This Stuffing-Salad Mash-Up Is the Perfect Thanksgiving Side

Justin Chapple Prepares Wild Rice Salad with Ciabatta Croutons on this week’s episode of Mad Genius. 

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner can involve a lot of oven time, from roasting the turkey to baking sides like potato gratins and green bean casseroles. Luckily, on this week's episode of Mad Genius, F&W culinary director at large Justin Chapple makes a side dish that only needs the oven for 12 to 15 minutes: Wild Rice Salad with Ciabatta Croutons.

"If you're the type of person that loves a Thanksgiving dressing, then you are gonna adore this Wild Rice Salad with Ciabatta Croutons," he says. "And the best part? Ya don't have to bake it to serve it."

Most of the components for this "dressing-meets-salad mash-up" are cooked on the stovetop, with the exception being the croutons, which get a quick blast at 375°F so they get toasty. The croutons are then mixed with the cooked wild rice, pancetta, leeks, garlic, and more for a flavorful side that has some helpful make-ahead components.

To make it at home, read on for Justin's step-by-step method and follow along with the video above.

Prepare the Rice

First up is one of the star ingredients: the wild rice. Bring it to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, season it with kosher salt, and then reduce the heat to medium, allowing it to simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, until the rice is tender. (Give it a stir once or twice, too.) Drain it well and then spread it out on a large rimmed baking sheet so it can cool.

Make the Croutons

Next, cut up your ciabatta bread and tear it into 1-inch pieces. Those go on a large rimmed baking sheet as well — after 12 to 15 minutes in a preheated 375°F oven, they'll get nice and crispy. Let the croutons cool while you move on to the remaining ingredients.

Clean the Leeks and Render the Pancetta Fat

After demonstrating how to clean the leeks using a salad spinner, Justin heats extra-virgin olive oil in a pan over medium and adds the finely chopped pancetta. You'll want to cook it until the fat has rendered but the pancetta isn't crisp yet, which should take about two to three minutes (stir occasionally). The pine nuts go in next — after cooking and stirring constantly for two to four minutes, they should be golden and the pancetta should be crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Cook the Leeks, Garlic, and Olives

Leave the drippings in the pan and add the sliced leeks, along with some salt and black pepper. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, for about three minutes until the leeks have softened slightly; then, add the thinly sliced garlic and crushed red pepper, cooking for about four minutes. Once the garlic is softened and the leeks are just starting to brown around the edges, pour in the dry white wine and cook, stirring constantly, until it's mostly evaporated (about two to three minutes). The final ingredients to go in are the coarsely chopped Castelvetrano olives and chicken broth. After bringing the mixture to a boil over medium and boiling for one minute, take it off the heat.

Wild Rice Salad with Ciabatta Croutons
Photo by Christopher Testani / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Prissy Lee


At this point, all that's left to do is assemble the salad. Pour the rice into a large bowl, followed by the croutons, the leek mixture, and the pancetta-and-pine nut-mixture. Toss it all together and then add in the Champagne vinegar and fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley. After a final toss, you're good to go. Serve the dish either warm or at room temperature.

"You could literally hear all the texture in this salad," Justin says after trying a bite. "The bread is still crispy, but it's, like, a little bit chewy. The rice is so flavorful; it's a little bit earthy. And that whole olive, pine nut, pancetta situation is ridiculous."

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