For a country whose claim to fame across the rest of the world is its per capita excess of calories, a holiday devoted to the glorification of gorging oneself doesn’t seem – in my overly pragmatic and highly cynical mind – quite…right. Perhaps at one time, when scarcity was the norm, celebrating with a feast made perfect sense. But now in The Land of Plenty and Then Some, what symbolism remains to justify yet another binge?…Or so I foolishly asked myself in anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner.
It all seems like a somewhat silly tradition on paper (except that I do enjoy carbs) until you actually sit down at the table. It is a meal that brings people together across state lines, across town lines, and in this year’s case, across DSL lines. This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving in person with my in-laws and, at the same time, via Facetime, with my family in San Francisco. The San Francisco group had a Traditional Meal Plus (the plus being brisket, macarons, egg rolls, and a host of other delicious-looking homemade delicacies, including a very impressive charcuterie plate, which my brother was in charge of, took very seriously, and by the looks of it, did an excellent job with.).
But it’s not like we in Chicago exactly settled. Far from it, in fact. My mother-in-law made a killer turkey and her to-die-for cranberry sauce. My sister-in-law made mashed sweet potatoes that would make a grown man weep and a classic green bean casserole. I made stuffed acorn squash, sautéed green beans, cornbread, grain-free apple-cranberry pie and my favorite pecan tart.
Ok, so maybe the meal is very much about the food. Speaking of which, let’s move on to the universally-recognized Best Part of Thanksgiving: the leftovers.
There is something comforting in the act of consuming these particular leftovers that both prolongs those warm and fuzzy feelings we experienced while gathered around a table that barely stays standing under the abundance of food, and reassures us that, hey, we’re not the gluttons we thought we were because there is SO MUCH MORE we could have eaten the other night!
It may seem like blasphemy to put these sacred leftovers in a (gasp!) salad, but this isn’t some wilted-lettuce-rabbit-food concoction. It is a hearty entree salad topped with a bright (both to your eyes and to your tongue), sweet and tart dressing worthy of a ration of Thanksgiving leftovers, and I know this for sure because this dish was endorsed by none other than my husband, who treats Thanksgiving leftovers like the last meal he’ll ever eat, to be doled out with care and eaten with purpose. But, I suppose if you really objected to using your Thanksgiving leftovers, you could use any old shredded turkey breast (or even chicken), and you can sub really most of this salad (swap out pepitas for pecans, or sweet potato for butternut squash, for example), but for the true Thanksgiving-In-A-Salad experience, I would suggest going the leftover route.
- I medium sweet potato, peel if you want; I left the skin on, washed and cut into small cubes
- 1 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil
- Pinch salt
- Pinch pepper
- Pinch garlic powder
- 1/2 small white or red onion, sliced very thinly
- 2-3 cups white or apple cider vinegar, or more as needed
- 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen and defrosted cranberries
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 Tablespoons white wine or apple cider vinegar
- Pinch salt
- 2-5 cups baby spinach, or sub arugula, kale or other leafy green
- 2-3 Tablespoons raw or roasted pepitas, pumpkin seeds; see note
- Shredded leftover roasted turkey breast
- Preheat the oven to 350. Line a large baking sheet or pan with parchment paper or a nonstick pad and set aside.
- In a large bowl, toss, the sweet potato with the olive oil to coat. Add the salt, pepper and garlic powder and toss again to distribute the flavors. Spread the sweet potato cubes in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet or pan and make sure the pieces are not too crowded (otherwise they won't crisp up).
- Roast the sweet potato for 35-40 minutes or until edged are brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely on the pan.
- In a small bowl or jar, cover the onions with vinegar until just submerged, and allow them to sit for 15-30 minutes. This takes away some of the bitterness and quick-pickles them. Drain before using.
- To make the dressing: In a small bowl, microwave the cranberries for about 30 seconds, until they begin to soften and release their juices. Transfer to a small blender and add the olive oil, maple syrup, vinegar and salt. Puree until smooth. Taste and, if desired, add additional maple syrup. The dressing will be thick so if you would like to thin it out, add water, a teaspoon at a time, blending in between additions, until it reaches your preferred consistency.
- To assemble the salad: Layer the greens under the toppings (cooled sweet potato, seeds, onion, and turkey) and drizzle with desired amount of dressing.
If you don't have pumpkin seeds handy, feel free to substitute pecans, walnuts, pine nuts or even hazelnuts.You can also substitute butternut or acorn squash (or even pumpkin) for sweet potato and chicken breast for turkey.
Yield: 2 small or 1 large salad