Monday, August 31, 2009

Broccoli and Chickpea Salad

As I mentioned before, the late summer jewels some people call tomatoes (and others call to-mah-tos) were delayed in this cool summer. Farmers are smart people, however, and those in charge of our CSA planted some more of the great cooler-weather crops for us to snack on while waiting. So, we’ve been enjoying an unusual, but welcome crop of lettuce heads and mixed salad greens (time to break out the salad dressing recipes again), radishes, and broccoli.

I was thinking I could make Sweet and Tart Broccoli Salad yet again, or maybe an old-stand-by stir fry, but I happened across another recipe for a different kind of broccoli salad that intrigued me. (With the amount of time I spend perusing recipes, the odds are actually in favor of me finding a new recipe with ingredients I have on hand just when I need one.) I changed a few things, and, admittedly, added a fancy step or two. I’m sure you could streamline this recipe if you wanted to. You’re good like that.

This recipe uses both broccoli florets and stems. Often, the stems are pretty tough and bitter on the outside, but that’s just hiding its crunchy deliciousness, which you really don’t want to waste. You could use a vegetable peeler on the stems, but I find them a bit rugged for that and go after them with a chef’s knife and a pretty heavy hand.

Usually, I don’t bother blanching broccoli for salads, preferring it just as it was born, but in this case, I like it less crunchy. The texture of the partially-cooked broccoli goes well with the tender chickpeas. I also thought crumbled rather than grated or shredded Parmesan cheese would complement those textures better. (And I think I was right!). And there’s still some nice contrasting crunch from the celery and onion.

To crumble the cheese, you’ll first need a block of it. Parmigiano-Reggiano really is best, and you may notice the difference it makes in this salad. It is also expensive, as you may know. I personally think it’s worth fitting into my budget, but use what you like. (Although I can’t say I recommend the stuff in the green can.) To crumble the cheese, I stab a chef’s knife into a spot near an edge, and sort of twist it. The texture of the cheese allows it to crumble off the block. You could chop it as well, but I like the rustic, irregular pieces.

Toasting and grinding whole mustard seeds and peppercorns just added a bit more flair to this salad. You could use dry mustard powder and ground pepper, but I did really like the way this salad tasted. Maybe it was my imagination, but the seasoning just seemed more fresh, less canned, subtle but high-quality. Of course, I haven’t tested it with mustard powder, so I could just be tasting my own high hopes. Anyway, since I’m back to eating broccoli, I’m happy to have this salad in my repertoire.

Broccoli and Chickpea Salad with Mustard-Pepper Dressing
based on a recipe in Soup Makes the Meal by Ken Haedrich (via The Best American Recipes 2002-2003)

6 ounces plain yogurt
1 large head of broccoli
a large bowl of ice water
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry or white wine vinegar
1 16-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup crumbled chunks Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)

1. Place the yogurt in a sieve lined with a paper towel or several layers of cheese cloth. Allow the yogurt to drain and thicken at least two hours. Refrigerate if draining longer. If you are using thick, Greek-style yogurt, you can skip this step. Scrape the drained yogurt into a large bowl.

2. Chop the broccoli into florets in bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop the stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a small handful of salt. Add the broccoli and cook for 3-4 minutes. The broccoli should be tender, but not mushy.

3. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and plunge it directly into the ice water to stop the cooking. When the broccoli has cooled, drain and chill until needed.

4. Place the mustard seeds and peppercorns in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Toast them until fragrant, being very careful not to burn them. Set aside to cool. Finely grind the toasted spices in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or blender.

5. Add the ground spices, mayonnaise, parsley, tarragon, Dijon mustard, and sherry vinegar to the yogurt. Stir well to combine. Add the chilled broccoli, draining off any remaining water. Add the chickpeas, celery, red onion and Parmesan. Stir well to combine.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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