Salad-ing with the Seasons
Salads as meals are often relegated to the warmer months, when “traditional” ingredients are at their peak. I love a plate piled high with tender greens, juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumber, or fresh berries and herbs, or sweet corn and stone fruit. Refreshing and light on a hot summer’s day.
I also love, maybe even prefer, salads this time of year and into winter for the opportunity to bulk them up, and to explore alternative greens, protein sources and grains. With autumn and winter also comes some of my favorite produce items. Visit a local farmers market or grocery this weekend and you’re apt to see mountains of colorful squashes, beets, cabbages, root veg, dark leafy greens, pears, apples, persimmons, pomegranates, nuts.
“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
–Henry David Thoreau
For this salad, creamy roasted buttercup squash, sweetly spiced sun crisp apple, delicate fresh baby greens and herbs, salty goat’s feta, and tart aged balsamic ensure that every bite is a lively, balanced mix of flavors. Comforting and hearty, it shines alone as a light lunch or supper entree, or can seamlessly work its way into a larger meal. Either way, this vibrant autumn plate is gorgeous on the table.
To make it more substantial and add a textural contrast, bump up the protein with chickpeas, chopped hazelnuts, pistachios or walnuts, poached or rotisserie chicken pieces, toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds. A warm hunk of bread on the side is delicious; though I’m just as likely to plate it up with a scoop of quinoa or whole grains, such as barley, farro or bulgur.
I’m already thinking of the salad’s return appearance, and of adding a handful of chopped roasted chestnuts + a swap of fresh thyme or sage for the parsley. My favorite squashes thus far are Buttercup and Kabocha; for apples I like Sun Crisp and Cortland apples. There are many varieties of both to choose from during the fall — try a few different types of both, and see which you enjoy best.
What’s in it for me?
It’s beginning to look a lot like cold and flu season. As autumn marches closer to winter, maintaining a strong immune system becomes more and more important. Eating foods rich in nutrients that fight off infection, including vitamins A + C, folate, omega-3 fats, protein and antioxidants, can help prevent colds and flu, and also help ease symptoms if we do fall ill. This salad fits the bill and is perfect for revving up immunity. It offers many other benefits for your health as well…
Beta-carotene and vitamin C in winter squash promote good vision and healthy skin. Apples eaten with the skin are high in fiber for good digestion and support of weight loss efforts; while its antioxidant flavonoids have been linked to a reduced risk of some cancers and heart disease. Tender baby greens and parsley are sources of vitamin A, iron, calcium and folate to support metabolism and promote healthy bones and teeth.
The balsamic vinegar and cinnamon might seem like afterthoughts, but research has shown that each contains powerful antioxidants that may help regulate blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure. In addition, both are great choices to add lots of flavor for minimal calories: balsamic comes in at approximately 5 calories per 1 tsp and cinnamon is zero-calorie.
Eating with the seasons all but guarantees you take in a wide variety of nutrients that will keep you nourished and energized, AND support a strong, healthy immune system to ward off illness. Not to mention seasonal ingredients taste better, and are often less expensive. Take full advantage of the yellows, oranges, reds, whites and deep greens that autumn has to offer!
Tell me... What are you most looking forward to at the market with the cooler temperatures?
- 1 small buttercup squash (or butternut or acorn), peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick wedges -- to yield roughly 1 1/2 cups
- 4 tsp olive oil, divided
- 2 small crisp apples, such as Gala, Fuji or Cortland, cut into rounds without skinning or coring, seeds removed
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup (about 4 oz) creamy feta
- 4 cups (about 4 big handfuls) mixed baby greens and/or baby spinach
- 3 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh chives (or 1 T dried chives)
- good quality extra virgin olive oil, to finish
- aged balsamic vinegar*, to finish (*see HGN notes below for alternative)
- salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 395° F, and set a rack in the lower third.
- Divide squash wedges between 2 large rimmed baking trays. Toss with 2 tsp olive oil, and a sprinkling each of salt and black pepper. Roast 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and golden.
- In the meantime, heat a large cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium, and sauté the apple slices in 2 tsp olive oil until golden on both sides. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and cinnamon, and give the pan a good swirl. Immediately remove the skillet from the heat; set aside.
- Divide the greens between 4 plates or pile them onto 1 large serving platter. Drizzle lightly with the extra virgin olive oil, and add a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Arrange the warm squash wedges and apple slices on top of the dressed greens, and scatter over the parsley and chives. Garnish with the feta, and finish with a good drizzle of your aged balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
+ Try crumbled chevre (goat cheese) in place of the feta.
+ Vary the greens to what's fresh and seasonal, or use a variety -- baby spinach leaves, arugula, cress, radicchio, romaine hearts, or even torn baby kale or chard leaves.
+ Use different herbs in place of the parsley and chives, such as fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil or sage.
+ Add extra protein with chickpeas, toasted chopped nuts or seeds, or chicken.
+ Serve with warm crusty bread, or a serving of quinoa, couscous, or whole grains, like barley, farro, wheat or spelt berries, bulgur, millet, or brown rice.
Recipe adapted from The Healthy Chef.
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