Colorful, creamy, and charmingly retro, broccoli salad is one of my favorite dishes to tote to summertime gatherings. The vegetable’s grassy flavor and crunch pair seamlessly with chewy, sweet-tangy dried fruit and toasty nuts, adding up to a dish that is just as versatile as other classic picnic salads—but arguably more dynamic. Plus, it’s so easy to make: Chop up a couple heads of broccoli and you’re halfway there.
It’s also an easy template to customize, and I had two particular tweaks in mind for my version. First, I wanted to blanch the broccoli rather than use uncooked florets as most recipes do. Doing so would soften the vegetable’s raw edge, allow me to use—not discard—the tougher stems, and season it thoroughly. But a brief saltwater plunge cooked the florets and stems unevenly, the latter retaining a tough bite even after I peeled them. So I took a more strategic approach: I submerged the stems in the saucepan and laid the florets on top of them to steam, and then I shocked the lot. That way, everything cooked up crisp-tender at the same time.
Evenly Blanched Broccoli
Broccoli stems and florets cook at different rates, so we strategically layer them in the saucepan. The denser stems go on the bottom, where they are submerged in water, and the more delicate florets go on top so that they sit just above the waterline and steam gently.
My other revision would be to the mayonnaise-based dressing, which tends to be loaded with sugar. In fact, I wanted to take the dressing in an altogether lighter, brighter, more savory direction, so I decided to swap in avocado for the mayo, taking advantage of the fruit’s clean, mild flavor; richness; and wealth of emulsifying phospholipids.
Turning the avocado into dressing was as simple as buzzing it in the food processor with olive oil. The result, which happened to be vegan, was lush but light: thick enough to coat the broccoli, fruit, and nuts (I liked cranberries and almonds) without obscuring them. Then, instead of sweetening the dressing, I seasoned it with garlic and lemon, and I added sliced shallot and fresh tarragon to the salad.