Editor’s note: Thanksgiving traces its origins to an uneasy, temporary alliance between 17th-century English settlers and members of the Wampanoag Confederacy. This year, Eater is choosing to acknowledge that history in our coverage of the holiday.
A few years ago, a chef friend introduced me to the concept of salad. Not the actual leafy pile, but the purpose that salad can serve when it’s not presented in massive quantities as your entire desk lunch. She had been to dinner at Porsena (RIP), and between the meat and pasta and foie gras, there had been an escarole salad that she couldn’t stop raving about. The greens cut through the richness of everything else that was being served, providing some much-needed roughage and, amazingly, letting everyone eat more than if their stomachs had been full of only animal fat and cheese.
This is why I’m begging my families to include salad on the Thanksgiving menu from now on.
My families have mostly treated Thanksgiving salad as something that would take up precious plate space that could otherwise be occupied by potatoes, turkey, and mac and cheese. The point of this holiday is abundance, and salads, according to their logic, are anathema to abundance. I don’t blame them — or myself — for thinking this. For my entire childhood, salad was spoken of as “diet food,” alternately a virtue-signaling or self-punishing order. Yes, I enjoyed running rampant at the Pizza Hut salad bar, but that was mostly to fill my wooden bowl with shredded cheddar, those little crunchy breadsticks, and ranch dressing. If you dined on anything that was overwhelmingly lettuces, you had an agenda.
But I’m not 10 anymore, and I’ve come to enjoy salads on their own terms, whether it’s a garlicky, pungent Caesar, spinach in a warm vinaigrette, or whatever vegetables I have in my fridge thrown in a bowl with some yogurt sauce and a hard-boiled egg. Every adult I know agrees vegetables are good! And yet, when it comes to Thanksgiving and other heavy-eating holidays, everyone seems to go right back to saying salad is a waste of effort and space, and the only good vegetable is one cooked to hell in bacon.
I’m not saying I want salad at the Thanksgiving table to provide a “healthier” option on a night of riches. I’m saying that a crucial component of those riches is a variety of flavor and texture, something that salad does an incredible job of providing when it’s not treated like an afterthought or a punishment. I think of how hearty and refreshing a broccoli caesar would be, or a corn chowder salad, or something cooked, like a grilled eggplant salad with coconut milk dressing. And I cherish every holiday where a cousin has brought a bowl of shredded brussels sprouts with toasted almonds.
Having a salad on the table also helps me enjoy the rest of the food more. Bite after bite of scalloped potatoes, gravy-doused turkey, and my family’s Bengali shrimp masala is delicious, but I have to stop too quickly, my mouth slick and my stomach heavy. A bite of crunchy greens offers a bright reset, letting me go back for seconds. Which is basically the whole point of Thanksgiving. So maybe this year, it’s time to stop considering salad as a waste of space.
Cindy Echevarria is a freelance illustrator based in Miami. She’s inspired by bright color palettes, badass women, and the tropics.