As summer approaches I’m thinking more about salads, especially hearty ones that make for satisfying meals without involving a hot stove. Salads don’t have to be all about lettuce; in fact, sometimes they don’t need any lettuce at all. You just need to be open to the possibilities around you. Here’s a quick tutorial by way of the story of how a new salad came to be: Southwest Shaved Cauliflower Salad.
When I was at the market last weekend the cauliflower jumped right out at me, perfectly white and unblemished. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I had to have one. Then I wheeled past some Brussels sprouts, which put me in mind of the spruitjes salad I made last fall. The idea of a cauliflower salad with delicate green accents from the sprouts began to form. A fat bunch of saucy radishes caught my eye next, and in the cart they went. White, green, red … how about some orange to brighten the salad up even further? And so I got some carrots too.
To make the salad more special, I decided to shave everything instead of having big chunks. Now don’t be intimidated by the term ‘shaving’; it’s just another way to say ‘thinly slice.’ If you have a mandolin that’s great, but I’ve done this before with a knife and a cutting board. The slices might be a bit thicker, but that’s okay; just make the best use of whatever tools you have on hand.
While I was preparing the vegetables my mind wandered over to the dressing. I’d bought some avocado oil recently for this Tex-Mex Taco Salad, and building the dressing around its deep green hue would lend interesting colour to the white of the cauliflower and radishes. If you don’t have avocado oil, a neutral oil like canola will carry the flavours of the dressing well. The overall flavour will be different, but it will still be good. Avocado put me in mind of southwest flavourings, and from there it was a short step to using lime juice as the tart note in the dressing, and oregano and ground cumin for extra flavour. If you like some heat, you could add in some red chile flakes, or perhaps minced fresh red chile pepper. Remember, you’re building your salad for you and the people who eat with you. Mine is just a starting point.
This story started with a cauliflower and ended with a concept for a new salad. Actually, to be more exact, it ended with empty plates.
Southwest Shaved Cauliflower Salad
A salad like this doesn’t really require a proper recipe, rather more a set of guidelines for those who would like to make it or a variation for themselves. Here’s how I made mine, which was more than generous to serve two for dinner along with more of those Beluga and Red Lentil Crostini.
Cut big florets from about 1/4 head of cauliflower. Trim 6 radishes and 6 Brussels sprouts. Thinly shave these vegetables over a bowl using a mandolin, being careful to protect your fingers with the guard. No mandolin? No problem. I often just slice thinly with a good knife. You’ll find the cauliflower may break into smaller florets; toss them into the bowl too. Using the coarse part of a microplane grater, process a small carrot into thin, thin shreds. A box grater would work fine as well. Toss the vegetables in the bowl.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp avocado oil and 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice until emulsified. Add about 1/2 minced garlic clove into the oil mixture. Whisk in some salt, freshly ground pepper, 1/2 tsp dried oregano and 1/2 tsp ground cumin (if you don’t trust your salt and pepper instincts yet, start with 1/4 tsp each).
Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings as required. I don’t put a lot of dressing on my salads; a fairly small amount has to go a long way, so you want it to
have some oomph be assertive but not overpowering. It’s all about balance and your preference, of course. Pour over the salad and toss until the colourful medley of veggies is evenly coated.
Again, taste and adjust the seasonings if required. I used up my one and only lime in the dressing, but found the salad needed more citrus, so I added a spritz of fresh lemon juice and tossed again. Some days the key to success is making do.