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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Thanksgiving Salad for Winter

Shockingly enough, one of this year’s Thanksgiving hits was – you won't believe this – a salad. Imagine that. Originally concocted by a bunch of Brits and composed of an unlikely mix of ingredients it was a perfect foil for the turkey and other sides, and had the extra benefit of booting boring old green beans from the menu.

I first had The Salad at an amazing Thanksgiving meal in London, hosted by some friends at Soho House . It was a magical evening. (No, this is most certainly not an everyday occurrence and I/we do not lead an even remotely glamorous life…it’s just, you know how sometimes things happen? You luck into a wonderful invitation…and there you are.) Anyway…there was a convivial group of people, a cozy private room and a menu that was entirely original. Yes, there was turkey, but there was roasted fish too! And, stuffing, of course, but shaped into croquettes and deep-fried (oh, heavens that was good!!) I remember a wild mushroom risotto I couldn’t seem to get enough of (furtively glancing around while taking a third helping to make sure no one was watching and secretly pleased that Stephen was sitting down at the other end of the table completely under the spell of a gorgeous, sassy Brazilian woman) AND, there was…
The Salad. It was perfect, in all respects.

Maybe I was enchanted by the swanky surroundings and the multiple glasses of champagne…maybe I loved it because it was part of a fabulous meal that I did not have to prepare! I studied it as I ate my, umm, second helping (?). It was composed of simple ingredients -- arugula, roasted sweet potatoes, crumbled goat cheese and toasted, whole almonds -- that sang together on the plate. I resolved to attempt recreating it at home. On our way out that evening, I cornered the delightful Soho House manager, complimenting him on the beautiful meal. He seemed genuinely pleased, sharing that he had invited a handful of American members the week before just to “test” some of the Thanksgiving dishes he had planned. Sigh. I’d spend every Thanksgiving there if I could.

Since that marvelous evening, I have made The Salad on scores of occasions and it wins raves each and every time. This year, looking for a way to bump those dull green beans from the roster, the big light bulb went on over my head: why, The Salad, of course!

I don’t quite remember the dressing very well – ahem, maybe the champagne is to blame – so, I use a rich, balsamic vinaigrette that pairs well with the rustic, charred sweet potatoes.

After spending several evenings and most of last Thursday in the kitchen, I found myself smiling dreamily as I sat amidst the chaos of Thanksgiving Dinner with the family. A bite of The Salad and memories of a London Thanksgiving had come flooding back.

Soho House Salad
Serves 6

For the Salad:
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into long spears and then roasted
1 bunch/bag of arugula
1 cup whole almonds, toasted
goat cheese, crumbled (about 2.5 oz, or more if you like)

For the Vinaigrette:
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
pinch of salt
1 shallot, finely minced

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss the peeled, cut sweet potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small roasting pan or ovenproof skillet. Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes, turning the potatoes several times with a spatula so they become evenly browned. Remove from oven, cool and chop into 1 inch chunks.

2. Place whole almonds in a small pan and toast for approximately 10 minutes, or until fragrant, alongside the potatoes.
**Keep a careful eye on the almonds -- they can burn quickly.** Cool on a separate plate.

2. Prepare the vinaigrette, using a small jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the salt with the vinegar, stirring to dissolve.
Add minced shallot and let sit for five or ten minutes to soften.  Add mustard and olive oil, cover with lid and shake to mix.

3. Layer the arugula on a large platter and sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of the dressing. Layer the chunks of sweet potato, followed by a scattering of the crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle again with tablespoon or so of the dressing.

4. Top with toasted almonds and serve.

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