For years, I have read that every Thanksgiving table should include a salad. Bon Appetite told me a raw crunchy side dish was as mandatory as mashed potatoes. Martha Stewart suggested adding a seasonal green salad to round out the offerings. Alison Roman insisted and even demanded that a Thanksgiving table without a herby salad was severely lacking and a missed opportunity at greatness.
However, for years, as I cooked our Thanksgiving meal, I would include plans for a green salad, but I never followed through. I told myself, “How important can this be? No one will eat it anyways, and it’s just a waste of time and precious refrigerator space, not to mention space on my plate.” Oh, how wrong I was.
Last year, as I prepared our Thanksgiving menu, I recommitted my life to salad and determined this would be the year I followed through on my good intentions. Even if no one ate it, I would include a salad out of respect for my culinary elders.
Guys, I cannot adequately put into words how life changing that Thanksgiving green salad was. I never intended it to be the star of the show, but somehow we all agreed that everything on the plate tasted better next to the salad that I assumed no one would eat.
Without intending to, I think I stumbled on a combination of factors that make this salad special, particularly in the context of a rich, carb-heavy meal.
First, I chose hearty greens. No spinach, iceberg, or field greens. I used thick leaves of romaine, sturdy escarole, and beautiful, bitter radicchio. A holiday salad should not be dainty. It needs to be sturdy, and it needs to hold up as the meal carries on.
Second, I added herbs. Thanks to Alison Roman, I have become a huge fan of all things herby. Salads without herbs now taste subpar to my herb-loving palette. Specifically, I added parsley for that lemony freshness, chives for a gentle oniony nod, and dill for the flavor only this feathery herb can deliver. This trio proved fantastic. Whatever you do, do not skip the herbs.
Third, I dressed the combination of greens in two phases (a trick I learned from BA’s Every Night Salad). I drizzled the greens with a scant fluttering of olive oil. Then I added dribbles of a punchy mustard and vinegar mixture that clung to the leaves and mixed with the oil to create an every-so-lightly dressed salad that was never going to get soggy but delivered an assertive punch of flavor in every bite.
Finally, I served this straight from the fridge, ice cold, and added the dressing (see above) literally as we were sitting down. The colder the better in my opinion.
If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year or if you have been tasked to bring a side dish, I encourage you to create space for my Sharp Green Salad. Your turkey and dressing will thank you. This salad will cut through the gravy, slide right through the buttery potatoes, and offer relief from the richness on your holiday plate. It will balance the trove of tastes and actually make your feasting more enjoyable.
Sharp Green Salad
- 1 large head romaine lettuce
- 1 large head escarole
- 1 large head radicchio
- 1 bunch Italian parsley
- 1 bunch chives (chives are not the same thing as green onions, which are also called scallions)
- 1 bunch dill
- 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard (Look for a mustard with visible granules of mustard grain. I like the Mielle brand.)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Prepare all of the lettuces by removing the root end and cutting the leaves into large, artful chunks. Wash the lettuces, spin them in a salad spinner, wrap them in paper towels, and store them in a zip bag with the air squeezed out. You can store your herbs the same way, but keep them whole. This method will keep your greens crisp and cold for a day or two, making it simple to toss the salad together at the last minute.
- When you are ready to assemble the salad, begin by stirring together the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Do not add the olive oil. Chop the herbs and pull your salad greens out of their bags.
- In a large bowl, toss together the lettuces and herbs. Don’t overthink it, but allow it to be imperfect and lovely. You can store the salad in the fridge at this point for about an hour or so.
- When it’s time to serve the salad, drizzle the greens with the olive oil. Next, spoon the mustard mixture over the salad. If you like, sprinkle with some additional salt and pepper. You can give it a very gentle toss if you like, but I usually leave it alone.
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