I have always hated broccoli. The smell of it cooking made me gag. My older sister, Cynthia, felt exactly the same and to this day we both run at the mere sight of broccoli on the stove. As little girls we sometimes fought like cats and dogs but, regarding broccoli, we were always in agreement. It did not go unnoticed by the two of us that Puerto Ricans didn’t embrace vegetables; red beans and rice, sliced tomatoes and avocados were the only vegetables to grace our grandparents’ dining room table. Our summers on the island were stress free and complete indulgence. It was during one of our summer sojourns our neighbors, Don Juan and Dona Angelita Orta, issued an invitation to dine with them that evening. It was understood the summons was for Cynthia; I was not included. I believe we were around the ages of eight and six and, regrettably, I was sassy, impulsive, unconcerned with hygiene and may have had a slight tendency to lie. It goes without saying, Cynthia was the golden grandchild and I was the disgraced, six year old ne’er-do-well. And Cynthia took full advantage. She made certain I overheard her discussing which of our matching dresses she should wear. Seething with impotent anger and pea green with jealousy I retreated to our bedroom. I’d rather loll on my bed, stare at the ceiling and let the mosquitos bite me than endure her smug and simpering side eyes. Late in the afternoon she was bathed, her hair brushed until it shone like mahogany and she was dressed in one of her many party dresses. I remained on my bed…most certainly smelling like a child who had spent the morning playing outside in the heat of the day and most definitely with the attitude of a defiant, petulant schoolgirl. The time came for her to leave and while she ran a hairbrush one last time through her hair and told me goodbye, I replied with a hateful hiss, “I hope they serve you broccoli! Lots of it.” She blanched at my comment knowing if they did, she would be obliged to eat it. And eat it with a smile on her face. Good manners are everything. I didn’t look at her nor did I say goodbye as she left the house escorted by one of my aunts. My nasty outburst had been heard by my family but seeing how dejected I looked and how low I felt, they said not a word and left me alone. I stayed on that bed sulking, allowing the occasional mosquito to whine past my ear before finishing it off with a fast slap of my hand, for once not feeling satisfaction after the kill. The phone rang in the other room and, after a moment or two, quick footsteps were heard. “Alicia, levantate!” “Alicia, get up!” “The invitation was for both of you!” My heart soared…then quickly filled with fear and apprehension. “Titi, do you think they’ll serve us broccoli?”, I asked as I was hastily bathed. I didn’t want to go next door where I knew, in my heart of hearts, we would be served a gleaming platter of emerald-green nasty. Off I went dressed to match Cynthia, little white socks and Mary Janes on, not ready to face my comeuppance or eat humble pie in the shape of, gag me, the dreaded cruciferous known as broccoli. The Orta’s housekeeper, Tata, whom I adored, answered the door. I was welcomed with unconditional love from all. And broccoli was not served. I learned my lesson, though. Hence forth I have tried to wish others well and, yes, over the years there have been many, many lapses in my thoughts and behavior but I will keep on trying!
I only eat broccoli raw but I love it and this is one of my favorite ways to have it. This salad is both sweet and savory; the carrots and dried cherries lend sweetness, the bacon and scallions are savory and while the toasted almonds provide a flavor link. It needs no time to marinate, however, is equally delicious served the following day. Cranberries may be substituted for the dried cherries although I feel the cherries bring much more flavor to the dish. I cook my bacon in the oven. The oven baked method is time-saving and clean up is a snap. I rough chop almonds, cut about into thirds, then roast them in the oven. I find I scorch too many nuts pan roasting them. This salad may be served as a side dish or entrée but, regardless how it’s served, it will make a broccoli lover out of all!
Blue Ribbon Broccoli Salad
- 1 cup mayonnaise, I use reduced fat
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- 2 bunches of broccoli, there are typically 2-3 heads per bunch
- 6 slices bacon
- 5 scallions
- 3 carrots
- 3/4 cup whole almonds
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, celery seed and salt and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in refrigerator to chill.
- Cut broccoli into bite size florets and put in a large bowl.
- Cook bacon, drain well and chop or crumble. Add to broccoli.
- Finely slice the scallions using all of the white and pale green. Discard any tough, dark green ends. Add the scallions to the broccoli bowl.
- Using the large holes of a grater, grate the carrots into the bowl of broccoli.
- Rough chop the almonds, toast them, either in the oven or stove top, and add to broccoli.
- Rough chop the cherries then add to broccoli.
- Drizzle the mayonnaise dressing over the salad and toss well to completely combine. Make certain all ingredients are covered with dressing.
- Serve each plate with a fresh grind of black pepper.