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OK, now it’s really happening. We’ve had a couple of warm days. My toenails are painted orange and I’ve given up wearing socks. It’s salad time.
I love crazy salads, ones that flaunt strange combinations of ingredients, combine a variety of textures or bring together hot, sour, salty and sweet in one magnificent mouthful:
Roasted beets with fresh orange segments in a tart, citrus vinaigrette served over a bed of baby arugula and topped with roasted walnuts and blue cheese crumbles. Yum.
Or how about a roasted asparagus salad with chewy Israeli couscous, salty feta cheese and Kalamata olives, drizzled with a mustard, lemon vinaigrette?
Or maybe a Thai crunch chicken salad with peppery Napa cabbage, sweet red pepper and shelled edamame, a dressing of sweet chili sauce, garlic, fresh ginger and peanut butter, topped with sliced chicken breast that you’ve baked in some of that dressing. My, oh my.
Well, here’s another that I think is a keeper. It starts with a foundation of roasted cauliflower. As with butternut squash, roasting really adds another dimension to cauliflower, bringing out its sweet nuttiness. For this salad, you can roast the cauliflower until it’s very tender or stop while it’s still a bit crisp, whichever you prefer.
The hard part is not eating it all right out of the pan before you’ve assembled the salad.
The golden raisins soaked in vinegar provide a sweet-and-sour background. The almonds add crunch and my favorite, sweet-saltiness, while the mint makes the whole thing taste summery and fresh.
This recipe calls for harissa, a spicy North African condiment made from chili peppers – serranos among them – garlic, spices and herbs. If you don’t have this ingredient, you can use Sriracha, a Thai hot pepper sauce that is more widely available. Just add it to taste instead of the harissa. You also could substitute chili flakes or whatever you prefer as a heat source.
The first time I made this, I sautéed the slivered almonds in the honey as directed, but by the time the cauliflower was done, the nuts had solidified into a gooey, sticky mass. I couldn’t even scrape them out of the pan. So I heated them up a bit more, just until I could loosen them, then dumped them into the cauliflower. Sure enough, the heat from the cauliflower and that little bit of vinegar did the trick. The nuts came apart, melted into the salad and mixed in just fine.
Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Harissa Dressing
¼ cup golden raisins (you can use regular raisins)
½ cup white vinegar
1 head cauliflower
¼ cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons honey
5-6 fresh mint leaves, julienned or minced
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon harissa (or Sriracha to taste)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Measure the golden raisins into a small bowl and add the white vinegar and a pinch of salt. Set aside for about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Next, cut the leaves off the bottom and core the cauliflower. Break the head into its individual florets then cut the big ones up so that all the pieces are about the same size. Spread them in an even layer on a baking sheet, in a roasting pan or in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, whatever you have. Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over the cauliflower pieces and toss them together until it looks as though most of the pieces are covered with oil. Put the pan into the preheated oven and roast for 10-15 minutes. Flip the cauliflower and poke a piece or two with a fork to test for tenderness. Keep roasting and flipping and testing until the cauliflower is as tender as you’d like and is turning brown in some spots.
Meanwhile, add the honey, the slivered almonds and a few pinches of salt (about half a teaspoon or so) to a small, non-stick skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the almonds are golden brown and caramelized, about 3-4 minutes. The honey will foam and bubble as the nuts brown. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Make the dressing by combining the olive oil, harissa and salt. Then stack and roll up the mint leaves and slice them into fine slivers or chop them into a fine dice. Set both aside.
When the cauliflower is done, add the dressing and toss. Drain the raisins of all but about a tablespoon of the vinegar. Add the raisins and the bit of vinegar to the cauliflower with the slivered almonds and the mint. If the almonds are a sticky mess, just reheat the pan a bit. Once you can get them out of the pan, add them to cauliflower and they will come apart and mix-in nicely.
Toss thoroughly and serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature later.