12/23/2011 03:43 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

A Vegan Salad For Your Holiday Buffet

Dear Lynne,

Have you a side for a vegan buffet that doesn't have to be kept hot? Thanks for any thoughts.


Dear Gerry,

Broccoli is my fall back because when cooked crisp or soft, it takes to dressings like a champ. Steam up a lot, keep the dressing on the side so the broccoli doesn't turn Army green and you are in business.

Cauliflower, green beans or butternut squash can stand in for the broccoli.

Salad of Broccoli Stalks with Red Onion Vinaigrette

Serves 8 to 10; can be doubled
30 minutes prep time; about 10 minutes stove time

* Broccoli could be steamed a day in advance and the dressing can be done a day ahead as well.

Broccoli heaped with shards of red onion dressing is one of those dishes you can eat forever, and as a meal unto itself if you want.

Add and subtract from this recipe as you please -- olives, herbs, capers, dried fruit, nuts; or the very unvegan bacon or cheese. Broccoli takes on nearly anything you want sent its way. You've got to like its versatility.

Now, one side of this vegetable that is underrated is how good it is when cooked to nearly limp. The cabbage side of its nature blooms. Okay that doesn't sound very sexy, but when I say the cabbage side of broccoli I mean it reminds me of old fashioned stuffed cabbage, full of good big tastes. Try it finished with olive and salt.

But let's save that for another day. For your buffet you want to steam stalks until they just resist a poke with a knife. If you can, use organic ingredients for this recipe.

About 1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon (or to taste) hot sauce
1 medium to large red onion, sliced into thin crescents
2 large bunches broccoli (about 2-1/2s pounds)
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 generous tablespoons coarse-ground mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup salted sunflower seeds or broken cashews

1. To start the dressing and rid onions and garlic of their bite, take a medium bowl and toss together the vinegar, garlic, hot sauce, and onion slices. Let stand about 20 minutes.

2. Steam broccoli by first rinsing it under cold running water. Trim off 1 inch of broccoli stalks. Peel the remaining stalks. Split thicker stalks lengthwise into thirds, slender ones in half.

3. Arrange a collapsible steamer in a 6-quart pot containing 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Criss-cross broccoli stalks in the steamer. Cover the pot and cook about 3 minutes, or until a stalk still shows some resistance when pierced with a knife. Immediately rinse broccoli in cold water to stop its cooking.

4. Finish dressing by blending the olive oil and mustard together and tossing with the onions. Taste for balance, and for salt and pepper. Season to taste. Arrange broccoli on a platter, napping it with the dressing. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Serve at room temperature.