I am having a new love affair these days and it's with a vegetable. Can you guess which one? Hint: Look at the title. Yes, genius, it's butternut squash. My family members are not fans of the squash family. Zucchini? Yellow Squash? Spaghetti? Not unless it's the wiggly kind with a red meat sauce on top. I know there is something odd texture-wise with squash. It can go from hard to soft and squishy in a matter of seconds. This has never bothered me, but it has haunted my husband since his childhood. He tells horrible tales of being forced to eat this hated vegetable in all its mushy glory and not being allowed to get up from the table until it was gone. Now, as he lectures the kids on finishing their vegetables, it is the one type of vegetable he will overlook and for sure not sneak bites off of their plates.
Knowing that this aversion seems to pass from child to child in my house, I have stayed away from the squash family, for the most part. It's not the end of the world. However, recently I was standing in front of the prepped veggies at Whole Foods and saw a large plastic container of chopped chunks of butternut squash. With the smell of cinnamon in the air, apples and pumpkins on display, and rows and rows of yellow, orange, and red mums, these chunks of orange caught my eye, silently urging me to take them home. Come on, it's fall.
One of my favorite things to do for a meal, especially a light weeknight meal, is to build a salad. I love color. I mean, I absolutely love color. A dish needs to look as appealing as it tastes. It can be that dish of black pasta we had at our dinner party back in
August. The appearance didn't make me in the least "grossed out", for the lack of a better description, but instead I loved the contrast in colors. A white bowl with black pasta made it interesting and appealing to me.
So, while looking over the various colors around me in the produce section at Whole Foods, I quickly found myself gravitating toward other fall colors. Arugula is always a favorite with me and would provide the green backdrop and contrast in flavor with the sweetness of the squash. Then, I was craving grains and immediately thought of quinoa, but not just any quinoa would do. Red quinoa.
One more fall color added to my palate. Red, green, orange. Now, I'd like some purple. Beets. I'll make any excuse to add beets to my salads. Sprinkle on some black beans and goat cheese with a mild vinaigrette and you've got a good-looking salad.
To add a little flavor to the salad, I focused on that fine butternut squash that I bought. First, I chopped the squash into smaller chunks to make it more bite-sized for the salad. I then tossed the pieces in grapeseed oil, coriander, cumin, and salt. I roasted the mixture until the squash was fork-tender. The texture of the squash in its meaty bites mixed with the quinoa, beans, and beets makes this salad a good substitute for a heavy meat-focused meal. When you are getting tired, bored, and belly-heavy with the roasted meats and casseroles we all know and love with the season, turn to this fall salad for good, clean eating.
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For the squash
1 lb. butternut squash, chopped into one-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the quinoa
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup red quinoa
Remaining salad ingredients:
8 ounces ready-to-eat beets, chopped
15 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
12 ounces baby arugula (baby spinach would work just as well)
For the vinaigrette:
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon dijon
1 teaspoon honey
Preheat oven to 425. In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the oil, coriander, cumin, and salt. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread the squash mixture onto the pan. Bake in the oven for at least 20 minutes. The squash is done when you can easily stick a fork in it.
While the squash is roasting, heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the quinoa and stir continually until the quinoa begins to give off a toasty smell. Add the broth and let the mixture come to a boil. Turn down the heat to allow the quinoa to simmer and cover for 15 to 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, dijon, and honey. Whisk until combined.
Meanwhile, place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Add the beets and beans. When the quinoa and squash have cooled slightly, add them on top followed by the goat cheese. Pour the vinaigrette over top and toss to mix all of the ingredients.
Note: The roasted squash and quinoa can be prepared ahead of time and given a chance to cool before getting the rest of your salad together.