Today I could not harbor more excitement toward participating in the third biannual Virtual Vegan Potluck! Hosted by three dedicated vegan bloggers, Virtual Vegan Potluck connects vegan bloggers worldwide in an online extravaganza of vegan recipe-sharing and food-gawking. Each participating blogger signs up to post a recipe for an appetizer, a beverage, a bread, a salad, a side dish, a soup, a main dish, or a dessert at exactly the same time on exactly the same day to simulate a real-life potluck for our beloved online vegan community. This year’s potluck garnered 169 participants—the largest turnout yet—and I cannot wait to see what plant-based compassionate yummies everyone cooked up.
For my contribution to the virtual party, I signed up to create a refreshing yet complexly flavored salad in celebration of the hot-weather foods I’ve craved since the onset of springtime. Way back in January during my college winter break, I visited my good friend and current housemate at his permanent residence in Brooklyn, NY. After meeting my friend at his capoeira class, I excitedly received a full tour of the vibrant Park Slope neighborhood in which he grew up, stopping at independent bookstores, health food co-ops, and Prospect Park along the way. Late in the afternoon, my friend and I met up with his mother and brother at the Brooklyn Museum to see the mind-boggling “Gravity and Grace” exhibition by Nigerian artist El Anatsui.
Having not eaten a proper meal for the entire day, my friend requested after we departed from the museum that we stop into a nearby modern café and deli called Lincoln Station. The sleekly decorated local-centric eatery serves soups, salads, and sandwiches to order, as well as an array of deli items made fresh daily. Though not a vegan business by any means, the café did offer a respectable array of animal-free options, including a delightful farro salad in which my friend chose to partake. Emphatically singing the praises of this salad as he munched, my friend eloquently narrated how each individual ingredient—roasted butternut squash and cauliflower, toasted hazelnuts, and arugula—sang with purity of flavor while peppered among the chewy, nutty farro and lightly coated in a simple, lemony dressing.
Upon returning to our home of Ferry House at Vassar, my friend requested that we recreate this salad together. We finally did so in celebration of the end of the academic year, and of the Virtual Vegan Potluck, of course. I did, however, imbue the salad with my own mischievous twists: First, I substituted short-grain brown rice for the glutinous farro. Second, I roasted the butternut squash and cauliflower with a hint of sweet, tart, and unctuous pomegranate vinegar, obtained at an artisan oil and vinegar shop called Scarborough Fare during my recent jaunt to New Paltz. The flavor of the resulting salad proved layered, complex, tangy, succulent, bright, and oh so delicious—perfect to share in the Virtual Vegan Potluck.
One important suggestion: immediately after toasting and chopping the hazelnuts, stick your nose right into them and get a big ol’ whiff. Your entire day—nay, week—will be fulfilled.
Pomegranate-Infused Brown Rice Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower, Hazelnuts, and Arugula—Soy Free, Low Sodium
2 cups short-grain brown rice
1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed into small florets
1 smallish butternut squash, peeled and small-diced
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp pomegranate vinegar, divided
1 cup raw hazelnuts
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 oz baby arugula
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
In a large skillet, toast the rice over high heat until fragrant but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the toasted rice and boil for 45-50 minutes or until tender. If needed, add more water to ensure that the rice can move around freely rather than stick together. This will ensure that the rice will remain in individual grains rather than clumped together in the finished salad. When cooked, drain the rice and spread over a baking sheet to cool and to again prevent clumping.
While the rice cooks, in a medium bowl toss the diced butternut squash with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp pomegranate vinegar. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Repeat with the cauliflower florets. Transfer both roasted veggies to a large bowl.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 5-7 minutes, checking diligently to ensure that they don’t burn. Lay out a large dishtowel on the countertop and transfer the toasted hazelnuts into the middle of it. Pick up the corners of the towel to form a pouch and vigorously rub the hazelnuts around in it to remove their skins. Roughly chop the skinned hazelnuts and add them to the bowl with the roasted veggies. Stir to combine.
Spoon the brown rice into the veggie/hazelnut bowl in batches, stirring well to combine after each addition until all of the rice is fully incorporated. Add the lemon juice to the mixture and stir well to incorporate. Gently stir in the arugula in small handfuls until well-mixed. Serve and enjoy!
Until next time, Ali.