Its only been cool outside here in New York for 4 days now, autumn has only just begun. Is anyone else already craving fall flavors? The second I see a leaf turning red its like my taste buds start to salivate, they know its time for hearty squashes, warm spices, and mugs full of warm coffee. This Toasted Harvest Grain Salad is our first nod to all those wonderful fall flavors, without loading up on pumpkin spice baked goods. (Ok, I may or may not be eating a cinnamon cookie right now... But this salad is just as good.)
Here is what sets this salad apart from the rest:
Butternut squash 2 ways- Making the squash two ways doesn't only give you a flavor difference, but also a textural difference. Lets face it, salads are only great with lots of textural contrast. Half your butternut squash is tossed with spices and roasted (super easy) and the other half is made into a simple quick pickle (even easier). If you visualize a butternut squash, use the top half (side part with no seeds) for your bite sized chunks. This will make it easier to cut into nice even pieces. The half that you have to scoop out the seeds can be used for the pickled squash since you will be cutting it into smaller non uniform pieces.
Two grains that appear to be one - This salad has a mixture of toasted quinoa and millet. Quinoa is an ancient grain and Millet is a seed. They look very similar so if you've got a picky eater on your hands, this is a great way to get them to eat something new without realizing it. Millet is great for you because it is extremely high in nutritional value. This includes a very high B-vitamin content, as well as calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, not to mention being a healthy source of essential fats in the body. Both grains are Gluten-free. Millet tastes a little bit nuttier and more buttery than quinoa. So the mix of earthy quinoa and buttery millet is superb. The best thing is when you bring this to a party and tell people there is millet in it, they will immediately want to learn what millet is about. Leaving you with plenty to talk about.
Store bough mix of salad topper - My grocery store sells a local brand of nuts and seeds. They are processed and packaged up near by without any additives. So when I started to create this salad recipe, I knew I wanted to include a mixture of almonds, pepitas, and dried cranberries. So I checked out all the packaged nuts by the local brand and found a perfect mix. The container included dried cranberries, almonds, cashews, pepitas, and date pieces. If your store sells a great brand of nuts and seeds that is already mixed like these, pick out one you love! Just be sure that the ingredient lists only raw nuts and seeds. READ THE LABEL! Stay away from additives, sugar, or coatings. This will save you the time of measuring and mixing it up yourself.
Dressing with purpose - We all have a favorite when it comes to salad dressing. What you don't realize is the amount of chemicals in bottled salad dressings that we don't need in our diet. YUCK. This is why you should make dressings at home. It is easy and much healthier to just throw a few things into a mason jar and shake it up. Plus this lets you customize your dressing for every salad! Not be stuck with the same old Italian dressing that has been sitting in your fridge for the past 3 months and somehow not growing any mold. The other thing you that will make you feel great about making your own dressing is that you wont be dousing your nice refreshing nutritious salad in sugar. Or even worst, artificial sweetener or high fructose corn syrup. Like most processed foods, salad dressing has a very high sugar and sodium content. Your average Italian dressing has 1.6 grams of sugar per tablespoon and is 6% of the sodium you are meant to consume in one day. Not to mention the mystery ingredients. Crazy. Just make your own, it'll take you two extra minutes but it will also probably save you a bit of money. Healthier and saves some money. I'm sold.
*Vegetarian and Gluten Free
Toasted Harvest Grain Salad
2 oz Fresh Squeezed Orange (about 1 orange)
1 oz Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 oz Balsamic Vinegar
Zest of 1 orange
1/4 Tsp grated onion (shallot, red onion, or sweet white)
Preheat oven to 400F
Split one whole butternut squash in half. Peel and de-seed. Cut half the squash into 1 inch cubes or pieces. Cut seeded half into small dice or small chunks.
Toss larger diced half of the squash in olive oil, ground cinnamon, salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast in the oven about 15 minutes.
In a small sauce pot, combine Pickling liquid with remaining squash. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate to cool.
In a small sauce pot melt butter over medium heat and add grains. (OPTIONAL: rinse grains in a strainer over the sink by running water over them until the water runs clear. This rinses some of the starch on the outside in return giving you a less sticky end product.) Toast grains stirring often until they start to turn golden brown. About 4 minutes.
Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook grains for 12-15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit with the lid on for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
Combine orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, balsamic, grated onion and a pinch of salt and black pepper in a small mason jar and shake to combine.
Assemble the salad by tossing spinach and grains with dressing. Stir in drained pickled butternut squash pieces and roasted butternut squash. Top with goat cheese crumbles, pepitas, cranberries, and toasted nuts.
Serve with warm grains or completely chilled. This salad works great to bring to parties! You can bring the ingredients separate and assemble there OR assemble without dressing at home and pour the dressing over when you get to the party.
Get your 'fall flavors' on!