If there’s one time of year where I, along with most other people, am overcome with the idea of “tradition,” it’s the holidays. I never stray from the classics at Thanksgiving dinner, sticking to buttery mashed potatoes with a side of green bean casserole and a perfectly rich pumpkin pie topped off with a dollop of whipped cream. So of course I’m not that target reader of the recipes that end up on those “unexpected side dishes to try this year” lists. Chalk it all up to my inner traditionalist, but Thanksgiving is just one of those sacred rituals in the house that I don’t want to change up. This year will be no different and the usual suspects will be making their appearance on the dinner table, but then I read this article about why your Thanksgiving feast NEEDS a salad. Do you have one at your dinner? I’ve never made a salad for our gathering – the only acidic item on our table that cuts through all the rich flavors is the cranberry sauce that I load up with orange and lemon juice and the closest we get to a salad is a little corn dish my mom likes that is loaded with bell peppers and basil leaves – but after reading the article, I totally get that we’ve been missing out. I mean, in any other recipe, you try and balance out richness with something light, so why not do the same at Thanksgiving dinner? So I am stepping off my Thanksgiving high-horse and branching out to add something bright and green, but still filled with all the flavors of fall and my spice cabinet, to our table this year.
In trying to figure out what ingredients I wanted to add to this salad, I tried hard to bring together flavors that really celebrated the season and brought all those festive things we love about this time of year into one bowl. Pumpkin seeds and cranberries come together for texture and tanginess, and the everyone’s favorite autumn star – the humble squash – really brings this dish together.
If you’re attending a gathering where you offer to bring the salad, I would highly recommend using a hearty kale variety as your base. The leaves will stand up with the dressing and maintain their texture while also acting as the perfect blank canvas for all of these flavors. I’ve also just tossed everything together with arugula and spinach if I’m whipping together a quick lunch so be sure to pick your favorite!
The squash here is what really brings this dish together and makes it the perfect side dish. I picked up some kabocha squash, as I love the contrast of its beautiful green skin with that gorgeous orange color. The flavor is pretty similar to a butternut squash, so if you can’t find kabocha at your local store, you could easily swap with any other squash or even some sweet potatoes! The other thing I love about squash this time of year is how it acts as such a perfect base for any flavors. (In case you’re looking for more squash inspiration this season – this is your Ultimate Guide!)
And let’s not forget about the other star in this salad – those roasted figs! I wanted to make sure that this dish had something special that made it feel festive, and the figs do just that. If you already love figs as is, you have to try roasting them. They get extra rich and sweet, and roasting them in honey gives them this delectable sticky texture that is such a treat to bite into.
Feel free to adjust ingredients based on what you have on hand and use your favorite tangy dressing. And in case you need any other Thanksgiving salad inspiration, here are a few other favorites I have: