“You don’t make friends with salad” keeps echoing in the back of my brain as I type this. But I shall press on in the face of adversity. Of course I realize that’s a silly, borderline offensive thing to say, especially when there are so many tragedies in the world, and real people struggling with real shit. So for that insensitivity I am sorry. But we still need to find happiness, joy, and lightness in the world, even when things are heavy.
And so I think this holiday season it’s even more important to embrace the goodness in our own lives. I am excited to spend time with family, ooh and ahh at my adorable little niece, watch the snow fall, and eat all of the things.
And by all of the things I clearly mean the rich, indulgent, buttery, delights that are clogging my instagram feed as well as my dreams this time of year. As we speak there is a full bowl of mashed potatoes sitting behind me – like seriously, no joke. Like many others, I’ll indulge heavily and hopefully without regret – tis the season after all. But at some point I’m going to need a vegetable, and not like a vegetable that’s been doused in browned butter or baked into a cheesy gratin (although I would also like some of those so please make them for me). No, I’m talking about a damn salad.
If it’s going to be a salad at the holidays though, it’s gotta have a good reason to be there. I don’t mean that you should just dump a bag of lettuce in a bowl and call it a day. Honestly I doubt anyone would eat it and there’s enough wasted food in the world, so let’s not add to the problem. But if the salad were to address some pre-existing issue at the table, then it would make sense and I do love it when things make sense.
So let’s talk about acid (just a small tangent – I promise it’s relevant). Over the past few weeks (in actuality one day) I watched (binged) the new Netflix show Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically a beautifully shot docu-series based on Samin Nosrat’s best-selling book of the same name, where she explores these four culinary elements and demonstrates how using them effectively can make you into a great cook. The way she talks about food is gorgeous, drool-inducing, incredibly interesting, and downright sexy, and if your interest isn’t even just a little bit piqued by now, well you may want to mosey on over to some other corner of the internet, because I think you might be in the wrong place.
In the episode dedicated to acid she reminisces about her first thanksgiving. She remarks on how heavy and rich all the food was, and how to provide a contrast in flavor she just kept piling cranberry sauce onto everything. She believes this is the real problem with most American Thanksgiving day menus – not enough acid. Acid makes things bright, and brings a little relief to a palette otherwise inundated with indulgent and fatty foods. Nosrat, nor I are saying we should nix the gravy or stuffing – we’re not monsters. But I do think that the overall experience would be improved if there were a couple of brighter elements to balance things out, like this salad.
This shaved brussel sprout and apple salad is bright and zingy, but still rooted enough to feel right at home on a fall/winter menu. The sprouts have a natural bitterness which works well with the sweet and crisp apples. An acid heavy vinaigrette packs a punch that will cut through some of the buttery, carby richness that we’re all looking forward to. And the additions of some funky blue cheese and toasty pecans round things out.
What else do I love about it? Well the practicality factor can’t be ignored – it’s easy, fast, and can be made in advance. Even though it’s not carby and butter-laden it still speaks to the season, though it could easily be made year round. It’s colorful and pretty – because let’s be honest, most holiday food is a healthy mix of brown and brown. Also, it’s damn delicious.
So if you’re looking for another side dish for your holiday table, consider one that might balance out the usual spread, and bring something light and bright to the party. I promise it won’t go unnoticed. And if you need more holiday inspiration – I’ve got you covered.
Shaved Brussel Sprout and Apple Salad
This is a quick, easy, and light side dish that you can enjoy year round, but I especially love it at the holidays when you need something bright and zingy to cut through all the other rich and indulgent stuff. Plus you can make it ahead!
- Prep Time: 20 Minutes
- Total Time: 20 Minutes
- Yield: 8 Servings
- Category: Salad
- Method: No cook
- Cuisine: American
1 T whole grain mustard
Juice of one lemon
1/4 C apple cider
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb brussel sprouts, trimmed
2 medium pink lady apples
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 C pecans, toasted and chopped
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, apple cider, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Set aside.
Shave the brussel sprouts, either by using the grating dish of a food processor, the largest holes of a box grater, or a sharp knife and some patience. They don’t have to be ultra thin – think slaw texture.
Core the apples and cut into 1/8 inch matchsticks.
Toss the shaved sprouts and apples with the dressing until well coated. Season to taste. Then cover and chill.
Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with pecans and blue cheese and toss to combine.
Keywords: make ahead side dish, brussels sprouts salad, fall salad