When I opened this series about Thanksgiving foods you could contribute to a dinner you weren’t hosting, I wrote that my family’s own Thanksgiving traditions rarely varied and so the whole series was kind of vicarious. That claim wasn’t entirely true, though: Some years we bake five desserts and some years six. Some years we stick place cards on gourds, some years on cookies.
And some years we make Uncle Brad’s Health Salad and some years we don’t.
First, you should know that health salad has no verifiable link to Uncle Brad. [ed: found the link. Uncle B liked it and asked for the recipe. My mom gave it to him with one modification: the copious measure of sugar was halved. The salad, therefore, was probably not that good.]
We always thought he brought it once to our party, decades ago, but last I checked, he had no recollection of this. Anyway, the salad doesn’t seem too much like him: it’s plain, it’s not particularly festive, it’s arguably not worth the stomach space when there are biscuits and turkey skin available. That’s the reason, some years, we don’t make the slaw: we bet no one will eat any.
The reason the slaw appears, when it does, is that a forkful tastes fresh, though you can make the whole salad ahead of time, and the texture has that crunchy-raw bite that’s welcome on a plate of buttery and soft things–both on Thursday itself and through the indulgent long weekend to follow.
If you host or a attend a Thanksgiving dinner where you think such a thing as a salad would get eaten, I have another reason you should make slaw. You can commit this recipe to heart, right now. (It’s not exactly Uncle Brad’s recipe, or my mom’s, but the taste sits right with me.)
All you need to know is a proportion. For each half a cabbage, you want one apple, one carrot, one pepper and one onion. To dress the thing, equal parts: 1/4 cup each of oil, sugar, and vinegar, heated up with a touch of soy sauce and some minced garlic (or garlic powder as I discovered on a recent weekend trip). The hot dressing melts the cabbage in the most delightful way. Vary the flavor with spices or a hot pepper, if you like, but that’s really the whole recipe for a dish that you can shop for and whip up for people even far from your own (garlic powder-free) kitchen comfort zone.
Which is to say, while slaw makes an impact on the holiday table, knowing slaw by heart makes an impact on the people who are watching you cook, and if you care to impress them, well, there’s that.
Read more about Thanksgiving prep here.