Fall has arrived. The air is cooler and crisper. And the food is richer and warmer. From our decorations to our hand soaps, fall is showing its strength. In honor of fall’s arrival, I’m making one of my favorite salads. Shocker, right? Most people welcome it with a pumpkin dessert, but I’m not letting fall’s arrival ruin my determination to eat healthy. Sorry, Pumpkin, but your cousin butternut squash has won my heart. Summer tends to be filled with BBQs accompanied by grilled veggies and salads. Fall comes around, and soups, stews, and baked pumpkin goods take over. Well, I’m here to add a wholesome fall salad to your table. Just because summer is over and you don’t have to fit in your bathing suit anymore, doesn’t mean you should give up eating wholesome. Before you click exit and roll your eyes at the “boring” nature of salad, give this one a chance. It’s colorful, flavorful, and it’s wholesome, what more do you want?
The star of the salad is butternut squash. If you aren’t familiar with butternut squash or you rarely cook with it, I encourage you to RUN to your nearest grocery store and pick some up. It will rock your taste buds just as much as Bono rocks your music socks.
Fall is all about the colors, and this salad has got that covered. We’ve got green, orange, red, white, and brown. If you want to add some protein, chicken or salmon looks beautiful set on top of this salad. I opted for baked chicken breasts tonight, but the salad is just as tasty without any meat whatsoever, if you are, say, a vegetarian. I tried doing that once and only lasted about a week. (sigh) Meat is just too satisfying.
This salad is easy and comes together quick, and you don’t need many ingredients:
5 cups of organic, washed spinach leaves
2 large butternut squash
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts (toss in a warm pan over the stove for 10 minutes to release the oils)
1/4 cup of sunflower seeds
1/4 cup of feta cheese
Smoked Balsamic Vinegar (you can use regular if that’s all you have)
Salt & pepper
Preheat your oven to 400F.
First things first, approach your butternut squash with gusto. Do not be scared of this tasty winter squash. We tend to shy away from things that take more work or are unfamiliar. Well, please for the sake of your taste buds, become acquainted, become friends with this little orange fellow. He is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, and potassium. If you have a sharp knife, a vegetable peeler, and a cutting board, you can have him diced in five minutes. Cut both ends off, peel off the skin, and dice it into one inch cubes. Most people remove and throw away the seeds, but I actually roast the seeds along with the flesh of the butternut squash. They add extra crunch and nuttiness to the salad. Once you have both butternut squash diced, toss them in a drizzle of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste. Spread them out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You might have to use two baking sheets; don’t overcrowd the pan). Roast them in the oven for about 35 minutes until they are tender and beginning to get a little crunchy/caramalized on the outside. (For more even cooking, take the pans out and turn the cubes over with a spatula midway through the roasting.)
While your oven is making magic, prepare the rest of the salad. Chop the spinach into small strips and pile into a bowl, add the chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, and feta cheese. Now while you have a few minutes to spare, clean your kitchen. (I hate cleaning up after I’ve just finished a very satisfactory meal. I would much rather relish in the happiness of my taste buds.)
When the butternut squash is ready, take out of the oven and allow to cool on the pan for 5 minutes. Add half of the butternut squash to the salad bowl. Drizzle with smoked balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and sprinkle salt & pepper to taste. Toss well. Dish into bowl and sprinkle some of the remaining butternut squash on top of the salad. Top with your protein of choice and drizzle a little more balsamic vinegar on top.
Enjoy! I serve this along with a merlot. I think merlot has the right attitude for the bold flavors of this salad.
Now, I’ve got to get back to my dinner.