Move beyond bowls of leafy greens and create a veggie-strong salad that everyone will love! This vegan Summer Cauliflower Power Salad is filled with fresh, crunchy summer vegetables, tangy apples, and toothsome roasted chickpeas, and topped with a bright and tangy lemon dill dressing — perfect for a special dinner or a quiet lunch at your desk.
I know that so many of you are committed to improving your diet and getting more veggies on your plate every day, but that you also really struggle with salads — the standard-bearer, fresh-vegetable-delivery-system for vegetarians and vegans everywhere. I’m a total salad-loving #weirdo, so while I can’t quite step all the way into your shoes, I can definitely help you step into mine. 😀
For many people working to reduce meat in their diet, “green” is a huge obstacle, and the mere thought of a daily, leafy-green salad sends some folks right over the edge and back into the arms of cows and chickens.
I get it. I really do. Not about salads, per se, but I have my own issues with food aversions, so I understand them quite well. The flavor of coconut? Gooood. The gagging, papery texture of shredded coconut? Pure evil. (My food nightmare: the Easter bunny cake coated in shredded coconut fur. Lordy, I can’t even.)
So, today’s cauliflower power salad skips the leafy greens altogether, and heads right for a combination of tastes and textures that might just make a salad lover out of the most harden skeptic. #craveveggiesgoals
How to make a craveworthy salad without lettuce
It’s not as off-the-wall as one might think. Leafy greens are an easy way to get nutrients into your day, but they’re not the only way. Plus, even if you’re already a salad lover, it’s a good idea to vary the foods you eat, to ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients.
- Cauliflower rice: I used cauliflower because it’s a highly approachable vegetable for everyone, especially in “rice” form. It’s tender with a mild flavor and a neutral color that tends not to scare people off in the same way that greeeen broccoli does.
- Cucumbers: If there’s a universally-loved, all-purpose vegetable, it’s probably the juicy, crunchy cucumber. It’s great in dips. It’s divine in ice water. And it’s wonderfully simpatico in this cauliflower power salad. You can use baseball bat field cucumbers, but if you’re at the farmers’ market anyway, search out the small, bumpy, pickling cucumbers. Trust me, they’re not just for pickles! They’re sweeter and crunchier than field cucumbers, and usually have a smaller core. I’m so lucky that I have a small grocery store near me that sources pickling cucumbers year-round, and my daily salad lunch usually includes sliced cucumbers dipped into guacamole.
- Apples: One of the true joys of summer produce season are fresh apples. A sweet-tart apple, such as honeycrisp or sweetango, adds so much character to a salad — a gentle crunch, a burst of juice, with a tangy finish. I love thinly sliced apples in salads, especially this one. If you’re preparing the salad slightly ahead of time, toss the apple slices in lemon juice to slow up browning.
- Herbs: Fresh herbs add panache to most any dish, and this salad is no exception. I’ll go into the herby details in a sec, below.
- Fennel: Fennel (anise) is an entirely underappreciated vegetable, in my opinion. I’m guessing people avoid it at the grocery store because (1) it’s vaguely weird-looking; (2) its use is a mystery; and, (3) newcomers are wary of its rumored licorice flavor. To all three, I say, there’s nothing to fear. While fennel does resemble an alien onion that’s sprouted celery stalks, the weirdness stops at its looks. Slice off the top of the bulb (with the stalks) and trim the bottom, and you’re good to go (the dill-like leaves are totally edible, btw). Chop up the bulb and use raw or in sautes. Its licorice (or, more accurately, anise) flavor is faint — it’s mostly sweet and bright and … something else that you can’t quite put your finger on. I absolutely adore it paired with apples in a slaw. And in this cauliflower power salad.
- Almonds: If I had to pick a favorite salad topping for all time, sliced almonds would be it. Feel free to sub pistachios or pecans. Or leave them off entirely if you’re serving someone with a nut allergy.
- Roasted chickpeas: I stopped using bread croutons as a salad topping some time ago. I find croutons dry and weird and scratchy, and when stale (looking at you, restaurant salads) sometimes on the verge of tooth-cracking. Once I tossed a handful of roasted chickpeas into a green salad on a whim, bread croutons went bye-bye 4evah. Panzenella is a bread crouton exception, but otherwise it’s roasted chickpeas, all the way.
- Lemon Dill Dressing: With a salad this fresh and crisp and summer-leaning, a light, citrusy dressing is a must. I’m a huge fan of homemade dressings (even fussy ones), but this super easy dump-and-shake recipe should be in everyone’s repertoire.
Food manufacturers have caught on quickly to the prepared vegetables crazed. Whether riced, noodled, or match-sticked, most stores now carry packages of pre-cut veggies. You should be able to find cauliflower rice pretty readily, but don’t forget it’s easy to make at home with a whole head (and cheaper, too). Cauliflower is easy to grate on a box grater, but I usually whip out the food processor for this task, as cauliflower crumbs seem to get away from me on the box grater and make a mess everywhere, lol
I learned a really spot-on tip from author and vegetarian cook, Deborah Madison, that I always apply when using fresh herbs in a salad: add more than you think is the right amount, and almost always more than a recipe calls for. I’m loosely paraphrasing her, but, her point was that many fresh herbs are bright and gently flavorful — unlike their much stronger dried counterparts — and most recipes will benefit from a generous hand rather than a meek dash, as does the Cauliflower Power Salad. Dill, cilantro, parsley, marjoram, tarragon, thyme, mint — even basil, oregano, and rosemary to some extent — can be used quite abundantly in salad and pasta recipes (and more) to excellent effect.
And that’s what I’ve done here with parsley and mint. The key to enhancing, but not overwhelming, a dish with fresh herbs is to chop them well, so that you don’t get an awkward mouthful of chewy leafiness.
Quick tips for how to chop herbs
First, wash your herbs in cold water, and, if available, use a salad spinner to remove the excess water. Then, pat them dry gently between paper towels or a tea towel. Wet herbs are hard to chop without going to mush, so make sure they’ve dried.
- Leafy herbs with uneven edges such as parsley, cilantro, and salad burnet: pluck the leaves from the larger stems and gather them up with your fingertips into a tight ball. Grip the ball with one hand, resting on the cutting board. Use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to make very thin cuts through the ball. Be careful with your fingers, as it’s difficult to use the standard “fingers curled under” safety precautions while slicing. When you’ve completed the first pass of strip cutting, run your knife across the strips in a rocking motion, to mince the herbs. (Note, parsley and cilantro stems are quite tasty, and can be chopped up and sauteed quite deliciously. I love them in soups and pan sauces.)
- Long, slender-leafed herbs such as tarragon, rosemary, chives, and dill: strip the leaves from their stems (or, in dill’s case, remove the thinner stems with leaves from the thick central stalk; chives are ready to chop), and gather them in a bundle on the cutting board. Chop down the length of the bundle, like you’re chopping a carrot.
- Wide, flat-leaf herbs such as basil, mint, and sage: stack the leaves in a small pile, then roll them up like a cigar. Use a thin-bladed knife to chop down the roll, cross-wise. This creates thin ribbons (a slicing technique called chiffonade (pron. “shif-uh-NAHD”)). For minced, run your knife through the curls of ribbons using a rocking motion.
- Small leaf herbs such as thyme, oregano, and marjoram. Remove the leaves from their woody stems by grasping the top of the stem with the fingers of one hand, and running the forefinger and thumb of your other down the stem. If the leaves are already small, don’t feel like you have to chop them further. Otherwise, arrange them in a pile and run your knife through it.
Toss the fresh herbs with the cauliflower rice, and you’re good to go! I used parsley and mint in this recipe, but dill and cilantro would also be quite lovely.
A lemony dill dressing that rocks the Cauliflower Power Salad party!
For the Summer Cauliflower Power Salad’s dressing, I recommend something light and citrusy, such as my go-to lemon and dill dressing, included with this recipe. I always have the ingredients on hand, year-round, and it’s so easy to toss them into a lidded jar, shake-shake-shake, and *boom* fresh salad dressing.
Notice that there’s very little oil in this dressing recipe. I’m always a little stunned when a recipe calls for mixing in twice as much olive oil as ingredients — so much oil that you really need to use a food processor or stick blender to fully emulsify the oil into the other components.
Our individual preferences for oily dressings vary, of course, but I prefer just enough oil to give the dressing smooth body, and that’s reflected in this recipe. Add more oil, if you want, or, if you’re trying reduce your use of oil altogether, you can go without — I often do!
My latest salad-topping crush is roasted chickpeas. Now that they’re readily available as snacks, I keep a stock of them to toss into my salads, and they’re a tasty complement to today’s Cauliflower Power Salad. I love their crunch and dose of protein nutrition, and like the cauliflower rice, they’re also super easy to make at home if you’re feeling extra homecook-y and don’t mind turning on the oven.
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained, rinsed and drained again
- kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine or champagne vinagrette
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried dill leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces cauliflower rice*
- 1 small fennel bulb (anise), shredded or diced (reserve the fine leaves, for garnish)
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, measured loosely packed, then minced
- 12 to 16 fresh mint leaves, minced
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas (canned is fine rinse and drain well)**
- 1 small cucumber (pickling or small seedless), thinly sliced
- 1 sweet-tart apple, cored and thinly sliced (gala, honeycrisp, or sweetango work great here)
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- fennel leaves, chopped (optional, if the fennel bulb came with leaves attached)
- kosher salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Optional, but a good idea, rub the chickpeas in a paper towel or tea towel to loosen their thin, papery shells (do this in batches). Pick out and discard as many of the shells as you can.
Spread the chickpeas on the baking sheet in a single layer. Season with a big pinch of salt, and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove, and set aside to cool.
Place all ingredients in a jar with a secure and shake until combined. Taste and add more salt until the flavor pops. Dressing can be made days in advance and stored in the fridge, and will taste even better after it's allowed to sit blend its flavors.
In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower, fennel, parsley, and mint together until well mixed.
Drizzle a portion of the dressing over the cauliflower mixture and stir to coat.
Add the cucumbers and apple slices and fold gently. Season the salad with about a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and fold again.
Portion into roomy salad bowls. Top with the roasted chickpeas, almonds, and a big sprinkling of fennel leaves.
Serve the dressing on the side, so each diner can add as much as they want.
*if you can't find pre-prepped cauliflower rice, use one small head of cauliflower, leaves and core removed, cut in florets. Pulse in a food processor until the size of rice.
**Pre-packaged roasted chickpeas are readily available now in the natural foods snack aisle -- feel free to substitute these for homemade.