saffron, fennel & opal apple salad

as the sole vegetarian in the clan, i was always responsible for making a salad or vegetable dish for our thanksgiving feast. with my reputation for cooking, a simple tossed greens salad was not going to cut it as my offering to thanksgiving dinner. and if i wasn't going to eat turkey or sausage stuffing, then i sure as hell wanted a fabulous fancy vegetable alternative for the occasion. every year it's a different dish. yesterday, my family actually celebrated thanksgiving a weekend ahead. i'll be honest, this is not the salad i brought... although it would have been delightful. instead, i brought a spinach salad topped with roasted delicata squash, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and orange crisps from 'simple & crisp.' it was a huge hit. i wanted to continue to experiment with salad ideas using these fabulous crisps, and came up with a beautiful salad that also highlights all the seasonal citrus and apples! it would be a gorgeous addition to any thanksgiving table. 

simple & crisp is a local business here in seattle. they've come up with a million different ways to use their crisps, but i serve them most often with cheese boards or crumbled over salads. you can find them locally around town at shops like whole foods, or can order them online here if you live outside of seattle. or i suppose if you own a dehydrator you could get crafty and try making your own orange crisps.  

fennel & opal apple salad ~ serves 4
3 small, or 2 medium sized bulbs of fennel
2 small opal or golden apples
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 small package orange 'simple & crisp' crackers

saffron-mandarin vinaigrette ~ makes 1/2 cup  
2 mandarin oranges or satsumas
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch saffron pedals

mix vinaigrette ingredients together and store at room temperature in a jar overnight, or for at least 4 hours until infused with the saffron color. if you don't have saffron, this salad is equally as tasty without it. but for a special occasion like thanksgiving, i'd suggest a pinch of saffron! 

toast slivered almonds on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven until fragrant and gently browned. let cool. 

thoroughly wash fennel and trim off the bottom of the bulbs. adjust mandolin slicer to its thinnest or second thinnest width. run the bottom of the bulb over the mandolin. slices should be almost translucent, but not so thin that they tear or shred apart. adjust thickness if needed. continue slicing until you reach the frizzy green portion of the vegetable. place fennel in a large mixing bowl and reserve the green fennel tops for later. 

run the apples across the mandolin, starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. do not work from the side of the apple, as you'll miss the beautiful star-shape that appears in the center of your slices. discard the any slices that include tough stem bits. apples should be thin and flexible, but not too floppy. adjust thickness if needed. place sliced apples in mixing bowl. finally, tear off a tablespoon or so of the frizzy green fennel tops, roughly chop and add to the mixing bowl. dress fennel and apples with infused vinaigrette and let rest for 10 minutes before plating. 

to assemble salad, place dressed apple slices overlapping each other on a plate or platter. place a mound of dressed shaved fennel over the apples. sprinkle salad with toasted almonds and crumble about 8 orange crisps across the salad. drizzle any remaining vinaigrette from the mixing bowl over the salad and serve immediately. you can assemble the salad ahead of time, just wait to add the almonds and orange crisps until ready to serve - otherwise they will loose their crisp contrasting textures!