I’m going to take a controversial stance here: Your Thanksgiving spread needs a salad.
Yes, I know that the holidays are for unabashed enjoyment of all things rich, starchy, and beige, but hear me out. A salad not only livens up the table with vibrant color but also serves as a welcome contrast to the heavy staples of the holiday table. From the freshness and palate-cleansing bitterness of raw greens to the textural symphony of juicy, crunchy, ruffly add-ins to the bracing punch of a vinaigrette, salad enables you to take a break from the gravy-doused portion of your plate and then return to it renewed.
But you shouldn’t surrender precious dining table real estate to just any old bowl of greens. When developing my holiday salad recipes, I wanted to create salads that looked festive, a more colorful, complex step-up from an everyday dinner side. But at the same time, I wanted big payoff from a relatively low‑lift recipe, knowing that time and kitchen space are at a premium during the holidays. So I devised a winning holiday salad blueprint to guide me as I created a trio of salads (and to guide you as you further adapt these recipes to your taste). I started with a base of kale, a green with sturdiness that can stand up to dressing for hours and even days, which allows cooks to prepare the salads ahead. To temper its fibrous texture, I massaged the kale with olive oil, which tenderized and seasoned it. Next, I aimed to fill in the bright and fresh elements typically missing from holiday meals by adding juicy citrus, crisp raw vegetables, and crunchy nut and seed brittles. The finishing touch? Warm spices woven into both the dressing and brittle.
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Strategies for a Make-Ahead Holiday Salad
USE KALE AS A STURDY BASE
A quick olive oil massage tenderizes the resilient greens. Their sturdy texture ensures that the salad won’t go soggy after it’s dressed, so it can be assembled days in advance.
ADD CRISPNESS WITH RAW ROOT VEGETABLES
Sturdy kohlrabi, radishes, and jicama contribute a fresh, crisp texture and subtle sweetness.
REFRESH WITH JUICY CITRUS
Seasonal citrus fruit adds a burst of color and refreshing flavor. The sweet juiciness is the perfect balance to the rich and savory elements of the salad.
INCORPORATE CRUNCH AND POPS OF SWEETNESS
A sprinkle of seasoned candied nuts and seeds, browned in the oven, adds appealing crunch and warm spice.
From my vibrant mix of kohlrabi, oranges, and candied pecans to the rosy combo of radishes, red grapefruit, and cardamom-infused pepita brittle to the seasonal mash-up of crisply refreshing jicama, sweet pomelo, and fragrant, coriander-spiced cashews, these are celebration‑worthy salads. Make-ahead friendly, crowd‑pleasing, and colorful, this is what holiday traditions are made of.
Kale’s fibrous texture gives way to tenderness after an olive oil massage.