Recipe Review

Field Greens and Poached Pear Salad Is a Thanksgiving Side That Steals the Show

published Nov 22, 2022
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Bowl of salad with greens, tomatoes, poached pears on thanksgiving table. Dressing next to it with small spoon
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

Last year, I was lucky enough to hang out with New York City chef (and opera singer extraordinaire) Alexander Smalls at his stunning apartment in Harlem and watch along as he prepared his delicious spread for Thanksgiving Food Fest 2021. Alexander’s mouth-watering menu included Lemon Candied Yams, Sautéed Green Beans with Benne Seeds, Roast Turkey with Cornbread Chestnut Dressing, Bourbon Pecan Pie, and, my personal favorite, this Field Greens, Poached Pear, Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.

Needless to say, he put his foot, neck, and back into his Thanksgiving dinner spread! Everything was perfectly cooked, well-seasoned, and the dishes all complemented one another beautifully — Alexander effortlessly wove his personal family history in with the legacy of Southern Black foodways and its ties to West Africa. While each part of the meal was noteworthy, the dish that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days to come was the poached pear and black-eyed pea salad.

I often vote to skip salad on the Thanksgiving table. This isn’t because I don’t love salads (evidence otherwise: here, here, and here), but mainly because there are already so many things on the Thanksgiving table that sometimes it feels like you’re putting it there just to say you had a salad present. This, however, is not the case at all when it comes to Alexander’s Thanksgiving salad. Let’s break down the components, shall we?

What Makes This Salad So Amazing

I absolutely love how much subtle flavor development goes on just among the green vegetables in this salad! Alexander used a variety of greens, ranging from mild to peppery to slightly bitter in taste (butterhead, arugula, and frisée to name a few). That mixture of different greens brings an automatic boost of flavor to any salad. He also opted for Persian cucumbers over English cucumbers, which I love because Persian cucumbers have a mildly sweet flavor and aren’t as watery as the English ones.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

This powerhouse salad also includes cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a generous amount of black-eyed peas. There are two remaining components, however, that stand above all the rest for me. The first, is the citrus vinaigrette, which is punchy but well-balanced and really makes the whole dish come alive. Last but certainly not least, the real star of the show is the poached pears that are delicately strewn throughout the salad.

Alexander’s recipe calls for poaching sliced Bosc pears in a mixture of red wine, sugar, and warm spices like cinnamon and star anise. It’s very important to make sure that you don’t overcook the pears because a mushy texture will compromise the taste of the entire salad. You want them to cook until they’re fork-tender and then let them cool in the refrigerator. These poached pear slices are sweet and flavorful, and they make this salad feel like an extremely fancy affair.

Besides their fabulous taste, the pears in the recipe are special because they pay homage to Alexander’s late father who planted a pear tree in their backyard. A common thread in my conversation with Alexander that day was the importance of family. As Thanksgiving draws near, I’m thankful for so very many things this year. At the top of my list is the fact that this is the first Thanksgiving I’m spending with my entire family in almost a decade!

I’m planning to make this salad for them, which I know will totally blow them away, and so I’m also very thankful for Alexander, his thoughtful recipes, and the fact that he has so generously shared them with the rest of us.