Food

Hearty Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Salad

Can you tell that I just barely had enough light left to photograph this salad? Imagine me in the backyard, trying to stand very still (like, don’t-breathe still) over a plate of salad while Cookie chased squirrels away. Click-click-click- and after all that, I only got a few photos that weren’t blurry.

Granted, I had all weekend to make this salad, but I just had to wait until mid-afternoon on Sunday to get to work on them. I miss long summer days.

butternut and apples

At least my cooking efforts were rewarded with one epic fall/winter salad. I modeled it after my current favorite restaurant salad from The Mixx in Kansas City. I went there for a late lunch after my return flight home from NYC and ordered this beaut.

I took notes on the flavors and on how they don’t peel the butternut squash before roasting—a major time saver. Who likes to peel butternut squash? No one! The skin helps the butternut retain its shape while roasting, but I couldn’t tell that I was eating butternut peel.

I also loved the roasted apples in the salad, which lie somewhere between fresh and dried on the flavor/texture spectrum. They’re a little dehydrated and concentrated in tart Granny Smith flavor. It took me a couple of tries to get those right at home. The trick is to roast them just long enough to make them tender, but not so long that they pop open.

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The restaurant listed a honey-sage dressing on the chalkboard menu, but I swear, that day, it tasted like a ginger dressing to me. I loved it, so I made a ginger dressing for my homemade version. I also opted to use maple syrup instead of honey, which means that this salad is vegan!

Their salad includes farro, which is my go-to whole grain for salads, but I haven’t been able to find any at my grocery store. I used wheat berries instead, which are very similar but need an extra twenty minutes or so for cooking.

I should warn you that this salad requires some effort, but it’s a fantastic meal-in-a-bowl and leftovers will keep for a couple of days. If you’re in a hurry, you could use some pre-cooked or leftover whole grains and just toast the pecans.

wheat berries and cranberries

roasted apple slices

roasted butternut squash

How to make a hearty, roasted-butternut squash and apple salad!

INGREDIENTS

Salad

  • 1 cup hard white wheat berries, rinsed (or your whole grain of choice—farro would be a great substitute; gluten-free options include quinoa or sorghum)
  • 1 Granny smith apple, cored and sliced into ½” wide wedges
  • One small (2 to 2 ½ pounds) butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 5 ounces baby arugula (about 5 cups, packed)
  • ⅓ cup dried cranberries

Cinnamon-maple pecans

  • ½ cup pecan pieces (or roughly chopped whole pecans)
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt

Ginger Dressing

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. To prepare the wheat berries (if you’re using another grain, cook according to package directions): Combine the rinsed wheat berries with 3 ½ cups water in a medium pot. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until the wheat berries are pleasantly tender but still have some chew to them. Drain off excess water, return the wheat berries to the pot and stir in ¼ teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
  2. To roast the apples: Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line one small and one large baking sheet with parchment paper. On the small sheet, arrange the apple wedges in a single layer. Bake the apple slices on the middle rack for 10 minutes, until they are starting to collapse on themselves but before they have burst open. Let the apple slices cool on the pan before removing.
  3. Meanwhile, to prepare the squash: Slice off the top and bottom ends of the squash, then slice it in half vertically. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and discard them. Slice the squash into ½″ wide half-moon shapes. Transfer the squash to the large baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss until the squash is lightly coated in oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange the squash in a single layer and roast for 30 minutes, tossing halfway, until the squash is tender and caramelized on the edges. Set aside to cool.

Also read: Mediterranean Roasted Sweet Potato & Farro Salad

  1. To prepare the pecans: In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the pecans until they are fragrant, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Add the maple syrup and a generous pinch of cinnamon and salt and cook, while stirring constantly, until the syrup has condensed and mostly evaporated, about 2 more minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  2. To prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, ginger, maple syrup, mustard and salt. Whisk until thoroughly blended and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.
  3. To assemble the salad: In a large serving bowl, add the arugula, cooled wheat berries and apple slices. Before you add the butternut, you might want to slice the larger half-moons in half, so they’re more bite-sized, like I did. Add the butternut, dried cranberries and pecans, then drizzle with dressing (you might not need quite all of it). Toss to lightly coat. Serve immediately.