“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s the warmest feeling, with no Santa Claus, no gifts, just family,” said Alberto Vazquez, chef and owner of the Thousand Oaks-based food truck Rock Chef Rolls.
Vazquez grew up in Santa Barbara, where his father, Joe Vazquez, was chef at Harry’s Plaza Cafe. Although the elder Vazquez often had to work on holidays, the younger recalls spending many a Thanksgiving playing outside with neighbors until the sage-and-butter smell of the Thanksgiving turkey lured him indoors.
Before hitting the road with his food truck early this year, Alberto Vazquez was best known as executive chef at Mediterraneo at the Westlake Village Inn. But his go-to Thanksgiving recipe for Harvest Salad predates that gig.
“This has been in my arsenal since I was at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica in the late ’90s. Now we can’t have a Thanksgiving without it,” Vazquez said.
“Sometimes I add butternut squash and currants. You can go nuts with the nuts and add different dried fruits if you like. There’s a reason we also call it the Everything But the Kitchen Sink Salad,” he added with a laugh.
Variations on the Harvest Salad are on the Thanksgiving menu Vazquez is making for home-delivery clients, and during occasional appearances by the Rock Chef Rolls truck at The WineYard in Thousand Oaks and at Surf Brewery in Ventura.
6 ounces baby spinach, pre washed
1 head hearts of romaine, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise to create wide ribbons of lettuce
2 cups baby arugula, pre washed
1 ounce scallions, green tops only, roughly chopped
3 ounces blue cheese crumbles
3 ounces toasted pecans, walnuts, lightly salted Marcona almonds or any nuts of your choosing
1 ½ cup poached pears, diced (see note below)
2 ounces golden raisins or roughly chopped dates
5 ounces white balsamic vinaigrette (see note below)
2 heads endive, preferably one green and one red for contrast, leaves separated
1 pint basket fresh blackberries
3 ounces pomegranate seeds
1. Toss the greens and scallions together in a large bowl.
2. Add the cheese, nuts and assorted fruits. Drizzle with about two-thirds of the balsamic vinaigrette and toss gently to coat.
3. Arrange endive leaves around the edge of a serving platter. Place tossed salad in the center, digging to the bottom of the bowl to make sure you get an even distribution of the cheese, nuts and fruit that will have settled there.
4. Garnish salad with the blackberries and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the top, paying special attention to any areas that don’t have much fruit or dressing.
NOTE: Want to poach your own pears? Here’s how Vazquez does it: Peel, core and cut each fruit in half. Combine ½ cup water with 1 cup of sugar and ½ cup of white wine in a sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil on the stove top. Add the fruit and cook just until you can easily push a toothpick into the flesh.
Likewise, want to make your own balsamic vinaigrette? Vazquez prefers a white balsamic for this salad, the better to show off the varied colors of the ingredients. In a blender, combine 1 minced shallot, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, 2 ounces white balsamic, a pinch of salt and the juice of 1 orange and the juice of 1 lemon. Blend. With the blender running, gradually add about ½ cup of oil consisting of about 75 percent grapeseed or canola oil to 25 percent extra virgin olive oil. When blended, transfer to a squeeze bottle fitted with a small tip, the better to place dollops of dressing precisely where you want them on the plated salad, said Vazquez.