This might be the perfect winter salad, with hearty, nutty red quinoa, sweet roasted butternut squash, tangy arugula with lemon vinaigrette, and crunchy almonds.
Roasted butternut squash in salads is a definite trend. I’ve tried it at home a number of times but only rarely been happy with the results. This time, though, I think I nailed it, and my husband and son both enthused at the table. The secret, I found, is to dice a raw butternut squash into very small cubes, mix it with olive oil, and then roast it.
I deduced this secret after having the house salad at Green Spoon Restaurant in Walla Walla, which features roasted butternut squash along with mixed greens and toasted pumpkin seeds. The squash was so sweet and I loved the way it was presented, in a ring around the plate underneath the greens. I copied that for this salad and everyone thought it looked very pretty.
My other inspiration came from a dinner my husband and I had at Purple Restaurant where a young friend of ours worked. We had their quinoa arugula salad, which features lentils de Puy and toasted almonds. Lentils de Puy are grown in volcanic soil near de Puy, France, and I’ve never seen them locally. I used French green lentils instead of lentils de Puy; apparently they are the same variety but grown in other areas. Some people claim the two kinds are equivalent in cooking, but David Lebovitz dumps on French green lentils here. Lentils de Puy don’t become mushy when cooked, while my French green lentils did. Nonetheless we all loved the meal and have had it twice.
French green lentils and caviar black lentils remain as distinct individual beans when you cook them until they are just done, about 20 minutes, and I’ve tried them both in this recipe. Something like a red lentil or brown lentil would just turn into mush and wouldn’t be good here.
My son asked whether roasting the squash whole and then cubing it would work. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t. The large surface area of the small dice makes for lots of caramelization and helps the squash lose enough volume in the oven to really concentrate its sweet flavor. Also squash cooked whole doesn’t subsequently cube well, it kind of mushes.
Parmesan is an optional topping: if you prefer a vegan salad you can leave it off.
- 1 large butternut squash, 3-4#
- ½ tsp. salt for the squash, plus salt to season lentils and quinoa
- 1 cup French green lentils or black caviar lentils
- 1 tsp. dried marjoram
- 1 cup red quinoa
- 1 large bay leaf
- 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided (2 Tbsp for the lentils/quinoa, 1 Tbsp. for roasting the butternut squash, 1 Tbsp. for the arugula)
- 1 medium shallot, minced (about 1.5 oz)
- about 4 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided (from 1.5 lemons)
- 6 oz fresh, washed arugula
- ⅓ cup almonds
- a small amount of parmesan, grated (optional- leave it out to make it vegan)
- Preheat oven to 400.
- Microwave the squash for 5-10 minutes to soften. If it is too big to fit in the microwave, cut it in half the short way first, carefully and using a cutting board and a sharp knife, then microwave each half separately.
- Cut softened squash in half, peel, cut into small cubes. This is the most time-consuming part of this recipe and takes about half an hour.
- In a bowl, mix squash cubes with olive oil and salt.
- Spread the squash cubes on one or two baking dishes.
- Roast for 30-40 minutes until soft.
- Cook the lentils in ample water on the stove with salt, bay leaf, and marjoram or another green herb. Cook only until just cooked, about 20 minutes.
- Drain lentils.
- Cook quinoa with water in a rice cooker according to rice cooker directions, or on the stove for about 20 minutes.
- Combine quinoa and lentils. Add pepper and salt to taste.
- Mince shallot and add to quinoa/lentil mixture.
- Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to mixture.
- Add 2 Tbsp. lemon juice.
- Dress the arugula with additional lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
- While the quinoa and lentils are cooking, pan-toast the almonds in a dry pan over medium heat for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when they are aromatic and starting to brown.
- Cool almonds and chop into slivers.
- On dinner plates, arrange the butternut squash cubes around the outside of the plate.
- Mound the arugula in the center of the plate.
- Scoop quinoa/lentil mixture into a mound on top of the arugula (remember there will be leftovers, just add as much as you would like for each serving).
- Sprinkle toasted slivered almonds on top of the quinoa/lentil mixture.
- Grate parmesan over the top of the salad if desired.
This recipe is my contribution to The Salad Bar Monthly Blogging Group’s collection of healthy salads with grains. Check out what everyone else made in the links below!