Prepare yourself – this Copycat Northstar Cafe Village Salad is about to blow your socks off!
What is the Northstar Cafe?
Northstar Cafe is a local Columbus restaurant chain (5 locations) that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner – Northstar puts an emphasis on locally grown, organic, and artisan produced foods as well as sustainability.
The food they make is incredibly fresh, creative, and delicious. And more importantly, their Village Salad is UNREAL!
What makes the Northstar Cafe Village Salad so special?
This salad is LOADED with delicious toppings that, quite honestly, I NEVER would have thought to put together! Roasted chicken, dates, avocado, chickpeas, kidney beans, onions, goat cheese, AND almonds, all drizzled with champagne vinaigrette. YUM!
Sure – dates and goat cheese, yes! Chicken and avocado, yum! Almonds, always! But all these things together? PLUS some additional legumes and onions? Seems like a lot of ingredients that wouldn’t necessarily go together – but I swear they do!
I actually think one of the things that makes all of Northstar Cafe’s salads so special is their choice of mixed greens as a base.
In all of their salads, Northstar Cafe uses a beautiful combination of mixed greens that provide incredible texture to every bite. What’s better? All the greens are chopped up into nice, little bite-sized pieces so that you don’t look like a cow chewing cud (that’s right, I went there).
From what I can tell, Northstar mostly uses a combination of freshly chopped kale, radicchio, napa cabbage, and romaine lettuce as the base to their salads – however, there might be some other mixed greens in there as well! I do understand this is a lot of greens to buy at once! Especially if you aren’t planning to eat this salad 4 days in a row (you might want to though…). As I mention in the recipe notes section, you can use any type of mixed green to build your Village Salad base – I would just suggest using at least two different types of green to provide variety and texture. I would also suggest you chop your greens like they do at Northstar – because again, who wants to look like a cow? Not me!
Why don’t my homemade salads ever taste as good as they do at a restaurant?
While exploring some other copycat Northstar Cafe recipes on the web, I came across an awesome post by Courtney over at Neighbor Food Blog. In her post, Courtney mentions a few tips and tricks for making “restaurant quality salads at home.” I LOVE what she says…
“First, use a variety of greens.” This is what we were talking about before! Typically my homemade salads are made with JUST spinach leaves or JUST spring mix – it gets to be very boring. Kale adds AMAZE-ing texture but a salad with only kale can be a lot. Using a combination of different lettuce types, kale, and cabbage is game-changing.
“Secondly, cut your greens (and other ingredients) into small pieces.” Bite-sized pieces = easy eating! It also means that you can get a little bit of everything in EVERY bite – which is the best.
“Third, season your greens and your toppings.” THIS was actually something new for me! I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I never thought to season my salad! I, of course, season all my veggies when I cook them – so why not season a salad as well? Adding a little salt and pepper to your greens base and your toppings can make a huge difference in flavor.
“Great restaurant salads have fresh, interesting toppings!” Like chicken, dates, goat cheese, almonds, legumes… sure it might sound weird but I promise you’re going to love love love it!
Homemade dressing is a must. Making homemade dressing is so easy, why not give it a shot? All you need are a few basic ingredients – oil, vinegar, an emulsifier (in this case whole grain dijon mustard), and seasoning! This recipe uses honey for sweetness, garlic for taste, and salt and pepper because… well salt and pepper always makes things better doesn’t it?
“Finally, you’ll want to toss the salad before it goes on your plate.” How many times have you tried to toss a large salad on a small plate? I know that I have like a million times. Usually salad ends up everywhere… or I do a terrible job tossing the salad and halfway through eating said salad, I realize that I only dressed the top half. So now I have half a salad with no dressing. Bleh. In my photos, I did the opposite of this. WOOPS! But doesn’t it look pretty? When I am making this salad for eating and not for aesthetic photos, I actually like to put all my salad ingredients in a food storage container. Once all the ingredients have been added, I give the container a few shakes and – voila! Perfectly dressed Copycat Northstar Cafe Village Salad.
Fresh, interesting ingredients!
So I know what you might be thinking – that looks like a LOT of ingredients to purchase! Well, it is! BUT you will honestly get so much out of it! Canned kidney beans and chickpeas are great because they require no additional cooking/soaking, and you can store the leftovers to use later in the week. I used my leftover beans to make a few salads as well as a Mexican chicken and bean “saute” (pre-cooked chicken + beans + cumin + chili powder + salsa all sauteed in a pan = yummy). The saute was awesome to use in a quesadilla one night and a burrito bowl another!
Speaking of chicken – you can use any sort of pre-cooked chicken or turkey. I love using leftover rotisserie chicken or even deli-meat in this salad because they are easy to shred or dice and then you are good to go! If you are vegetarian, skip the chicken altogether!
Of course there are the goat cheese crumbles, almonds, and dates which can be a little on the expensive side – however, they MAKE the salad! A small amount of each ingredient adds SO MUCH flavor and texture – I promise you will not regret purchasing these ingredients because they will last you a while and they will add so much to any salad or dish.
Chopped red onion – which honestly I know some people LOVE and some people HATE, so feel free to add or exclude accordingly.
And lastly, avocado – need I say more?
How can I prep the ingredients?
I love making this salad for lunch but let’s be real, it can be a lot to chop lettuce and chicken, and avocado every night for the lunch the next day. To meal prep, I prepare all of my ingredients on Sunday – washing produce, chopping/shredding/dicing accordingly. Then I store all the ingredients in separate containers in the fridge (except for the almonds, I keep those in the pantry so that they do not get soft).
Then, each night, I prep one salad for the next day. Taking a handful, cupful, or spoonful of each ingredient so that my salad is ready for the next day! The only ingredients that I do not toss together at this time are the almonds and dressing – those I keep separate until I’m just about ready to enjoy. I think this keeps the ingredients fresher but also makes each salad assembly WAY easier.
Roasted chicken, dates, avocado, legumes, onions, goat cheese, and almonds with champagne vinaigrette
- 2 cups mixed greens **see notes below
- 2 tbsp chickpeas
- 2 tbsp red kidney beans
- 1 tbsp red onion diced
- 1/4 cup cooked chicken or turkey shredded or diced
- 1 tbsp goats cheese crumbled
- 2 dates thinly sliced
- 1/4 avocado diced
- 1-2 tbsp roasted almonds roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
- 2 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
Wash and dry all fresh produce (see notes). Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.
In a small bowl, whisk all dressing ingredients together until smooth.
Drizzle a few tablespoons of dressing over salad then gently toss until salad is evenly coated. Enjoy!
Storage: Refrigerate leftover salad dressing in a separate airtight container, shake well before use.
**Notes: In order to make this salad most like the version at Northstar Cafe, I recommend using equal parts chopped kale, radicchio, napa cabbage, and romaine lettuce. Don't like one of these greens? Swap it out for one of your favorites!
Loved this copycat recipe? Try another! Copycat Fox in the Snow Souffled Egg Sandwich with Bacon and Cheese, Skinny Souffled Egg with Turkey Bacon and Cheese