken, bacon, and gorgonzola cheese, but since their salads are made fresh to order, it’s easy to order it vegetarian or vegan. Now that I live in Los Angeles, the closest Portillo’s is a good hour away. Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to figure out what makes that chopped salad so darn delicious. My spin is completely vegan and has a few extra additions to make the flavors really pop.
First, your veggies should be ultra fresh, since they’re the foundation of the dish. That sad, limp lettuce hanging out in your crisper drawer has no place here! Second, the pasta shape is very important. Choose something small, like ditalini, orzo, or if you must, macaroni. Larger noodles like penne and rotini won’t give you the same mouthfeel. Quinoa is a good option if you’re making this chopped salad gluten-free. Third, I found that without cheese, the chopped salad was lacking a critical savory/salty component. Miso roasted chickpeas fill the gap perfectly and add a boost of protein.
Of course, a salad isn’t a salad without a zippy dressing to tie everything together. Portillo’s keeps it simple with a basic, yet flavorful balsamic vinaigrette. Best of all, you probably have all of the ingredients in your pantry right now. Why not make a big batch, bottle it up, and pour it on everything? I always prefer making my own salad dressings to store bought; it’s healthier and just tastes better. My final tip: wait to dress your chopped salad until just before serving to keep all of the veggies crisp.
This Vegan Italian Chopped Salad is a riff on a Midwestern favorite – Portillo’s chopped salad. With plenty of fresh veggies, roasted chickpeas, pasta (yum), and a crowd-pleasing balsamic vinaigrette, this one is going to be a hit at your summer potlucks!
- 1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. miso paste
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1½ cups ditalini pasta
- 2 cups purple cabbage, thinly sliced and chopped
- 2 romaine hearts, chopped (about 6 cups)
- 4 green onions, chopped (dark green parts only)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
For the dressing:
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Spill the rinsed chickpeas onto a baking sheet and blot with a few paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Whisk the miso paste and olive oil together in a small prep bowl and drizzle it over the chickpeas, tossing to coat. Roast the chickpeas for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. When done, the chickpeas should be golden and slightly crispy.
- To make the dressing, add all of the ingredients in a prep bowl and whisk to fully combine. Taste and adjust flavors as needed.
- Cook the ditalini according to the box directions. Drain and rinse with cool water. Drizzle a little bit of the dressing over the noodles and toss to coat to prevent them from sticking. Set aside until the pasta cools to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, chop the purple cabbage, romaine lettuce, green onions, and cherry tomatoes and add them to a large serving bowl. When the chickpeas are done roasting, transfer them to the salad and toss to combine.
- Once the pasta has cooled to room temperature, add it to the salad. Just before serving, give the dressing another good stir, pour it over the salad and toss.
If you want to add a smoky kick to your chopped salad, I’ve heard McCormick Bac’n Pieces and Betty Crocker Bac-Os are vegan! As always, check the label before you buy.