Fall is here. How do I know this? Because Thanksgiving is just around the corner and retailers have already bombarded me with yuletide joy in the form of Christmas decorations and unreasonable expectations. So let’s take this moment to revel in fall, or what we in California like to call fire season.
This recipe is just in time for Thanksgiving. It’s a refreshing break from the butter and sugar laden dishes that we all find at the table this holiday season. I’m not complaining. I happily intend to fill my plate at least twice with sweet potato casserole and stuffing. But I’ll feel slightly better if I say that I ate a helping of this delicious, seasonal salad.
Working with brussels sprouts and fennel may seem kind of daunting for the newbs. That’s cool. You have to start somewhere, right? If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend the book The Vegetable Butcher. It’s a pretty self explanatory book: it teaches you how to process and break down all kinds of vegetables. It’s clearly written and the photos do a great job of helping you understand how to work with veggies that you may not be familiar with. Put it on the gift list for your foodie friend or the friend who’s learning to cook. Oh no, that pesky holiday pressure is seeping in…help!
The beauty of this salad is that it can be prepped the day before you plan on serving it. The brussels sprouts and fennel are hearty and won’t wilt while they hang out in the fridge. Who doesn’t like stress-saving recipes for the holidays? Also, if you choose to forgo the cheese and pancetta, this salad is filling and cheap. This recipe makes, as my dear friend Holiday calls it, a “fuck ton” of salad. So if you want to downsize it, just cut the recipe in half. You’re welcome.
Brussels Sprout, Fennel, and Apple Slaw with Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Serves 8 to 10 as a side
- 1 & 1/2 lb. of brussels sprouts, shaved
- 2 small or medium fennel bulbs, shaved
- 2 Snap Dragon apples, cored and sliced thinly lengthwise
- 1 c. of walnuts, lightly toasted
- 1 c. dried cranberries
- 2/3 c. of crumbled blue cheese (optional)
- 1/2 lb. of pancetta, cubed and cooked until brown and crispy, and drained (optional)
- 1/2 c. of extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 & 1/2 tbsp. of dijon mustard
- 1 & 1/2 tbsp. honey
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Thoroughly wash and rinse the brussels sprouts and the fennel bulbs, along with the apples. Get yourself a very large bowl and set aside.
Cut off any brownish roots from the brussels sprouts. Then, shred them. You can do this by cutting them in half lengthwise (top to root), and then slicing each half into really thin slices. (Note: if you can find brussels sprouts that are already shredded, go for it). Place the shredded sprouts into the giant bowl.
Shred the fennel: remove the stalks by cutting them where the stalks and the bulb meet (You can save the stalks and fennel fronds later for chicken or vegetable stock. I just throw them in the freezer in a bag and label it with a date so I know how long they’ve been hanging out in there). Cut off the root part of the bulb. Cut the bulbs into quarters and cut out the tough core. If you’re having trouble visualizing, check this out. Then slice each quarter very thinly lengthwise. Throw the shaved fennel into the bowl with the shredded brussels sprouts.
Let’s get to the apples. Set aside a small bowl that is large enough to hold the sliced apples. Fill the small bowl about 2/3 of the way with cold water and a splash of apple cider vinegar (maybe 2 tablespoons). Core the apples and then cut them in half lengthwise (top to bottom). Then thinly slice each apple half lengthwise. Immediately place the freshly cut apples in the small bowl of water with vinegar to keep them from browning. Set aside. Note: you can cover the sprouts and fennel, as well as the small bowl of apples in water, and place them in the fridge to serve them the next day.
Let’s make the dressing: place all of the ingredients for the dressing in a small tupperware container with a lid and shake. Let it all sit for at least 30 minutes before serving to ensure that all of the flavors marry. Or put it in the fridge to dress the salad for the next day.
If you’re going to use the pancetta, cube it and cook it until the pieces are brown and crispy. Drain and allow to cool on a towel in a bowl. You can do this the day before you intend to use it, but I prefer to do it the day of because the pancetta sort of loses its crispiness once it’s been refrigerated after cooking.
Walnuts: I like to toast the walnuts over medium-low heat on the stove. You’ll know they’re done because they’ll be slightly fragrant. Do NOT over toast them because if you do, they will taste very bitter (I’ve burned my fair share of nuts).
You can of course find blue cheese that is already crumbled and dried cranberries are everywhere so yay for the easy ingredients!
Now to put it together: drain the apples and place them in the giant bowl with your sprouts and fennel. Add in about half of the shaken dressing and toss everything to coat. Then add in the cranberries and walnuts (and the pancetta and blue cheese, if you plan on using it). Add more dressing to taste and toss everything together.
Serve along with the rest of your Thanksgiving meal and pat yourself on the back for serving a salad that people will actually eat.