Thanksgiving fennel salad

A fresh, crunchy fennel salad will balance all of the rich foods on the Thanksgiving table.

The Rowdy Chowgirl
A simple salad with shaved fennel, olives, and tangerines, in a lemony vinaigrette seasoned with fennel pollen.

I’ve been mulling over Thanksgiving vegetables. I’ve been rolling string beans, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli around in my mind like a handful of smooth, green marbles.

Thanksgiving is at my house this year. Eons ago, I vowed to never cook a holiday meal by myself again. After many, many, experiences of shopping and cooking myself to the brink of exhaustion for one meal, just one meal, which was over in less than an hour, I said enough. And I’ve stuck to it. I know there are plenty of people who truly enjoy cooking for days on end and are still smiling, flushed with success and brimming with satisfaction, when everyone finally sits down at the table, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I am not one of them.

Holiday meals don’t necessarily need to be elaborate anyway. As long as there are plenty of the basics, nobody’s going to be complaining. The important thing is to come together around the table with friends and family and celebrate all that we are grateful for.

Fortunately for me, Michael loves to cook turkey, dressing, and gravy. And I’ve invited some of my favorite people, all of whom have promised to bring their specialties. It’s so much more fun to share the cooking anyway, and to get to try someone else’s special pie or potatoes. I picked up our free-range turkey at the farmer’s market last week and he (or she) is safely stowed in the freezer. I’ll set a festive table, and make cranberry relish, and enjoy welcoming friends and family into my home.

And that just leaves the small matter of Thanksgiving vegetables. A vegetable on the Thanksgiving table is nice to have – a little something green and crunchy as a foil for all of the soft, rich, browns and beiges and whites on the table. Some simple steamed string beans or broccoli would fit the bill, but I want to do something a bit more festive. Green salads seem too summery. Anything requiring oven space is problematic. And as much as I personally love Brussels sprouts, they would not please the head chef.

I was having dinner with a friend last week and we were sort of going crazy ordering a series of small plates when a fennel salad jumped out at us from the menu, begging for our notice. It was a simple salad, just shaved fennel, olives, and tangerines, in a lemony vinaigrette with fennel pollen. But when I took the first bite, oh baby, I was in love. I knew that my search for the perfect Thanksgiving vegetable was over. Because this salad, with its fresh, tangy, intense flavor and cool green crunch, was just perfect to join the holiday table right next to the stuffing and potatoes.

I was able to recreate this salad with fennel pollen because I happened to have some already on hand that I bought online. I haven’t seen fennel pollen for sale in stores here in Seattle, though. It does intensify the flavors in the salad, but if you don’t have a ready supply of fennel pollen, it will be fine without it.

The fennel flavor in this salad is surprisingly unassertive. So if you do not care for the strong licorice flavor of fennel weed, fear not.

Shaved Fennel Salad with Satsumas and Oil-Cured Olives

(serves 6-8)

2 large fennel bulbs
2 Satsuma oranges, peeled and sectioned
1/4 cup small pitted oil cured olives
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of two lemons
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pepper, to taste
Pinch of sugar (if lemons are especially bitter)

Cut the fronds from the fennel bulbs at the base of their stalks, and discard. Wash and dry the bulbs. Trim the root end, then cut the bulbs in half from root to crown. With a sharp knife or mandolin slicer, thinly slice the fennel. In a large bowl, dress the fennel, orange slices, and olives with the olive oil, lemon, and fennel pollen, tossing to coat. Taste, and add sugar if needed. Let salad marinate in refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.

Christina Masters blogs at The Rowdy Chowgirl.

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