The month of December can feel like a whirlwind of potlucks, holiday parties, gift wrapping and eating cookies for breakfast. With all of the rushing around and expectations, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and forget that holiday meals are a time to nourish your family and friends and enjoy their company. When I hosted Christmas dinner for the first time for my family, I spent so many hours fussing over menus, planning dishes and preparing that I almost missed out on enjoying the day with my family. Since then, I have realized that colorful, simple meals made with healthy and fresh local ingredients check off all of the boxes—they can impress guests, feed them well and leave the host and cook enough time to pour the drinks, mingle with guests and catch up with family.
While my family is traditional and still wants some of their Italian favorites like baccalà or spaghetti with bread crumbs and anchovies, I add in big chopped salads to entertain their palates and still leave some room for dessert. My new favorite holiday salad is comforting and indulgent but also healthy and nutritious. You transform cold-weather vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale and butternut squash into a salad and get to sneak in some crispy bacon and chopped nuts. The vegetables get tossed in a warm bacon vinaigrette, and instantly you have a great side dish. To save time, you can run the Brussels sprouts and kale through a food processor with the shredder blade attachment!
If you’re unsure about Brussels sprouts, they are easy to find when it’s cold out and are super versatile. The flavor and taste of Brussels sprouts also improve once they’ve been hit with a frost. Their small size gives the salad great texture and crunch. As a child, I hated Brussels sprouts because my family would boil or steam them, but now I love them because they are often roasted or eaten in salads in my home. Brussels sprouts are incredibly healthy vegetables, providing us with more than our daily requirement for vitamins C and K. They also are full of antioxidants, have compounds in them that are anti-inflammatory and help our bodies detoxify from toxins.
If you have trouble finding local kale, you can substitute another hearty green like collard greens. I promise this salad will make all of your guests happy at your holiday dinner! It can be scaled up or down to meet your needs, and tastes great as leftovers. You can also make this salad a full meal by adding quinoa—just add cooked quinoa when arranging the salad and gently fold the quinoa in with the other ingredients.
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 bunch lacinato kale
3 cups butternut squash (1 small/medium squash)
1½ tablespoons olive oil (or bacon fat)
1 large apple, chopped
⅓ pound bacon
2 tablespoons chopped almonds or pecans
2 tablespoon raisins
1½ tablespoons bacon fat
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon honey
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½-¾ teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°. Lay bacon slices out on a sheet pan and bake for 20-40 minutes (depending on thickness) until they are crisp but not burned. Remove from the oven and reserve bacon fat. Chop the bacon slices into pieces once they have cooled.
Chop butternut squash into ¾-inch cubes. Toss with a little olive oil or bacon fat and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30 minutes, flip squash over and continue roasting until the squash is soft. Set aside.
Cut the hard ends off of the Brussels sprouts. Lay the Brussels sprouts so the cut side is touching the cutting board. Slice the Brussels sprouts vertically into thin strips. Alternatively, run the Brussels sprouts through a food processor with the shaving attachment. Roll the slices of lacinato kale up lengthwise and cut the kale into thin strips (a chiffonade works well here). For even smaller pieces, you can also cut the thin strips in half.
While the bacon fat is still warm but not hot, mix the apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and spices together. Slowly drizzle in the bacon fat and olive oil, making sure to mix well with a small whisk or fork.
In a large bowl, mix the shaved Brussels sprouts and kale with the dressing with your hands or two mixing spoons. Gently fold in the apple, butternut squash, bacon, raisins and nuts. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.