Fresh, yet different salad idea

I (again) have grand ideas about gardening this year. Seed catalogues, detailed spread sheets, and gardening books have been strewn about our dining table for the last two weeks. One evening, I looked up from my barricade, laughing and told Scott, “it feels like I’m in school again”. Although, lets be real, I probably never studied with this much enthusiasm when I was in school.

Growing at least some of our food is something I’ve been doing for the past 4–5 years now, but it’s still something I’m learning; possibly something I’ll forever be learning. When we moved last May, I realized that the idea of a Spring garden was out of the question. That still didn’t stop me from telling Scott we must put in four garden beds, 2 weeks after moving in, because I didn’t want to miss out on the Summer and Fall season. Our new neighbors watched as we built them out of some scrap wood we had and filled them, shovel full by shovel full of dirt. It was quite a lot of work, but it paid off when the lettuces, zucchini, cucumbers, greens and tomatoes shot their green leaves and vines up and set fruit.

Towards the end of Summer, we put in a low picket fence, ripped out our small front lawn and mulched the top with cardboard, leaves, and other composted materials. It’s ugly now, but the plan is to turn it into an edible and ornamental garden. The walkway will be lined with lavender, rosemary, and thyme, spreading into various other herbs, blueberry bushes, edible flowers, a rainbow of quinoa, and various other vegetables that need more room to spread than the garden beds in back will allow.

This brings me to cauliflower. I have no idea why, but this is the one vegetable I’m scared to grow on my own. It’s large milky white, green, or orange heads seems like something best left to the pros. I think it mostly stems from when I once grew broccoli and as soon as the green heads started forming they were infested with hundreds of aphids. I know this was something that maybe could have been prevented, but I’m not so sure I eat enough cauliflower to take the risk in my small garden space for it.

However, this salad may have changed my mind. Roasted cauliflower, like pretty much all roasted veggies, takes on a whole new vibe from raw or steamed, and roasting is pretty much my go–to when faced with the question of what’s for dinner tonight. But I don’t often take it further than a little salt and pepper, maybe an herb or two as well. The combination of fresh parsley leaves, lentils, capers and crispy lemon and carrots take it from routine to something I’d serve to friends. It now has me questioning if cauliflower has finally earned its right in a section of my garden. If you’ve had success in with cauliflower, please let me know! Otherwise I’m still fine with picking it up, with new enthusiasm, at my local co-op or the markets once they start up again.

Cauliflower & Lentil Salad

Cauliflower & Lentil Salad with Crispy Lemon Zest & Carrots / serves 4

This is basically vegan, but I was out of a neutral cooking oil and didn’t want to heat the olive oil over high heat without adding butter. If you are vegan, this is an easy change. I’ve also added an extra carrot to the list of ingredients, as the single one I used was not nearly enough.

1 cup cooked French lentils (or 1/2 cup dried)
1 large head cauliflower, cut into medium-small florets
olive oil
2 carrots
1 small lemon
knob of butter
large handful parsley, about 1/2 cup packed
3 tablespoons capers
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F. If you don’t already have some leftover French lentils, cook them now and let them cool slightly while the cauliflower roasts.

Toss the cauliflower florets in about a tablespoon olive oil and spread out on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the cauliflower gets golden brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler (or a zester that makes long strips) to thinly shave the peel off the lemon and use a knife to slice them into small strips. Using the peeler again, thinly shave the carrots into long strips.

Heat the butter and another splash of olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the lemon peel and let fry until it begins to turn golden, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Use tongs to remove lemon peel and set aside. Bring the butter/oil back up to med-high heat and add in the carrot strips. These will take a little longer and, depending on pan size, you may need to do in 2 batches so they can lay evenly on the bottom. Remove and set aside with the lemon peel.

In a large serving bowl, toss the cauliflower, lentils, parsley, and capers with the oil remaining in the frying pan. Squeeze over juice from half the lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Top with the crispy lemon zest and carrots and serve warm or room temperature.