Why is it that salads almost always taste better at restaurants? Among other reasons, there's a level of complexity to them that we don't typically get at home. This cauliflower salad is proof. It comes to us from Chef Christopher Gould at Central Provisions, a James Beard Award Best New Restaurant finalist in Portland, Maine, with inventive small plates and craft cocktails. Their fried cauliflower salad is so well-loved that it's one of the few dishes never seems to budge from their ever-changing menu. (A fact that makes our Production Editor, Lauren, happy, as it's her favorite salad!)
This salad delivers layer upon layer of varying flavor and texture, which makes it a main course-worthy salad that won't bore you. The smoky, caramelized cauliflower and crunchy chickpeas play off of the bright, crisp apple and fresh herb salad, which are then both tied together with briny, salty feta cheese crumbles.
A Restaurant-Quality Salad at Home
If you can't get to Portland to try this salad at Central Provisions in the near future, the good news is that you can recreate it at home. We've adapted their recipe a touch, to make it more accessible for the home cook, but it still remains as complex and intriguing as the original.
While the cauliflower and chickpeas are fried at the restaurant, roasting them is easier, less messy, and gives you equally irresistible results. And although the restaurant makes their own house blend of ras el hanout — the smoky-sweet North African spice blend of cardamon, coriander, cumin, and more — using a store-bought blend gets this salad to the table a whole lot faster. Which is a good thing, because it just might be the best salad you've brought to the table in a long time.
Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Chickpeas, Feta, and Herbs
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course
olive oil, divided
cauliflower, cut into florets
(15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and patted dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels
Juice of 1/2 of a small lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
small Gala apple, cored and cut into matchsticks
loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
loosely packed fresh mint leaves
small shallot, minced
red wine vinegar
ras el hanout
feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 1/2 small lemon
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the cauliflower and chickpeas on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Spread into a single layer. Roast, stirring halfway through, until crisp and golden, about 30 minutes total.
Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper together in a medium bowl. Add the apple, parsley, and mint and toss gently to combine; set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and Aleppo pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Remove from heat and whisk in the honey, red wine vinegar, ras el hanout, and a big pinch of salt. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add the roasted cauliflower and chickpeas to the ras el hanout vinaigrette and toss to combine. Transfer the mixture to one large platter or individual plates. Top with the apple and herb salad. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and serve.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
This recipe has been adapted from Chef Christopher Gould at Central Provisions in Portland, Maine.