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Recipe: Serve This Chopped Broccoli Salad for a Vibrant and Zesty Side Dish

Not only is the chopped broccoli salad super flexible but it gets better with age in your fridge

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By Bon Appetit US | April 25, 2024 | Recipes

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Lunch is the hardest meal. Especially if you commute, the only option is to plan ahead, and who has time for that? This humble broccoli salad wants to help.

Most salads are impatient. Leafy ones, especially. Toss in vinaigrette and, within minutes, you can practically hear baby arugula huffing and puffing and tapping its foot. Broccoli isn’t like that. Broccoli is patient. Broccoli is kind. Broccoli can become a salad today, relax in the fridge until lunch tomorrow, and lunch the day after that too.

But even better than its make-ahead-ability? Its versatility. Broccoli salad can be whatever you want it to be. Here’s how.

First, chop the broccoli

The whole point of broccoli salad is to have too much. Two heads is a trusty start, serving 4 to 6 as a main (or even more as a side dish). If you want to increase from there, more power to you. Just don’t toss the broccoli stalks. These are an under appreciated vegetable cut—they’re fibrous to a fault, but peeling the exterior (or trimming it with a knife) reveals a crunchy-meets-tender centre. Slice the broccoli stalks into thin coins or cut into a fine dice. I like to keep the florets in bite-size pieces, small enough to sit on a spoon, but a little smaller or larger is A-OK.

Whip up an Easy dressing

At a minimum, you’ll need a source of fat, a source of acid, and salt. My golden ratio for a purposeful vinaigrette is two parts oil to one part vinegar or citrus juice (a little zingier than the more traditional three-to-one). So, for 2 broccoli heads, ⅔ cup oil and ⅓ cup vinegar or juice is a good start.

Try extra-virgin olive oil for grassy fruitiness, sesame oil for savory nuttiness, or something neutral like canola or avocado to let the other ingredients shine. Any vinegar works here—balsamic, white wine, rice, apple cider, you name it—as does any citrus juice. Just opt for freshly squeezed versus store-bought.

Go heavy on the seasoning here—broccoli is mild, it can handle it. If you want some spice, add a pinch of chile flakes or freshly ground black pepper to your broccoli salad dressing.

If you have a minute to spare, think about: sweeteners (like honey, maple syrup, or granulated sugar), spicy pastes or spreads (like Dijon mustard or harissa), toasted and crushed spices or seeds (like sesame, cumin, or coriander), and minced garlic and/or anchovies. I could go on, but even better: Take a peek in your pantry and fridge, and let your kitchen lead the way.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake, or whisk with a fork in a small bowl. A few thought starters:

  • Olive oil + fresh lemon juice + minced preserved lemon
  • Sesame oil + soy sauce + apple cider vinegar + brown sugar
  • Neutral oil + fresh lime juice + toasted cumin + honey
  • Olive oil + red wine vinegar + balsamic vinegar + minced anchovies

And yes, a lot of broccoli salads call for mayonnaise to make a creamy dressing. But in this case, something looser and slicker lets the broccoli shine more brightly, like a sheer curtain instead of blackout shades.

The Best Salad Mix-Ins for Extra Crunch

You could toss chopped raw broccoli with a bracing vinaigrette, let it marinate for a couple hours, and end up with a surprisingly impressive, thrillingly easy broccoli salad. But if you have some bits and bobs lying around, why not throw them in? The options are endless.

Try toasted and chopped nuts or seeds (like hazelnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, or pepitas), crumbled hard cheese (like Parmesan, Gouda, or sharp cheddar), small or chopped dried fruit (like dried cranberries, golden raisins, dates, apricots, or mango), chopped alliums (like red onion, scallion, or shallot), anything briny-salty (like smashed olives or capers), chopped fresh herbs (like parsley, dill, or mint), or hot peppers (thinly sliced or chopped, pickled or fresh). You could throw in other crunchy veggies (like fennel or carrot), if you’d like, though I like fresh broccoli solo.

As with the dressing, your salad ingredients should depend on your kitchen ingredients; if you don’t need to go to the grocery store, don’t go to the grocery store. How about:

  • Pickled hot peppers + cheddar cheese + pecans
  • Dried mango + cilantro + scallion
  • Parmesan + capers + sunflower seeds

Heads up: If you like your nuts crunchy as can be, hold back on adding them until right before you eat. If you don’t mind them softening a bit, stir them in with the rest of the mix-ins.

Toss everything together and taste

In a large bowl, combine the broccoli florets, dressing, and mix-ins. Give it a taste. More acid? More salt? More spice? Adjust accordingly. Keep in mind: The best broccoli salad is not brand-new. Like so many of our favorite salads for summer, it needs to marinate in the fridge, soaking up all the flavor you just built, for at least an hour. And it just gets better from there. Sure, this means the total time is longer than the prep time—but the broccoli is doing all the hard work in the fridge while you get to do whatever you want. A stroll around the block? A cup of tea? A cat nap with your cat?

Why This Salad Gets Better With Time

In an airtight container, broccoli salad is happy to hang out in the fridge for days. Aim to use it up within three. If eating that much broccoli salad sounds daunting, you could make a smaller batch, starting with one head instead. But at least for the first go, try two and see how much calmer mornings are when you aren’t rushing around trying to make lunch to bring to work. This is also a yummy make-ahead side dish to bring to a picnic, potluck, or BBQ; even better than coleslaw, I’d say.

The broccoli salad recipe I’ll be eating all week:

Dukkah, a nutty Egyptian spice blend, inspired this crispy vinaigrette. Team it up with broccoli, preserved lemon, and your fresh chile of choice, and you get a salad to look forward to. To turn it into a fuller meal, serve with some whole-milk Greek yogurt and/or bread.

Peel the stalks of 2 heads of broccoli, then finely chop both the stalks and the florets. Transfer to a large bowl, along with a 1 bunch parsley or dill, chopped, a handful of chopped dried apricots or dates, and however much sliced jalapeño or serrano you can handle. To a spice grinder, mortar, or cutting board, add a big spoonful (about 4 tsp.) toasted sesame seeds and a small spoonful (2 tsp.) each of toasted cumin seeds and toasted coriander seeds; crush or chop until crumbly (not powder). Add the spices to the broccoli. In a jar, combine ⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ⅓ cup fresh lemon juice, ½ preserved lemon, seeded and finely chopped, and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Shake until combined. Dress the salad, stick it in the fridge, and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. Before digging in, sprinkle with toasted, chopped hazelnuts.

This recipe originally appeared on Bon Appetit US.