As we amble into fall, it's no wonder raw broccoli salads are a staple at back-to-school gatherings and potlucks.
Broccoli, a cool-weather crop, is at its peak right now, so look for it at farmers markets. You'll want to choose heads with tightly packed florets that are vibrant green or tinged with purple, and firm stems that are heavy for their size. Store broccoli in the crisper drawer in a ventilated plastic bag for up to four days.
Broccoli salads can be made ahead easily and expanded to feed a crowd — this veggie maintains its pretty color and crunch even when draped in dressings. Though the classic broccoli salad recipes are heavy with mayonnaise, shredded cheese and bacon, broccoli is so much better when tossed in a lively sweet-rough vinaigrette. Give it a pop of tangy dried cranberries and crunch with toasted seeds or nuts. Make this salad in advance so the acid in the vinegar tempers the broccoli florets and stems just as a ceviche does with fish. After at least an hour, the broccoli will soften just a bit and turn a bright green as it soaks up all the intense flavors.
Don't forget to use the broccoli stalks, which are overlooked all too often. They're just as important (if not more) than the florets; packed with calcium, iron and vitamin A, broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables. To get the most flavor and nutrients from this super food, eat it raw, or steamed for just a minute or two.
This salad is also delicious made with cauliflower, broccolini or cabbage — they're all members of the same family. Turn it into a meal by adding cured meat or chickpeas, a mild cheese and/or hard-boiled eggs, or cubed tofu. Make it easy, make it your own.
Favorite Broccoli Salad
Serves 4 to 6.
Tossed in a punchy honey-mustard vinaigrette, this salad gets plenty of pop from dried cranberries and crunch from toasted hazelnuts. Make it a few hours or a day ahead and the broccoli will soften ever so slightly while absorbing all the complex flavors. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/4 c. sunflower or olive oil
• 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
• 1 tbsp. coarse mustard
• 1 tbsp. honey, or more to taste
• 1 clove garlic, smashed
• 1 1/2 lb. broccoli
• 1/2 c. chopped red onion
• 1/2 c. dried cranberries
• 1/2 c. toasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or nuts
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl or jar with a lid, briskly shake together the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey and garlic. Set aside.
Cut the broccoli into florets. Slice the stems into thin, matchstick-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Toss in the red onion and cranberries. Drizzle in just enough of the dressing to lightly coat all the ingredients. Toss in the sunflower or pumpkin seeds and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.