Thanksgiving, for many of us, stretches out from a single day into a mini-season. You probably already have a couple of Thanksgiving dinners behind you — maybe at work, maybe a Friendsgiving or two. You might be making the rounds this weekend, hitting both sets of in-laws, with a stop at a divorced parent’s or two.
After a while, you realize you really can have too much perfectly lacquered turkey skin and that maybe it’s a bit excessive when the side dishes outnumber the people seated around the table — again.
You could, of course, cut down on the family obligations — but that decision would be on your head, not mine. So, what if you could change up the menu instead? I don’t mean plunking a ham next to the green-bean casserole; I mean changing up the whole meal, the whole pacing and tenor of it.
How about just one dish for your next mini-Thanksgiving? How about a salad? Doesn’t that sound really refreshing right now, as we launch into the excesses of the season? Imagine putting one hugantic, show-stopping bowl in the middle of the table, pouring the wine (How about a nice Grüner Veltliner?) and enjoying the conversation. You might even have room for dessert.
This isn’t a simple salad. You’ll bake, saute, deep-fry, blanch and blend. We’re not trying to take all the fun out of holiday cooking. And it does include just about all the must-haves on a Thanksgiving table: turkey, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and even gravy’s perky cousin, a brown-butter vinaigrette.
The key to a great salad is to flavor every single element, not to rely on the dressing to carry the day. You also want to be sure to cut things small enough so that you can get more than one flavor in every bite, but not so small that the flavor and texture get lost. And, finally: toss, toss, toss. Then toss some more. The trick is to make a dressing with a lot of flavor, then use just enough of it to coat the salad and pull everything together. A lot of tossing can make a little dressing go a long way.
Best of all, this salad, unlike most, is nearly as good the next day. So you still get Thanksgiving leftovers.
Thanksgiving Salad with Brown-Butter Vinaigrette
Makes 12-16 cups
1 bunch kale, curly or lacinato, very thinly sliced
1 lb Brussels sprouts, shaved thinly
7 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste
½ baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tbsp minced fresh sage, divided
1 large clove garlic, minced or grated
1 medium sweet potato, cut into ½-inch cubes
a 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced or grated
½ lb green beans
½ fresh lemon
3 large shallots, very thinly sliced
¼ c flour
oil for frying (canola or vegetable recommended)
½ lb roasted turkey, cut into 1½-inch batons
½ c dried cranberries
½ c butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ c champagne or white wine vinegar
1. In the very largest salad bowl you can find, toss the shredded kale and Brussels sprouts with about 2 tablespoons of oil and a sprinkling of salt. Use your hands to rub the oil thoroughly into the greens and really soften them up.
2. Now make your croutons. Heat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat, and spread bread cubes on it. Combine about 4 tablespoons of the olive oil with about 2 tablespoons of the minced sage, all the minced garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Drizzle this oil mixture over the bread, and use your hands to rub it into every surface. Bake 20-25 minutes until crispy and brown, shaking and turning the bread occasionally.
3. Now make the gingered sweet potato. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add cubed sweet potato and minced or grated ginger along with a pinch of salt. Add a splash of water and cover. Cook about 5 minutes, until the sweet potato is just beginning to get soft. Remove the cover, and cook until the liquid is gone and the sweet potato is beginning to brown.
4. Now blanch the green beans. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Add the green beans to the boiling water, and quickly bring it back to a boil. Cook green beans for 2 minutes. Quickly drain them, and shock them in the ice water. Remove beans from ice water, and squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over them.
5. Now fry your shallots. Toss shallots in flour with a generous pinch of salt. Bring about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 375˚F. Shake off excess flour, and fry shallots until golden brown. Drain on several layers of paper towels, newspapers or paper bags.
6. Now make the brown-butter vinaigrette. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl it as it foams, and keep an eye on the precipitate at the bottom. It will turn golden brown, then deep brown, and then black rather quickly. Take it off the heat before it turns black. Pour the butter into a blender (or a bowl if you want to use a stick blender). Add vinegar and remaining sage. Blend for about one minute. Taste, and add salt as needed.
7. Thoroughly toss greens, croutons, sweet potato, green beans, turkey, and cranberries with dressing. Top with fried shallots.