A majority of the meals I eat are in bowls - no surprises there. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner all typically fall into bowl food, whether it's fluffy eggs, oatmeal, or a grain or green salad, they all seem to do their best in bowls, garnished with the appropriate condiments and embellishments. Desserts and other treats have become "mug food". This tactic has become my way of portion control and also possibly my way of avoiding plates.
This fall squash salad is no exception to the bowl food rule. It can serve as a main course or as a festive side. Spicy and sweet squash mingled together with peppery arugula, buttery pecans, and tart cranberries make the perfect companions. This salad has been making regular appearances in my fall cooking routine, and I guaranteed it will in yours too.
You may notice that hulled barley is listed in the ingredients as opposed to pearled barley. Hulled barley or barley groats is a minimally processed whole grain. This means that it remains close to its natural state and it provides, fiber, protein, and plant-based iron. If you have celiac disease or are gluten-sensitive, whole grain sorghum is a good textural gluten-free equivalent.
butternut squash, barley, and pecan salad
- 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 shallots, 1 thinly sliced, the other minced
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more if you like it hot!
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons sage, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup hulled barley or whole grain sorghum (for the gluten-free homies)
- 6 cups arugula or baby kale or a combo of both
- 3/4 cup dried apple-juice sweetened cranberries
- 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 hefty tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Optional but recommended: shaved manchego or truffle cheese
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with 3 tablespoons olive oil, the thinly sliced shallot, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Spread out evenly on two parchment paper-lined sheet trays. Roast for 30-40 minutes until golden and tender. Once cooked, toss squash with minced sage.
- To make the barley or sorghum, rinse the grain and combine with 1 1/2 cups water in a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 35-40 minutes. Ideally you want the grain to be soft and chewy. Once cooked, drain, if needed, and fluff with a fork.
- While the squash and barley cook, make your salad dressing. Combine the minced shallot, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a jar. Shake well, taste, adjust if needed, and set aside.
- Pour half of the salad dressing into a large salad bowl or rounded serving platter. Add most of the warm grain and most of the squash and toss to combine. Add the greens, the rest of the dressing, and most of the cranberries and pecans, reserving some for garnish. Scatter the top of the salad with the reserved grain, squash, cranberries, and pecans, and shaved cheese, if you wish.