I'm one of those people who, in order to feel better about the not-so-healthful food choice they are consuming, like to enjoy a salad on the side. It's like adding something super healthy to something not-so-healthy makes it all balance out. Ordering pizza? I'll throw together a salad to go with my 2 slices. Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger? I'll have the side salad with that, please. Piling up my plate full of Thanksgiving goodies? Yeah, I'll designate a quarter of the plate to some mixed greens.
This year, I decided to make the salad more of a star player, one of the "goodies," if you will, rather than the afterthought pile of greens it usually is. I wanted it to be a side dish that would really shine, something that would have people going back for seconds (even though, this year, the people I'm referring to is actually just Chris and I) and still be healthy enough to "balance out" all the other stuff.
I decided to use some kale, massaged with lemon juice and olive oil as the foundation for my healthy Thanksgiving salad. Red Kuri Squash is one of the sweeter winter squashes, so when it's roasted with just a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, it takes on some subtle caramel undertones. I love roasted Red Kuri squash so I knew it was going to be a main component of the salad (but any other winter squash would work here as well). Because I loved how well the rosemary worked with roasted beets in this recipe, I decided to add that combo to the salad as well. One of the greatest gifts of fall are apples, so I used some crisp, tart, slices of green apple to brighten up the salad.
I thought the highlight of the salad was going to be the roasted squash, or maybe the apple slices, but I was wrong. The tangy cranberry orange balsamic dressing, made with fresh cranberries, completely stole the show. I can't seem to find the words to describe how delicious this dressing was, but trust me- I had a hard time not drinking it straight. The nutty, salty pecan parmesan, my new most favorite thing ever since that butternut squash lasagna happened, tied it all together.
Chris doesn't dislike kale, but he doesn't love it. He doesn't like the way it gets stuck in his teeth so he never goes out of his way to eat it. This salad, however, was Chris's most favorite kale salad ever. Me? Well, it was probably my most favorite kale salad ever too. I know that I'll likely change my mind about this, but I kind of just want to have this for Thanksgiving. Just a big bowl of this salad
with a big glass of that dressing would be enough for me. If you want to be all traditional, and serve all the regular sides, this salad will still be a great addition to your menu. Although, if you you were planning on having leftover salad with cranberry dressing on Black Friday then you can kiss that idea good-bye. I'm going to be that guest who filled half my plate with this salad... three times.
- 1 bunch of kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- olive oil spray
- 1 red kuri squash, seeded, peeled, and chopped into cubes
- 2 teaspoon cinnamon
- a few dashes of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3-4 large red beets, peeled and chopped into cubes
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 green apple, thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
- 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberies
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 cups raw pecan pieces
- 1 cup nutritional yeast
- juice of half a lemon
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Preheat the oven to 400. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On one baking sheet, spread out the red kuri squash cubes, and on the other, spread out the beet cubes. Lightly spray each with olive oil spray (or drizzle with a bit of olive oil). Sprinkle the cinnamon and nutmeg over the red kuri squash and the rosemary over the beets. Salt and pepper both to taste, then toss to fully coat. Place both sheets in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking. Once the vegetables are done baking remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes.
- While the vegetables are cooking, place your kale in a large bowl and drizzle the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of olive oil over it. Spend about 5 minutes rubbing the lemon juice and olive oil into the kale, massaging it, if you will. Set aside- the lemon juice will continue to break down the fibers in the kale leaves and make it a bit softer.
- Add your apple slices and veggies to the bowl of kale and toss to combine. To serve, place a bit of the salad on a plate/in a bowl, drizzle some cranberry orange balsamic dressing on top and sprinkle with pecan parmesan. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Combine the orange juice and coconut sugar, letting the sugar dissolve, in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, lower to a simmer and add the cranberries. Once the cranberries begin to pop, after a few minutes, add the balsamic vinegar and lower the heat to a dull simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and chill until ready to use. Enjoy!
- Combine all of the parmesan ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it has a crumbly texture with tiny pieces of pecan. Do not overprocess- You do not want a flour-like or nut butter-type consistency. Pour the pecan parmesan into a bowl and chill until ready to use. Enjoy!
Photography by Chris Miller
For more vegan Thanksgiving recipes, check out my Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Goodness.
CJ at Food Stories
All of this looks fabulous but the pecan parmesan has captured my attention. How long do you think this would stay good in the fridge?
Thank you, CJ! You know, I made this parmesan about 2 weeks ago (the recipe makes a ton) and it's kept perfectly. And I put it on everything- soups, salads, vegetables- it's just so good! 🙂
CJ at Food Stories
Thank you, Kristy ... that's about what I was thinking 🙂
Jen, I LOVE hearing this! You totally made my day! 🙂
I think i'll like that dressing, a lott! i dont go for salads that often, but then i cant eat more than 2 bites of a greasy burger anyway to have to balance it out:)
i am a very cooked food kind of person..:) it might change though. in the last 2 years my food references have changed ddramatically
Isn't it funny how tastes change? When I was younger, I detested oatmeal, but now I look forward to it every morning. I know how you feel about cooked foods, though- in cold weather, I have a hard time eating salads, unless they're super hearty like this one. 🙂
Oh my, I can see why you would go back for that 3 times! Incredible salad and dressing Kristy!!!
Thank you, Somer! 🙂
i am dying over how delicious this salad looks. i would be perfectly content with only eating this on thanksgiving.
You and me both, lady! 🙂 I hope all is well with you! xo
Like you, I like to balance my indulgences with salad. For example, this past weekend we were in Chicago and I visited Native Foods many times over. On one trip I knew that I wanted the Save the Chicken wings, and so I ordered them as an appetizer with the cobb salad. I'm practically a saint! 😉
I'm definitely planning on salad taking up a big portion of my plate on Thanksgiving, but I hadn't entirely settled on the dressing yet. By chance, I bought a bag of cranberries, but I found out tonight that someone else is making the cranberry sauce. That means this dressing will slide in beautifully! I'm planning on using green leaf lettuce, because David and I are the only kale eaters. Do you think the dressing will be too hearty or intense for a lighter salad?
You are a saint! How did you like the Native Foods Cobb? Did you get to try the Bistro Steak Sandwich? I'm in love with their crispy shallots right now.
If you were to use this dressing on regular lettuce, it might be a little heavy. I would just thin it out with a little more orange juice or water and you'll be fine. 🙂 I hope you enjoy it!
Yum! I think I will have a lovely salad like this as a main dish for thanksgiving too. 🙂
The dressing sounds amazing! Yum! I adore cranberries, so I know i'd love this. The pecan parmesan is a great addition too. Happy Thanksgiving! xo
Thank you, Courtney. If you love cranberries, then this dressing is for you! 🙂
Oh boy I am the same way, haha I actually like to make Pizza salads - a bunch of salad greens on top of my pizza- totally makes me feel healthier...justin tries but it doesn't count as healthy when you cover your salad in vegan ranch dressing 😉 I love the thick cranberry dressing and oh my the pecan parm looks out of this world..but I'm a sucker for pecans 🙂
I love fresh greens on top of my pizza, though I don't think I've ever made it at home. I think I need to do that more often- it sounds like a super guilt-free pizza (my favorite kind). 😉