Monday, May 30, 2016

Shaved Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives, Pistachios, Golden Raisins & Mint

As I was paying for my strawberries at my local U-pick patch this spring I noticed a display of beautiful cauliflower by the register.  It wasn't ordinary white cauliflower.  Rather, it was a mix of beautiful lavender heads and pale orange heads.  When I asked about them, I was told it had been picked that morning.  I chose one of the orange ones (a variety called Cheddar) to take home with me.

When I got it home I broke off a floret and tasted it.  I couldn't believe how tender and mild it was.  I knew that whatever I decided to do with it, I would have to serve it in its raw form.  Boiling/steaming it...or roasting it... somehow seemed unappreciative of its pristine freshness. 

As I thought about what to do, I envisioned a crunchy and tangy vinegar and oil based salad with a lively interplay of salty (Capers? Anchovies? Olives? Feta?...) and sweet (Golden raisins? Currants? Honey? Mint?) flavors.  I ended up making a salad that is a very loose adaptation of a delicious looking cauliflower slaw that I ran across on Smitten Kitchen.  

The "recipe" I'm posting is truly meant to be mostly a template or a starting off point.  To begin with, you should add all of the salty and sweet components to suit your tastes.  As I was making my salad, I set my salad bowl on my scale and just wrote down the weights of the different ingredients as I added them so I could pass them on here...but it's just meant to be a guideline.  On another day...with another head of cauliflower...I might add more or less of each.  Neither should you feel particularly married to the specific ingredients that I chose as long as you maintain a balance of salty and sweet.  I used a favorite marinated Greek green olive (from the olive bar at Whole Foods)...but you could impart a salty and tangy component with another kind of tangy olive...or capers (I would only use about half as many capers as I did olives)...or crumbled Feta cheese. 

Since I wanted my salad to be a study in greens and golds, I chose golden raisins for my dried fruit addition...but currants or dark raisins would be fine too.  Continuing with my color theme, I chose to add pistachios.  But sliced almonds or chopped walnuts would work well too. 

As for the vinegar, I happen to like the clean acidity of champagne vinegar...but any number of other pale vinegars would work well.  White or Golden Balsamic, with its pronounced sweetness would be great.  Plain white wine...or cider...or rice wine vinegars would all be good.  I find cider vinegar to be more acidic, so would probably use less of that.  Rice wine vinegar on the other hand is quite mild and I would probably use more.  In any case, you should always adjust the acidity of a salad to suit your palate.

Finally, I want to put in a plug for the mint.  When I tasted what I thought was my finished salad I felt that there was something missing.  As I considered this, I thought about adding honey and rejected this as too sweet.  I also had some beautiful arugula that I thought might be nice...but didn't think its peppery nuttiness was what I was missing.  Then I remembered my overflowing mint patch and knew that mint would add just the right sweet and aromatic note.  And it did.  If you don't happen to like mint, flat leaf parsley would probably be a fine substitution.   

I had thought that I would post some kind of dessert recipe over this Memorial Day weekend, but I think this salad was a good choice instead.  Traditionally this weekend serves as the official kick off of summer and the season of backyard parties....and picnics...and barbecues.  And of course these are all perfect places for serving this lively slaw-like salad.  I am certain that you will find many occasions during the warm months to come where this salad...or one like it...will be just the thing.

 Shaved Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives, Pistachios, Golden Raisins & Mint

2 to 3 spring onions, including some of the green—trimmed and rinsed
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small to medium head cauliflower (about 10 to 12 oz. trimmed and cored weight)
1/3 c. (40 g.) pitted green Olives, cut lengthwise into strips
1/3 c. (55 g) Golden Raisins, roughly chopped
1/3 c. (45 g.) toasted Pistachios (lightly toasted and coarsely chopped)
1/2 t. kosher salt, more or less to taste
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 c. olive oil
2 to 3 T. finely shredded (chiffonade) mint (or flat leaf parsley, if you prefer)

Depending on the maturity of your spring onions, halve or quarter the white and pale green parts lengthwise.  Thinly slice crosswise.  You should have about 1/3 cup white and pale green.  Place in a small bowl with the vinegar and set aside.  Thinly slice about 2 T. of the dark green.  Set aside.

Break the cauliflower down into large florets or simply quarter it.  Using a large chef's knife, thinly slice the florets/quarters (1/8- to 1/4-inch's ok if the slices are not all uniformly the same thickness as long as they are thin).  Place the florets in a large bowl with the all of the remaining ingredients, as well as the prepared onions and vinegar.  Toss until everything is well combined.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Can be served right away, or chilled before serving.    Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This most best the day it is made.  However, you can make it the day before and it will hold up surprisingly well....just be sure to taste it and correct the seasoning before serving.  After sitting overnight it will most likely need more salt and possibly more vinegar.  Finally, if you are making it ahead, use a sparing hand with the mint which can become quite strong after sitting on the other ingredients overnight.  

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