Want to know how to make the best, most addictively delicious broccoli? Take a cue from roasted meat, or fried chicken: Brine it.
But not in plain salt water. Soak it in buttermilk mixed with the brine from a jar of preserved lemons. (Or if you’re short on brine, blitz a peeled preserved lemon with buttermilk in a blender.) A tangy, lemony, intensely flavored brine is exactly what broccoli wants to dive into.
The method is simple: Brine the broccoli for about an hour. Drain it, then spread it out on a parchment-lined sheet pan like you normally would. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add a slick of olive oil. Never skimp on the olive oil. Add thin slices of red onion to the sheet pan while you’re at it. Roast at high heat until tender and a little charred. You can stop there, but I like to go one step further and toss the roasted broccoli and red onion with crispy breadcrumbs flavored with sumac, minced preserved lemon peel, and fresh dill.
Voila! Roasted broccoli like you’ve never had it before.
So why brine broccoli (or any vegetable for that matter) this way?
The acidic buttermilk tenderizes the broccoli (speeding up its roasting time a bit), and the salinity of the preserved lemon seasons it. Together, the buttermilk and preserved lemon pack such a big flavor punch that their characteristic rich, tangy notes come through in the roasted vegetable—not overwhelmingly so, but in a way that enhances broccoli’s own flavor. Think of it as: broccoli as its best self.
I experimented with brining vegetables last summer and came up with this Feta-Brined Grilled Eggplant. My premise was: If we feta-brine chicken (just as Melissa Clark’s Genius recipe taught us), why not eggplant? The short answer is...we absolutely should! More recently, I took a page from fried chicken’s book and came up with this Buttermilk Roast Chicken that’s brined in buttermilk and pickle juice. And then my mind connected the dots—why not brine broccoli in buttermilk and preserved lemon?
Since coming up with this dish, I’ve tried the same buttermilk–preserved lemon brine on cauliflower with good results. Next up: eggplant. And maybe zucchini too. After that, roast chicken—because, I suspect, roasted meat can learn a thing or two from roasted vegetables.
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup preserved lemon brine
- 3 large crowns of broccoli (about 2 pounds in total), sliced into small florets
- 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon preserved lemon peel, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sumac
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
- 1 small lemon