The walnut vinaigrette that made my kids fall in love with broccoli

Put it on everything!

Published November 2, 2019 6:59PM (EDT)

Food stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis (Ty Mecham / Food52)
Food stylist: Amelia Rampe. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis (Ty Mecham / Food52)

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My favorite recipes are those where most of the dish is obvious, or maybe universally considered to be delicious, but one bit of the picture is slightly askew. I have built a career on this perspective and it is second nature to me now. In my personal life at home, too, I think it keeps cooking fresh and interesting, but also inspiring and approachable. Especially when you have kids.

Case in point: this grilled broccolini salad with basil-walnut vinaigrette.

The idea of a warm salad is really just in the name. My grandmother might have called it a “side” (and likely tried to dump mayonnaise all over it, but that’s another story). The difference between a warm salad and the nebulous side vegetable is, of course, the presence of a vinaigrette.

The basil-walnut vinaigrette I used in this recipe is one of my family's very favorites. I make big batches of it and always have some in a jar in the freezer because it is just that tasty. Be it over steamed broccoli (or cooked, like in this salad), it's made a convert of my children.

Tossing in cabbage to the mix came from my discovery of grilled cabbage as a silky, elegant, and unexpected way to eat the crunchy vegetable. And grilling nuts in a salad like this has just been my jam these days.

This salad takes all of five minutes to prep after foraging in my refrigerator for random loose ends, spilling them from my overflowing arms onto a cutting board, and dumping the lot into a grill pan as I season a piece of salmon or chicken thighs or whatever protein I scrounged from my freezer a few days earlier. It’s beyond simple and real, a collection of chaotic disparate things that are bound by a shared treatment — in this case, grilling — that not just ties them together but transforms them into a whole.

And so, dinner is served.

The playful transformation of one thing to another through the release of expectation, of what should be, is present in all things. A wise friend of mine, actually someone with whom I did energy work during my cancer treatment, told me that the word “should” often represents the logical mind’s attempt to persuade, to redirect, and to avoid a more basic instinct rooted in pleasure or true satisfaction. I try to let what should be fall away as regularly as possible, preferring the honesty of balancing the needs and wants in my world, by keeping this thought in my mind.

The way this recipe came together — the scrounging, the working with what was already hidden in my refrigerator — holds an important layer of meaning, too. It speaks to the possibility of finding a newness in everyday things, in the forgotten or discarded bits, that fill regular life. It implies that it isn’t the things themselves that are stale, but our perspective of them. If that’s true, then staleness can always be changed, and true transformation is never more than one tweak away.

These are the things I think about when I stand there and cut up vegetables like some sort of ponderous line cook.

Grilled Broccolini Salad With Basil-Walnut Vinaigrette
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

2 bunches broccolini, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 small red or green cabbage, cored (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Basil-Walnut Vinaigrette, recipe follows
Basil-Walnut Vinaigrette
1 cup walnuts
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil (I use a mixture of olive and avocado, but all of either would be fine)

1. Heat grill to medium (about 350°F) with a grill basket resting on grates. Cut cabbage lengthwise into 1-inch wedges; cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Combine broccolini, cabbage, and walnuts in a medium bowl; toss with olive oil and generous pinches of salt and pepper until well-coated.

2. Add salad ingredients to grill basket; cover grill and lower temperature to medium-low. Grill, covered, until vegetables are slightly charred around edges but crisp and nuts are a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes. Return cooked vegetables to bowl.

3. Drizzle salad with vinaigrette and serve warm.

Basil-Walnut Vinaigrette
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Scatter walnuts over a baking tray in a single layer and toast, tossing once, until fragrant and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

2. Combine walnuts, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper and about 1/4 cup oil in a blender jar; blend until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in remaining olive oil. Scrape dressing into a jar or other airtight container and store, refrigerated, up to 2 weeks. (It will become solid when refrigerated.) To loosen dressing, set it out at room temperature for a few hours or place sealed jar in a mug of hot water for 10 minutes.

By Caroline Wright

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