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Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad with Pickled Onions and Bacon

These pickled red onions are briskly tart and sweet, and redolent of black pepper and cloves. They contrast beautifully in flavor and color with smoky, salty bacon and cabbage-like steamed broccoli and cauliflower for this simple yet hearty cool-weather salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbs. sugar
  • 16 peppercorns
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 Tbs. plus 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste  
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 bacon slices
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1 large head broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, cloves and 1/4 tsp. of the salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into a heatproof bowl, add the onion and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to pickle.

Meanwhile, in a large fry pan over medium heat, cook the bacon, turning once, until crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Let cool to room temperature, then coarsely chop.

Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with ice water and stir in the 1 Tbs. salt until the salt dissolves. Arrange the cauliflower florets in a single layer in a steamer basket set over boiling water in a saucepan (the water should not touch the bottom of the basket). Cover, reduce the heat to medium and steam until crisp-tender, about 8 minutes. Immediately transfer the cauliflower to the ice water. Let stand until cool, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl, reserving the ice water bath. Steam the broccoli florets in the same manner until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, then transfer to the ice water until cool. Drain well and add to the bowl with the cauliflower.

Drizzle the olive oil over the cauliflower and broccoli, season with the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and several grindings of pepper and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with some of the pickled onion slices, lifting them out with a fork and removing any whole spices (reserve the remaining pickled onions for another use). Sprinkle with the bacon and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Salad of the Day, by Georgeanne Brennan (Weldon Owen, 2012).