Cranberry Waldorf Salad Inspired by Sam Sifton's 'Thanksgiving'

Cranberry Waldorf Salad Inspired by Sam Sifton's 'Thanksgiving'

Wednesday, 20 November, 2019

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.


Sam Sifton is the Food Editor at The New York Times. In his slender, charming book Thanksgiving, he explains everything you need to know to create your ideal day of eating and gratitude. He’s a Thanksgiving day troubleshooting expert, and his primary aim is to make you feel like you can tackle the day’s cooking — and family interactions — with aplomb.

The book includes first-rate recipes for the staples that anchor the menu — roasted turkey, dressing, apple and pumpkin pies — as well as handy how-tos for setting the table, brining the turkey, carving the bird, managing adult beverages, and more. But beyond the advice, what Sifton really does is make us excited for Thanksgiving. His enthusiasm for cooking and hosting on this all-American holiday is palpable and infectious:

This is my testimony: You can make a better turkey than anyone has ever served you in your life. You can serve it with dressing that will make your guests swoon. You can make Brussels sprouts into something marvelous… Your gravy can be a salty balm, rich in flavor, transforming all that it touches. You can have cranberry sauce that does not come out of a can; sweet potatoes free of marshmallows; butternut squash with maple and bacon, chipotle, and butter; mashed potatoes thick with cream. You can have crisp green beans, a beautiful pecan pie. You can make this, and your family can gather in happiness around you to consume it.

Sifton has strong opinions about what should and should not be on the Thanksgiving table. This video outlines his six rules in somewhat stern (and irresistible) fashion:

Based on that, we have zero doubt that Sifton would not approve of this non-traditional, not-for-everyone, but we-love-it recipe for Cranberry Waldorf Salad. We also like to think that on some level, he would appreciate our gumption because we’re doing Thanksgiving our way.

Cranberry Waldorf is a hand-me-down from Melissa’s mom, and she stole the recipe from her much-adored, glamorous, and slightly eccentric sister Polly, who probably clipped it from a magazine sometime in the 1970s. In our house, it’s customary to eat this ‘salad’ along with our dinner, even though it’s pretty much straight-up dessert. It’s sweet (apples, grapes) and tangy (cranberries), with the chewy, buttery crunch of pecans, and a luscious cream holding it all together.

A little bit of forethought: Place a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator, ideally overnight, but 3-4 hours will do. Also, this salad works best if you do the prep, let it sit overnight, then assemble it shortly before eating. It’s worth the minor effort. For a shortcut, you can replace the coconut milk with traditional whipped cream or Cool-Whip, if you prefer.)

cranberry waldorf salad for Thanksgiving

Cranberry Waldorf Salad

Serves a lot. Prep 10 minutes X 2 days.


  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (Thai Kitchen works best.)
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 16 dried apricots
  • 1 pound seedless grapes, cut in half
  • 2 medium apples, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract



Get ready. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place your mixing bowl and beater in the freezer.

Prep the fruit. Wash the cranberries and set a few aside for garnish. Place the rest in the bowl of a food processor with the dried apricots and grind them until the mixture has the consistency of relish. In a large bowl, toss the cranberry-apricot relish with the cut apples and grapes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator so they can get to know each other. Forget about them until tomorrow.

Toast the pecans. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 5-7 minutes until golden. Keep an eye on them; they can burn quickly. When they’re cool, chop the pecans and set aside, saving a few unchopped for garnish.

The next day…

Blast-freeze the coconut milk. When you’re ready to assemble the salad, transfer your can of coconut milk out of the fridge — don’t shake it — to the freezer. Place the mixing bowl and whisk attachment for an electric mixer in the freezer. Let everything chill for 10 minutes.

Make the whipped coconut cream. Remove the mixing bowl and beater from the freezer. Carefully turn the can upside down — don’t shake — and it. Scoop the thick coconut cream into the chilled mixing bowl and toss the liquid that’s left over. Add the vanilla extract and beat the mixture on the highest speed of your mixer until it looks like whipped cream. This takes about 5-7 minutes.

Bring it home. When the cream is done, place the chopped pecans and fruit relish in a large bowl. Gently fold in the whipped cream and garnish with whole cranberries and nuts.

Finally, as everyone takes a seat and prepares to eat, there is the delicate moment where you or someone at the table should ask for everyone’s attention and offer thanks to one and all for being present, and for helping out. This is extraordinarily important. Such literal thanks-giving may smack of religiosity to some, but it need not be spiritual in the least. It is the point of the entire exercise. — Sam Sifton


by Sam Sifton

Sam Sifton is the Food Editor at The New York Times. He spent years troubleshooting readers’ Thanksgiving-related questions about burnt turkeys and still-frozen turkeys, bland gravy, and picky eaters. In this charmingly written and wildly practical handbook, he shares his hard-won wisdom and potentially divisive opinions about what makes an ideal Thanksgiving. Divided into chapters that reflect a Thanksgiving menu, it tackles each step of the process head-on with anecdotes, recipes, and pragmatic, step-by-step guidance for buying the best ingredients and setting the right holiday tone. {more}

This how-to guide and pep talk (160 pages) was published in October of 2012 by Random House. The book takes you to the Thanksgiving table. Melissa read Thanksgiving and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.


Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well


Top image courtesy of Tatiana Rodriguez.

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