It's time to take a "pit-stop" in the middle of my Holiday Baking Marathon to make my family's favorite holiday salad. Yes, you heard correctly... I said it... "favorite salad!" This Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette is a holiday season MUST at our house. I have served this salad as a side dish at fancy dinner parties and as a meatless entre at busy weeknight meals.
And, if that's not enough, it really is gorgeous on the plate. The pomegranate seeds look like little jewels.
I do have to say that earning the title of our family's "favorite salad" is quite a feat. We kind of have a thing about lettuce around here.
Like Ralphy says, "every family has a kid that won't eat." Our kid is James, my oldest kid. And, for some reason, lettuce is the very worst thing. Now that he is grown, he can fly airplanes through giant storms and "tornado alley" in the summer, land them in high crosswinds with almost no visibility... but he still can't bring himself to eat lettuce.
He says it has something to do with heat lamps. Heat lamps? Like, when restaurants use shredded lettuce as a garnish and leave the plate under the heat lamp... or put lettuce inside a hot-out-of-the-frier taco shell and the melted cheese and grease wilt the lettuce to death? Those heat lamps.
But,for some reason, James loves this salad...
It must be the apples that won him over. I whisk together the cranberry juice and raspberry vinegar and let the sliced apples sit in the vinaigrette for several hours, until I'm ready to serve the salad. Then, I spoon the apples over the salad and drizzle the same vinaigrette around the salad. It worked! The apples not only stay crisp, they take on the tart, vinegar-y, cranberry flavor. It also may have helped that I usually serve this salad with baby spinach leaves, not ice burg lettuce. But, he will even eat this salad with mixed greens!
Of course, it could be the roasted squash or candied pecans...
Tips for serving a salad for a main dish
I like serving big, hearty salads for dinner, but I miss the communal feeling of passing the potatoes and rolls to each other. There is just something that makes me feel more connected with everyone at the table. So, I make sure that I only plate part of the salad. For this roasted squash salad, I only plate the rings of warm squash on each plate with a pile of greens on top. I leave the other ingredients in small bowls or ramekins. That way, we can still interact with each other as we talk about the day.
Putting small bowls of salad "fixin's" on the table allows everyone to build their own salad out of the ingredients that they choose—sort of a salad bar at home.
I do serve bread with the salad, usually small toasted crouton? crostini?... heck, this is a southwest blog so, I'm calling them "toast." But, only put the exact number of portions to feed the number of people at the table. You can ruin a great, low-cal meal by eating a loaf of garlic bread.
Try to have something really interesting or different in the salad like roasted squash, beets or fruit. We don't see fruit very often in green salads, it makes for a sweet surprise.
Put several different dressings on the table or serve them on the side so that children can dip their veggies.
If you are serving a meatless salad for a main dish, be sure to include other food groups such as grains, nuts and dairy so that you have the best combinations for high quality protein.
- 3 tablespoons cranberry juice concentrate
- 3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste
- 3 large granny smith apples or tart red apples
- 2 large butternut squash
- 2 ounces canola oil
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- fresh cracked pepper
- 6 cups mixed greens or baby spinach
- 6 oz pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries
- 6 oz candied or toasted pecans
- 3 oz goat cheese, crumbled (may substitute blue cheese or feta)
- Garnish with goat cheese and chive toast (optional)
- 6 slices baguette, sliced in ¼ inch diagonal slices
- olive oil
- 3 oz creamy goat cheese
- 1 to 2 tablespoons milk (if necessary)
- 3 tablespoons minced chives
- Combine the cranberry juice concentrate, raspberry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper together.
- Core the apples and slice into ¼ inch thick slices. Put the apple slices in the cranberry vinaigrette, toss to coat the apples so they don't turn brown. Refrigerate in the vinaigrette until ready to assemble the salad.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Seed and peel the squash. Slice into ½ inch wide slices. Place squash slices in a large bowl and drizzle with canola oil. Toss to coat the squash evenly with the oil.
- Transfer the squash rings onto a baking sheet. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the top side with brown sugar and roast until tender and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven.
- If you are not using candied pecans, lightly toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until you begin to smell the pecans. Be careful, nuts will burn easily.
- Remove apple slices from the cranberry vinaigrette, reserve the remaining vinaigrette. Toss apples with the greens or spinach, pomegranate seeds, and toasted or candied nuts.
- To assemble the salad, arrange two to three slices of roasted squash on each salad plate. Top the squash with baby spinach and apple salad.
- Top the salad with goat cheese crumbles. If your family prefers a milder goat cheese, mix together with the mascarpone cheese. Chill the cheese mixture and then crumble over the salad.
- The apples usually retain enough dressing to season the salad. However, you may drizzle a little more of the dressing over the salad or around the plates if desired.
- For the "toast" slice the baguette into ¼ inch, diagonal slices. Sprinkle with olive oil and lightly brown under the broiler.
- Spread the warm toast with goat cheese. If the goat cheese is a little dry, mix with one or two tablespoons of milk until it is the desired consistency.
- Sprinkle with minced chives.
Here are some other meatless main dish salads you might like:
Citrus Salad with Roasted Beets, Ricotta and Candied Walnuts by Everyday Southwest
Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad with Candied Walnuts by Everyday Southwest
American Greek Salad by Kalyn's Kitchen
Vegetable Tortellini Salad with Balsamic and Dill by Mountain Mama Cooks
-posted by Sandy