It shows up on every picnic table, summer buffet and patio party in America during the summer: Broccoli Salad. Even people—like my husband—who turn up their noses to this healthy vibrant green brassica in any other dish, will eat this salad. I believe it has something to do with the accompanying ingredients: mayonnaise—lots of it—sugar—a ton—cheese—at least a cup—bacon—no explanation necessary–and something super tangy and sweet like dried, sugared cranberries. You put enough of these ingredients on just about anything, and most people will eat it. And that is too bad, I think. Broccoli is one of our healthiest summer veggies, and it deserves a better reputation and a wider audience in a healthier format.
One of the reasons the traditional version of broccoli salad is so popular, I think, is because it achieves incredible balance by including all five of our basic tastes—sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami (which is not Japanese for “yo mama” but for “something savory”) all in a creamy, rich dressing. What’s not to love? Well, the vegetarians and vegans of the world beg to differ.
So to put just a bit more healthy balance on the summer menu, I have come up with a vegan version of this classic, and you won’t miss one bit of taste or richness, I promise. Be brave….
- One large organic sweet potato, scrubbed well and diced (Do not peel, so must be organic.)
- One-half cup crushed raw cashews
- Two tablespoons dark balsamic vinegar
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- One teaspoon coarse sea salt.
- One, seven- or eight-ounce block of organic firm tofu, drained and weighted to remove the bitter water
- Zest and juice of one large orange (about two tablespoons of zest and at least a quarter-cup fresh juice)
- One tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- One tablespoon raw honey
- One teaspoon coarse sea salt
- One teaspoon each whole black peppercorns, whole mustard seed, whole cumin seed and whole coriander, dry-toasted and crushed
- One-half teaspoon garlic powder
- One quarter-cup avocado oil (I used Chosen Foods for this recipe, information near the end of the post.)
- One large head broccoli, flowerets and tender peeled stems, chopped large
- One quarter cup chopped red onion (If spring onions are at your market, use those instead and include some of their tender, spicy tops.)
- One quarter cup red radishes, washed, trimmed and sliced thin
- One large red bell pepper, washed, seeded and diced
- One large avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss the diced sweet potato and crushed cashews with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. Coat well.
- Spread the coated potato and nuts onto a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 20 to 25 minutes. Keep a close eye on this because it burns easily. What you are looking for is caramelized bites of slightly crunchy richness—Umami.
- Raw sunflower seeds (optional)
- Drain the tofu well by pouring off all the liquid, slicing into thin blocks (3) and placing between clean paper towels. Weight with a heavy dish or cast iron skilled for about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, dry toast the whole spices, cool and crush with a mortar and pestle.
- Put all dressing ingredients except the avocado oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until well combined. Once everything is coming together, add the avocado oil in a steady stream through the top tube, processing until everything has emulsified and is smooth and creamy. Set aside. The dressing can be made up to two days ahead and stored in the frig. Making it ahead will help marry the flavors. Just whisk well to re-emulsify.
- Pre-cook the broccoli slightly by blanching it for about two minutes in a large pot of briskly boiling water; then, quickly drain and plunge the spears into an ice bath to shock it. Your spears and flowerets will have better flavor, texture and color by blanching and shocking them.
- Put the broccoli, onions, radishes and bell pepper in a large bowl and combine. Add the dressing and toss well. Gently fold in the diced avocado. Finally, add the potato-cashew mixture.
- If you wish, sunflower seeds make a nice crunchy raw topping over everything.
Here is how I broke down the prep and cook times: The cooking time refers to the actual roasting of the sweet potatoes and cashews, as well as the blanching of the broccoli. The prep time refers to the approximate time it took to clean, chop, mix and assemble everything.
By making the dressing ahead, you will save quite a bit of time on serving day. However, i would not make the topping too far in advance.
This salad works well as a leftover, too. Nothing really wilts and flavors continue to improve. It is advisable to eat up the avocado at the first serving and then add more if you serve it as a leftover.
So here’s why this works as a vegan dish. The vegetable selection allows for crunchy bitterness through the radishes and onions. The dressing includes several forms of sour acid and sweetness, along with that creamy texture. A bacon or umami flavor is achieved through the caramelized sweet potato and cashews. And there’s no reason to exclude those dried cranberries if they are a favorite thing. But this version of broccoli salad is incredibly healthy, flavorful, much lower in sugar and fat, and welcomes everyone to the table—vegans and carnivores alike.
One of the inspirations for this dish came from the New Hope Network Blogger Box: Chosen Foods Avocado Oil. It was the perfect oil for this dish: boasting a rich yet delicate flavor, this oil emulsified beautifully for a smooth and creamy dressing. Avocado oil is both healthy and versatile. Chosen Foods brand is moderately priced and readily available at most independent health food stores. I got mine at my local Green Earth Grocery, where the staff is friendly and helpful. Never underestimate the power of your consumer dollars when you support great brands and local retailers…. Just a little reminder about shopping local.
Case in point: according to their website, “Chosen Foods was founded by a well traveled Naturopathic Doctor named Carsten Hagan who discovered the powerful effect traditional foods were having in their native cultures…. His vision centered around the idea that food should nourish and sustain our bodies, our lives and our communities.” They also have a strong sense of community outreach, partnering with other organizations to bring healthy food to everyone, regardless of geography or socioeconomic means. Gosh, where have you heard those ideas before? Chosen Foods is right in line with supporting healthy, whole food diets—something, for instance, my new friends at La Vista Farm would rally right behind.
Making ahead: While this dressing will benefit from time in the frig, you’ll need to whisk it up a bit to bring it back together.
And, I’m not kidding about watching your potato/nut mixture while it is in the oven—it can overcook and burn easily. You do want the potatoes soft with slightly crunching edges and crunchy nuts. Just keep in mind this is not time to multitask. Give this step your full attention. You can guess why I’m stressing this, right? Previous disaster creates future caution. Smile… and be brave.