NOTE: All photos in this post were taken by the incredibly talented Whitney Light.
I can remember my first time eating broccoli. It was in Canada, after an uninspiring trip to a major-chain supermarket in the dead of winter. With my basket full of uninspiring beige bulges, some sad, anemic lettuce, and labels in a foreign language, my heart and palette were yearning for something bright and fresh. As my eyes scanned the fluorescent-lit aisles, I registered the perky heads of broccoli, covered in a dewy mist of artificially-sprinkled water, and laying in their cradles of fake polyethylene grass. I had never tasted broccoli before, but the curly-haired stems looked so inviting, so fresh, that I decided it was worth a try.
If to be frank, I am not sure I liked the way broccoli tasted right off the bat. Perhaps I fried it the first time I ate it, adding it to a simple medley of Asian vegetables. Perhaps I steamed it, eating it with salt and potatoes, and likely hating every bite (I am still not a fan of plain, steamed broccoli, though I find it satisfying with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast). Perhaps I made a healthier version of broccoli slaw, substituting the mayonnaise for yogurt and adding cranberries and almonds. Perhaps it went rotten in my fridge before I ever got to cooking it, back in those first, overwhelming days in my new country.
One thing I know for sure: that first time I ate broccoli, I definitely didn't know to keep it nearly fresh and let it marinade in a spicy, sour, and sweet vinaigrette. I didn't know to anticipate the explosive, tart flavours that would banish the winter blues away and bring light and warmth to my palette, and my heart. I didn't know how well broccoli would take to the simplest dressing. But now that I've made broccoli countless times since, I know this is the best way to have it, especially when the temperatures are still hovering around the zeroes. And I know that sometimes, the best way to decorate a tree is not to do much to it at all.
Lime, chili and ginger-dressed broccoli
- 3 small heads of broccoli
- 2 tbs of rice vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 1 inch piece of ginger
- 1 tbs of chili-ginger sauce or sriracha with one clove of garlic, minced
- Juice of half a lime
- 2 tbs of vegetable oil
- 1 tbs of maple syrup
- 2 tbs of toasted sesame seeds
- Wash and cut your broccoli into small chunks and florets. Do not discard the stems! They pack a lot of vitamins and are actually a lot sweeter than the overused florets. Simply chop off about an inch off the bottom, split the stem in half, and slice into half-moons. Separate the head into bite-size, individual florets (cut large ones in half to match the rest).
- Place broccoli in a microwave safe bowl. Prepare an ice bath by filling another bowl with the coldest water, and adding ice cubes (if available) to it. Blanch broccoli quickly: if working on stovetop, bring a pot of water to a boil, dump broccoli florets and slices in, and let cook for a minute, no more than two. Drain water, and place broccoli in an ice bath. Allow to cool sufficiently. OR do what I do, and place one tablespoon of water at the bottom of the microwave-safe bowl with the broccoli. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the microwave for 1.5 minutes. Taste - if broccoli is beginning to cook but still has a bite, and its colour is bright and green, then it is ready. Remove plastic wrap, pour out water and place broccoli in an ice bath. Allow to cool sufficiently.
- NOTE: Some days, I'm in a rush and skip the ice bath. Other days, I prep the salad a day ahead, which allows me to keep the broccoli fresh. I just chop everything into small pieces, and let the broccoli marinade in the dressing overnight. The results are great in any case.
- Mix dressing in a small jar: combine vinegar, sesame oil, chili-garlic sauce, vegetable oil and maple syrup. Squeeze out the juice of half a lime and add. Finely grate ginger into dressing. Close tightly with lid and shake jar vigorously a few times to incorporate and blend all flavours.
- Dress broccoli with dressing, and let sit in fridge for at least 30 minutes for flavours to meld and broccoli to soften. Sprinkle with sesame seeds right before serving.