My pal Alexis Handelman, the creative brains behind our beloved Alexis Baking Company here in Napa, had me over this last summer for a meal. It was all delicious but she made a composed salad with heirloom beans that just knocked my socks off. I asked her if we could have the recipe for Thanksgiving and she said no! She wanted to readjust it for the seasonal vegetables that would make it even better. If this meant another dinner party, I was all in!
The Thanksgiving version turned out to be even more memorable. As I ate seconds (and thirds), I thought, this dish is great because it’s delicious, its focus is seasonal New World food and it was substantial enough that my vegetarian friends would feel plenty of love. So often they are an afterthought and Thanksgiving should really be about making everyone happy.
Don’t let the ingredient list or techniques scare you off. It’s elaborate but easy. Mostly you are preparing the different parts and then gently composing the finished dish on a platter. Watching Alexis’ face as she entered the dining room with this big beautiful dish, bursting with well-deserved pride, really made me think this is going to be a terrific holiday season.
Heirloom Bean & Wild Rice Thanksgiving Salad
4 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Rebosero or Eye of the Goat beans
4 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Wild Rice
1 cup cubed Sugar Pie pumpkin squash
1/2 red onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
5 large Brussels sprouts
1 cup dried cranberries, rehydrated in water or brandy
1 fresh Fuyu persimmon, quartered and thinly sliced
1/3 cup baby arugula (rocket)
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-2 teaspoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs such as lemon thyme, chervil, or marjoram
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the squash cubes and onion with a liberal amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until tender, turning if necessary, 15 to 20 minutes. Once the onion is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2-inch dice.
Meanwhile, separate the leaves from the Brussels sprouts, discarding the tough cores. In a steamer, steam the leaves until bright green and just tender, about 3 minutes.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk the olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and herbs together in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
In a bowl, combine the beans, wild rice, and diced onion. Mix in about half of the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper or more vinaigrette. Transfer to a large platter.
In another bowl, combine the roasted squash, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, persimmon, arugula, and parsley. Add about 1/4 cup of the remaining vinaigrette and mix gently to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper or more vinaigrette. Scatter this mixture on top of the bean-rice mixture.
Sprinkle the pomegranates and walnuts over the top of the salad and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.
Notes on cooking this dish:
I’m not a huge persimmon fan but I’ll eat them. I took my first bite of this salad and rather rudely said, “It’s really good but I think I’d add more vinegar and up the acid level a bit.” Alexis nodded and then I took another bite, this time with the persimmon. Never mind. This was perfection! My advice would be to make sure there’s enough persimmon so you get a little bit with most bites.
To keep things sharp and distinct, as well as beautiful, Alexis dressed the different components and then lovingly composed her platter. My tendency would be to put all the ingredients in a bowl and then just toss but Alexis proved me wrong.
Alexis rolled her eyes when I started asking about exact proportions and vegetables. She basically made the base the beans and wild rice and everything else was based on what was available at the market. This is a fairly accurate account of what she made but she stresses that you can improvise with whatever looks good. I think that’s all fine and dandy but many of us are not as talented as Alexis Handelman.
The most important thing is to have fun. I’m confident your guests, all of them, will love this.