Tuscan Kale Salad with Gorgonzola Croutons
I am 100% that bitch. You know, the one who brings a salad to the big family Thanksgiving gathering—when everyone else showcases their indulgent pies, casseroles, gratins, gravies, and cakes. Folks will gently poke fun at me as I arrive with my “healthy” contribution, but I just smile (a little smugly, I must admit) and carry on because I know that my salad will get completely eaten up, the bowl scraped clean. And people will literally thank me for bringing it.
That’s because we all need a crisp, crunchy, and most importantly fresh bite as a respite from those heartier dishes on Turkey Day. With a zippy vinaigrette, it refreshes the palate and balances out the starchy, meaty, fatty accompaniments on the plate. A good salad offers a visual break, too—in a sea of brown food, it’s shiny, it’s colorful, and it’s fluffy.
A “good” salad means something to me: No lame salads allowed. Whereas some people consider a salad as an afterthought, I see it as an opportunity. With all the gorgeous produce that’s abundant in fall, there’s no reason for a lame, phone-it-in salad. A good salad should include an alluring mix of textures, colors, complementary flavors, and shapes that convey movement. I have been known to travel with magenta-hued watermelon radishes and scallop-edged delicata squash because I know they’re not available in Wiggins, Mississippi, where my husband’s family gathers, and where I want to wow the family with my addition to the buffet.
This year, my holiday salad combines roasted baby golden beets and hakurei turnips, with similar shapes and earthiness but their own distinct textures and sweetness levels. Quick-pickled red onions (a refrigerator staple in my house) offer crunch and a pop of color, and lacinato kale provides a rich textured background. But the real star of my salad is the croutons. They combine two strongly flavored ingredients—gorgonzola cheese and rye bread—that combine for an explosion of savory, crunchy goodness. The cheese is mashed with melted butter and rubbed into hand-torn bread, which has a wonderfully rustic, craggy texture. These get baked till crisp, and they’re absolutely irresistible—crunchy, potent, and so unique. If you don’t use all the croutons on the salad (or you want to make a double batch), store them in an airtight container at room temperature, and enjoy as a snack with cocktails.
Though this salad involves a few steps and a bit of time, it’s for the holidays—and for your family—so it’s worth the effort. You can get a head start with everything so that all you have to do is toss everything together before the meal. Make the croutons, pickled onions, roasted veggies, and dressing a day ahead, and go ahead and prep the kale. Bring the veggies and vinaigrette to room temp before tossing the salad. Try serving in a shallow bowl or even a platter so the elements can spread out and show themselves off. And get ready for more than a few pats on the back for what you brought to the table.