Monday, February 21, 2011

The Last Squash

 Pardon me if I sniff a little as I communicate this. Our extended winter CSA share has just concluded and I won’t be getting any more boxes of beautiful vegetables until something like June. As the snow falls once again and the cold returns from wherever it went for a week or so (it’s mean and sneaky like that in this part of the country), I feel a little sad to think of how far away spring really is.

Well, I’d best just get over it. It’s not like there’s nothing to eat around here. I’ve got a refrigerator full of carrots, turnips and daikon radishes that need some creative attention. And I had one last whole Heart of Gold squash left.

Normally I’d just roast, puree and freeze this super sweet squash and decide what to do with it later, but I had come across this salad recipe on the blog smitten kitchen, and really wanted to try it. In addition to the squash, the salad has chickpeas and a thick and tart tahini dressing with lots of lemon juice. I had plenty of cooked chickpeas in the freezer, and an entire jar of tahini (sesame paste, in case you’re not on a first name basis with the stuff) that I couldn’t remember what I was planning to do with. This recipe looked like it was going to be an easy but flavorful way to send off that last lonely little squash.

Probably taking a cue from this stew, I decided that this salad needed some dried apricots. I happened to be right, at least to my taste (and to Harry’s). I prefer California dried apricots because they are more tart than Turkish apricots, and in this salad they seemed to form a flavor bridge between the sweet squash and lemony dressing. I also went out on a limb just a bit and added some za’atar seasoning blend, which was looking somewhat abandoned in my cupboard. The blend I had (from Penzeys, where they spell it “zatar”) contained sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, and a little salt. The slightly sour sumac blended in with the lemon juice and the thyme provided a little herbal back note. You wouldn’t have to use za’atar here or any spice, but I think a little something would be good, perhaps even just a bit of cumin and coriander.

This salad is best served a little warm, which makes it comforting in these still-winter days. I ate leftovers a bit cold, however, and they were still very good. The tahini dressing is quite thick, and does lose some of its smoothness when chilled. That nice thick dressing is really well suited to chunkier, starchier salads like this one, and I’m already starting to think of other salad combinations with which to drench it, or things I could dip in it. Hmmm….maybe I could start with all those carrots someone stored in my refrigerator.

Winter Squash and Chickpea Salad with Apricots and Tahini Dressing
Adapted from smitten kitchen, who adapted it from other sources.

A 2 to 2 ½ pound winter squash
2 medium garlic cloves, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¾ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste), well stirred
2 tablespoons water
1 ½ cups cooked or canned chickpeas (about a 15-ounce can), drained
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup sliced dried apricots
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoon za’atar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel and remove the seeds from the squash. Cut into 1- 1 ½ inch pieces. Place the chopped squash in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet.

2. Finely chop one of the garlic cloves and add it to the squash along with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss to coat the squash. Bake at 425 F for about 30 minutes or until the squash is tender. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Make a paste with the remaining clove of garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Place it in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, tahini, and water. Whisk together to make a smooth mixture. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, combine the roasted squash, chickpeas, red onion, and apricots. Add the black pepper and za’atar if using and stir to combine. Add the dressing mixture and toss to coat well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 4 servings. Chilled leftovers are best when allowed to return to room temperature. If time does not permit, eat it cold. It will still be good.

Other recipes like this one: Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots, Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors

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