The final side dish of our healthy + delicious Thanksgiving menu is a refreshing salad, the perfect balance to the roasted and earthy flavors in the rest of the meal. Massaging kale might sound strange and a little wonderful (and maybe a bit like Portlandia); and yes, it’s a little of both. The massage tenderizes the kale and removes the bitter taste, leaving soft and lightly sweet leaves that are suitable as salad greens. We combined the kale with apple, pomegranate seeds, and a zesty dressing, and it turned out to be an incredibly tasty concoction. It’s a great salad for a holiday gathering: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or otherwise.
Are you planning a holiday menu? Putting together dishes that work together and compliment each other is difficult, and it took us weeks of planning and playing with options to narrow it down. For me, this was the hands-down hardest part of cooking for me when I started – and still is, really. I would pour over books with menu plans trying to understand the art of putting together a cohesive menu. Alex and I are still learners in this realm, but here are a few holiday menu planning tips we used to create the menu below:
- Use a few featured ingredients. We picked a few ingredients we wanted to shine: pomegranate, squash, pecans, and let them work across several recipes to create a sense of cohesion.
- Create contrasts. As I mentioned above, think about contrasting elements, both between recipes and within recipes. Roasted squash and Brussels sprouts versus bright and crisp apple and kale salad. Crunchy pepitas and wild rice versus soft roasted squash.
- Think in colors. So often, the Thanksgiving plate can be a pile of brown and white: brown turkey, white potatoes, brown gravy, brown stuffing. Here, we’ve amped up colors everywhere: crimson pomegranate, bright green kale, orange sweet potatoes, yellow squash. This helps the plate to remain visually appealing.
- Focus on nutrients. In every recipe and menu we create, we think about maximizing nutrients. We’re not nutritionists, but we’ve read enough to know leafy greens, orange squashes and sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, nuts, whole grains, pomegranates, and apples are nourishing and wholesome. We’ve relied on these ingredients heavily and complimented them with things like butter, milk, and cheese, and instead of the other way around where a meal can rely solely on refined flours and sugars and fats, with small bits of nourishing veg.
This isn’t a list of easy steps to a perfect menu, and requires a lot of thinking and creativity on your part. But it’s a starting point, and hopefully can inspire some menus of our own! We’d love to hear what your menu looks like.
Pomegranate Cider Spritzer
Stuffed Delicata Squash with Wild Rice, Brown Butter and Sage
Garlic and Chive Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecorino and Pecans
Massaged Kale Salad with Apple and Pomegranate
Poached Pears with Pecan Granola and Whipped Cream
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 3 pinches kosher salt, divided
- 2 bunches curly kale
- ½ cup pecans
- ½ cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 apple
- In a bowl or ball jar, combine ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar, ⅓ cup olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon chili powder, and 2 pinches kosher salt. Whisk or shake the jar to combine.
- Clean the kale and tear the leaves from the stem. Cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in bowl.
- Sprinkle the kale with 1 pinch kosher salt. Coat your hands with a few drops of olive oil and massage the kale for 2 to 3 minutes until all pieces are tender.
- Break the pecans into bite-sized pieces and place them in a dry skillet. Heat over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately.
- Remove the seeds from the pomegranate: cut the pomegranate in quarters and place them in a large bowl of water. Under the water, start to gently pull out the seeds with your fingers. Eventually you’ll be able to turn the peel inside out to extract the seeds closest to the outer skin. As you work, the pomegranate seeds will sink to the bottom, while the white pith from the fruit will float to the top. When all of the seeds are extracted, skim off the white pith and strain out the water.
- When ready to serve, julienne the apple (cut it into matchsticks; alternatively, chop into bite-sized pieces). Combine all ingredients and dress lightly with dressing.