Updated: Mar 30
It's that time of year when we are planning our Thanksgiving and holiday menus. It will be a smaller celebration this year, but I still love to offer up a variety of dishes and some hearty vegetarian options. This Fall Acorn Squash and Grain salad will make a welcome addition to your table and I've been making it on the repeat for lunch or a light dinner. The best part of this recipe is that you can swap out the ingredients and use what you have on hand. The star of the salad is the roasted acorn squash. If you've never tried it, you will fall in love with it's beautiful shape and versatility. In the past, I would gravitate towards butternut squash and pumpkin, but I think acorn squash has become my new favorite. Roasting them brings out its wonderful earthy, nutty and slightly sweet flavor. I always look forward to this time of year so I can make this salad. It is comfort food done in a light and flavorful way and so pretty it will be right at home for a festive dinner.
I admit I was first drawn to acorn squash because of its appearance. After all, we do eat with our eyes first and the food photographer in me loved how it looked, but I was so happy to discover that this is one ingredient that tastes as good as it looks. I also like the fact that they are a cinch to prep because they aren't too big or unruly. All you have to do is cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and slice them. The skin gets tender when you roast them so there's no need to peel them and they cook up into beautiful orange ridged rings. Nature at it's best. The trick is to roast them at a high heat and toss them with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dried herbs. It will give them a perfectly caramelized crust and taste like a dream.
I used wheat berries as the base of the salad, but you can use farro, quinoa or wild rice. All of these grains have a substantial texture and nice flavor that will pair nicely with the other ingredients. I also love dried cherries and pistachios together, but you can always go with apples and pecans, or pears and walnuts. This offers a great contrast between savory and sweet which is the best part of a Fall Harvest salad. It's about hitting all the different flavor notes and textures. Next up are some slightly bitter greens like arugula, kale or radicchio. I did a combination of all three and choose baby greens because the leaves are so tender and flavorful. You can also throw in a few sprigs of parsley which I always have hanging out in my fridge. Think about building textures with the salad greens you choose.
To tie all that goodness together, I made an apple cider vinaigrette that is a lovely blend of apple cider vinegar, olive oil and honey. The recipe makes more than enough so you will have extra. It keeps well in the fridge and homemade dressing is always so much better than store bought. Last but not least is the cheese. We need to give this salad some extra love with a generous shaving of Parmesan. That creamy component is the final touch and you can grate some over the top or use a vegetable peeler to get some nice ribbons.
If you need some extra protein, try adding a can of drained chickpeas or rotisserie chicken. Who says salad is boring?
FALL ACORN SQUASH HARVEST SALAD
2 medium acorn squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked grains (wheat berries, farro, quinoa, or wild rice)
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup pistachios, lightly toasted
1 cup radicchio leaves, roughly torn
2 cups baby greens (kale, arugula, spinach)
1/4 cup grated or shaved Parmesan
parsley, for garnish
APPLE CIDER VINAIGRETTE
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the acorn squash slices on a parchment lined sheet pan in a single layer. Stir the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper together. Pour the mixture over the slices and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 20 minutes until golden brown and tender. Allow to cool while you prepare the rest of the salad. For the salad dressing, whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together until thoroughly combined. To make the salad, start by layering the grains, lettuce leaves, cherries and pistachios. Pour about 1/4 cup of the dressing over and toss until evenly coated, add more if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter. Arrange the squash over the top and drizzle a few more spoonfuls of dressing. sprinkle the cheese and parsley over the top and serve.
Both the grains and squash can be made 2 days before serving
try using other fruits and nuts like apple and walnuts or pears and pecans
the salad also pairs well with blue cheese, manchego or goat cheese
store any leftover salad dressing in the fridge for up to a week
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