Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Broccoli Flower Salad

Last Saturday I went shopping at the Little Italy Mercato and was tickled to see Idzai Mubaiwa of African Sisters. I wrote a piece on women farmers for Edible San Diego last year and included this amazing woman, who emigrated here from Zimbabwe in 2002. Idzai got started farming in San Diego four years ago, thanks to the International Rescue Committee. They taught her how to run her business and helped get her into the North Park Farmers Market. Idzai has four daughters. One is at Howard University and, she bragged, one of her younger daughters was just accepted to Vassar.

This time of year, of course, the pickings at some of the farm stalls are slim, but I found two items to buy from Idzai. One was a gorgeous bunch of rainbow Swiss chard, which I'm cooking up in a hearty mushroom barley soup--just to also have some greens in there. The other was a bunch of broccoli flowers.

Now broccoli flowers sound unusual but really they are simply the sweet, petite yellow blossoms that sprout from the mature heads of broccoli. Yes, the florets you love to eat more than the stems are actually flower buds in waiting. Let them go and they'll blossom.

The challenge with eating them is that as the broccoli ages enough to bloom, the stems become tough. So, no roasting these. You can certainly boil or steam them to serve with a nice sauce or vinaigrette or strip the flowers, add the stems to soup, and then use the flowers as a garnish. But I like a good crunch, so I make a salad with them. If the ones you find are too tough to eat raw for your taste, then you can blanch them for about a minute.

This week, I basically rummaged through my fridge and pantry to figure out what would pair nicely with the broccoli. I had celery and scallions, mandarin oranges, a bowl of walnuts I'd already toasted, and garbanzo beans. I figured a hard-boiled egg would go nicely in there, too.

For a dressing, I made a simple vinaigrette with a sharp-flavored aged red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain mustard, and kosher salt.

What I found worked for me in prepping the broccoli was to slice the stalks, then remove most of the flowers from the florets before chopping them.

I used the small, tasty inner stalks of the celery and pulled as much of the fibrous strings off the peeled mandarin sections as I could. For the hard boiled egg, I used an egg slicer and just ran it twice in different directions to get a dice.

As I write this, it's the first Monday of the new year--heavy with dark clouds that portend a week's worth of rain. So the bright colors and flavors of this salad really lightened my day, even as it gave me a hearty lunch. The potent punch of the vinaigrette complemented the broccoli. I love the crunch of the stems and walnuts and the burst of sweetness from the little slices of orange. This is a happy meal! Plus, it's a great way to start the new year off healthfully.

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