FreshTartSteph Recipe: Sweet & Tangy Broccoli Salad

Tonight is National Night Out and given that Minneapolis often ranks number one in participation, you may very well be attending a neighborhood block party this evening. If so, I have just the salad for you, a real crowd pleaser that comes together quickly and stays crunchy and appealing on a buffet. You might recognize this as a more colorful twist on the classic broccoli sunshine salad. This version is mayonnaise-free, however (although you won’t miss it), and can easily be adapted to be nut-free or vegan. The sweet-n-tangy dressing is just sweet enough to get your kids eating vegetables (well, maybe) and bacon of course makes everything delicious.

I brought the test version of this salad to my friends Debbie and Stuart Williams’ home on Saturday night (they gave it a big thumbs up, by the way). Can I just say how lovely it is to be invited to someone’s home for dinner? It should happen more often! I understand why it doesn’t—it takes a little extra work to straighten the house, although don’t forget that perfection is the enemy of progress, joy, and ever inviting anyone over—but if you’re making dinner anyhow, it’s not really difficult to throw a couple of extra burgers on the grill and ask your guests to bring a salad or dessert. I love eating in restaurants, of course, but it is more fun, intimate, and memorable to share a meal on your deck or around a friend’s dining room table.

Debbie and Stuart have perfected the last-minute gathering. Their no-fuss formula (and mine too) is fresh food, cooked simply: seasonal vegetables, olives, purchased charcuterie for an appetizer; grilled meat with a salad and/or sauteed vegetables; bakery bread and/or pastries with really great cheese; and delicious wine. It’s not about stressful recipes, cooking for days ahead (unless that’s your jam, of course), or even cooking as a group (although that can be fun, not every kitchen accommodates it and that’s fine because it’s just as fun to sit in the living room or on a patio and snack and drink and listen to music and laugh).

Update too awesome not to mention: After I wrote the paragraphs above, my friend Molly Herrmann coincidentally invited a couple of friends over for an impromptu happy hour on her deck. I threw together a bowl of vegetables marinated in olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and fresh oregano, grabbed a bottle of sparkling water, and walked out the door. She sliced a few pieces of cheese, set out crackers and a spread, opened a bottle of wine, and we sat in the balmy air and gossiped, swore, giggled, and parted ways with our batteries recharged and ready for the rest of the week. More! More! We all need more of exactly that.

Sweet & Tangy Broccoli Salad

Serves 4

1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 head broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
1/2 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup sliced scallions (or more to taste)
1 cup roasted, salted cashews
1/4 cup raisins (or more to taste)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and saute, stirring frequently, until bacon pieces are evenly browned and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. (Save bacon drippings for another use.)

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Combine the broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, scallions, bacon, cashews, and raisins in a large bowl. Whisk the dressing, then pour it over the salad. Stir to coat the salad with dressing. Add salt to taste. Cover salad and chill thoroughly, at least two hours. Stir salad before serving.