Odds are, this week is full of sugar for you. Chewy sugar, hard shiny sugar, sugar molded into candy corn, fluffed into marshmallows, coating adorable little popsicles of cake, wound with brown butter around grains of puffed rice and that doesn’t even include the peanut butter cups you’ll pilfer from your kid’s trick-or-treat bucket this weekend followed by the sweet slide from Thanksgiving’s marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes and December’s minty candy canes.
I, for one, could really go for a salad right now. I’ve been roasting a lot of squash and sweet potatoes lately, usually for the half-toothed member of our family and one day, I was looking to turn it into more of a fall salad and I stumbled upon a recipe from Bon Appetit. I nixed the arugula because the stuff I found at the market was spotty, and anyway, (gripe alert!) I like challenging myself to make salads that don’t hinge on leaves that are only in season a very small fraction of the times of the year people insist you should eat them. (End gripe.) I used a butternut squash instead of a pumpkin because they seem to roast up in cubes better, and also because they’re a much easier shape for my little sherpa to hold in his lap (and only occasionally gnaw on) as we head home from the market. I added toasted butternut squash seeds because I love some crunch with my salads and do hope you know they toast up almost as delightfully as pumpkin seeds. Finally, I used black lentils because that’s what I had in my pantry and what’s prettier in the last week of October than a black and orange medley?
The results are deceptively filling: this is main-course salad material, as it should be. The squash was spicy and smoky, two flavors I love against naturally sweet foods; I realized it had been way too long since we’d eaten lentils, and the goat cheese was a perfect accent and indulgence. More urgently, we’re hoping it staved off the effects of what I’m going to tell you about next time, which can only be summarized as the anti-salad. Oops.
One year ago: Silky, Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse
Two years ago: Pink Lady Cake and a Cabbage and Mushroom Galette
Three years ago: Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup
Four years ago: Spinach Quiche and Pumpkin Muffins
Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese
Adapted from Bon Appetit
If you’d like to toast the seeds, simply clean them off, rinse and pat them dry and toast them in the oven on an oiled baking sheet, sprinkled with salt. But this comes with a warning: they like to pop, seemingly more than regular pumpkin seeds do, or maybe it’s just my bad luck. I suspect if you let them dry out for a day first, they wouldn’t, but who has that kind of patience?
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 3 as a main
3/4 cup black or green lentils
6 cups peeled, seeded and cubed butternut squash or sugar pumpkin (1-inch cubes) (from about a 2-pound squash)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika*
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 cups baby arugula (I skipped this)
1 cup soft crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves (optional; I used this, but added it after I took a photo)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
Roasted seeds (about 1/2 cup) from your butternut squash (optional; see note above)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss squash or pumpkin cubes with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, paprika and salt. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet and roast 20 minutes. Flip pieces and roast for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Cool.
Meanwhile, soak lentils for 10 minutes in a small bowl, then drain. Cook lentils in boiling salted water until tender but firm, about 30 minutes. Rinse with cold water, then drain and cool.
Combine lentils, pumpkin, any oil you can scrape from the baking sheet (I didn’t get enough for this to be worth it) with arugula, if using, half of goat cheese, mint, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper and extra vinegar, if desired (we felt it needed it). Divide among plates and pass with remaining goat cheese to sprinkle.
* I swapped half with sweet (not hot) smoked paprika to make sure it didn’t get too spicy for a 13 month-old’s tastes. If you don’t have either on hand, there are ways to approximate this smoky/spiciness with what you have in your pantry, such as mixing some regular paprika with a ground chipotle powder or another smoky spice, and then a pinch of cayenne for extra heat.