When my husband found me preparing cauliflower yesterday, he asked if I ever got sick of cauliflower. The answer is of course a great big NO. Cauliflower is so versatile I make it just about every week in some form. Last fall, a cold spell in California, where 86% of all cauliflower in America is grown, created a nationwide cauliflower shortage. Here in Georgia, I didn’t really notice the shortage from October through December when I was able to get just-picked cauliflower at the local farmers market.
January and February were tough going though. Even when I found puny little heads of cauliflower at the supermarket, the prices made me think there was a camera nearby watching what kind of sucker would actually buy it. A couple weeks ago, the cauliflower drought seemed to have lifted and it was everywhere again! The first time I saw big piles of cauliflower on sale, I bought four heads just in case it disappeared again. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy (or worried!).
Shortly after my cauliflower binge, I updated my favorite roasted cauliflower salad when I was assigned a “gluten free salad” for a potluck gathering. My go-to gluten free crouton alternative is spicy roasted chickpeas. I cooked a batch of dried chickpeas to roast and when I drained them, I was struck by how unusually creamy and tasty they were. I decided to add them as is to the salad so I had to look elsewhere for a crouton alternative.
I realized frying the capers in the recipe would add a similar nutty pop to the salad as the roasted chickpeas did. Fried capers are also fun to make. When added to hot oil, capers “bloom” into tiny briny and crunchy flowers. They sputter a bit like popcorn, so frying capers needs to be done with caution.
This also salad benefits from the texture and flavor of tomatoes. A trick to make winter tomatoes a bit more vibrant is sprinkle with salt, sugar and a dash of vinegar then marinate. For in-season tomatoes, this step is not necessary. Fresh baby spinach adds color and a slightly neutral flavor to the salad. A slightly sweet yet assertively flavored Maple Dijon Vinaigrette with lots of freshly chopped parsley balances out the bright flavors of the salad.
Make Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpea, Spinach and Fried Caper Salad when you need a go-to vegetarian dish for potlucks and buffets – it’s served at room temperature and can just as easily be considered a side dish as a salad.
Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpea, Spinach, and Fried Caper Salad
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 cups baby spinach leaves, remove any large stems
8 cups 1“cauliflower florets – about the equivalent of 1 head or 3 pounds of cauliflower
3 Tbs cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
1 small shallot, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsps Dijon mustard
½ tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tbs chopped parsley leaves
2 Tbs sherry vinegar
1 ½ Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups 1” cherry tomatoes, halved
pinch each salt, pepper, sugar
1 tsp sherry vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup capers, drained, rinsed and dried well between paper towels
*This step can be omitted and capers can be drained, rinsed and added to salad. Salad will still have the briny zing of the capers without the crispy pop from frying them.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- On sheet tray mix cauliflower with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Make sure oil also coats pan. Roast for 15 minutes. Mix and roast again for 10-15 minutes more until cauliflower is slightly browned and slightly crunchy in spots. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.
- In bowl mix shallots, Dijon mustard, red pepper flakes, parsley, sherry vinegar, maple syrup, lemon juice and lemon zest. Whisk and add olive oil slowly until incorporated. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, sprinkle salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar on the tomato halves. Let marinate for up to an hour before adding to the salad.
- Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it registers 350°F or until oil shimmers slightly if you don’t have a thermometer. (Test fry on caper when you are ready.) Oil should cover capers which should fit in pan with room between them. Add capers. They will sizzle. Fry until most of capers are brown around the edges and have “bloomed”, about 1 minute. You will know this when they pop! Strain capers and place on paper towels to soak up any extra oil. Fried capers will stay crisp for a few hours uncovered. The caper flavored oil can also be used again to sauté vegetables or meat.
- Before serving, gently mix cauliflower, chickpeas, spinach, and marinated tomatoes in large bowl. Sprinkle capers on salad.
- This salad is best eaten at room temperature.