If you're anything like me, the salad at Thanksgiving is the dish you treat most as an afterthought. We plan the turkey, plan the stuffing, plan everything else...and then, you know, we kinda just "make" a salad. Given how simple yet delicious a salad can be, there's some logic to that. Considering how grand the rest of the meal is, though, it's nice to put a little extra effort into it.
But therein lies the challenge. A little extra effort, as far as salad is concerned, usually means a lot of last-minute prep right before serving, which adds stress to an already stressful day of cooking. The fact is, dressing tender greens in advance just leads to wilted lettuce. So my goal with this salad was to hit a few key marks: I wanted it to feel festive and appropriate for the special occasion; I wanted it to be seasonal, celebrating fall with a cornucopia of hearty ingredients; I wanted to design it so that you can prep almost all of it in advance—even a couple days in advance—without its quality suffering; and I wanted it to hold up as it sits once fully dressed, so that second and third helpings are just as good as the first.
At the back of my mind when I set out to make a salad that met all these requirements was a beautiful and tasty one my former colleague, Grace Parisi, an incredibly talented recipe developer, made back when we worked together at Food & Wine. Hers was chock full of different components, some pickled, some roasted, some boiled. It's a great dish, but it's a little too much work for most people to add to an already busy cooking lineup.
I thought it would be fun to work with a similar concept while keeping things a lot simpler. To make mine, I took several pounds of mixed brassicas—regular and romanesco broccoli, plus some cauliflower—and roasted them until browned and tender. Don't worry if you can't find romanesco broccoli at your market: you can use an equal weight of whichever brassicas you can find (Brussels sprouts would be great in the mix as well).
While the brassicas roasted, I put some radishes and sunchokes in a couple of small
skillets and roasted them in the oven too. It's possible to fit it all in the oven at once, so it's not too much of a time investment.
At the same time, I put a mix of fingerling potatoes in a pot on the stovetop and simmered them until tender. The key with making them taste great is to simmer them in generously salted water (I didn't go as high-salt as Kenji does in his salt-boiled potatoes, but it might work great here) with aromatics and herbs, like rosemary and garlic.
For the dressing, I made a basic vinaigrette similar to Kenji's and added tarragon for some extra flavor.
When you're ready to serve, just combine the brassicas and potatoes with some thinly sliced raw radishes and sunchokes, frisee and radicchio, parsley leaves and the dressing.
The roasting and boiling steps and making the dressing are the most involved parts of the recipe, but you can do all that a few days ahead and then refrigerate everything until Thanksgiving day; just let them come to room temperature before finishing the salad. Even the frisee, radicchio, parsley leaves, and sliced radishes and sunchokes are robust enough to be prepped a day ahead without trouble.
That's what I love about this salad—it looks impressive and is so delicious, but all the make-ahead parts remove the stress. And it won't wilt much once dressed. You can just toss it all together and soak up the praise.