Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Greens and Squash

So far, October 2011 has been Hot-tober. I’m not even talking about playoff baseball or the undefeated starts of the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions (who knew?). I’m talking about temperatures topping out in the 80’s (Fahrenheit, of course) and sunny, sunny days. This doesn’t make one crave hot, comforting stews or hearty, starchy fall vegetables or sweet and warm baked goods. Salad works, though, especially when I have a pot of arugula that’s still growing pretty well.

This is one of those posts that’s really more of a journal entry, an account of a work in progress, a demonstration that I can get pretty sloppy with recipes and have all my seemingly bright ideas turn out to be dull. I’m not talking about the taste of this salad. It’s really pretty nice. Hearty enough for a main dish, light enough for these summer-like days. Sweet from the squash, earthy and a bit meaty from the lentils, pleasantly bitter from the arugula and nice and briny from a big dose of feta cheese.

I based this salad on this recipe at smitten kitchen, but thought I was saving myself the trouble of peeling squash by roasting a Delicata squash, known for its relatively tender skin, in slices that I planned to peel after cooking. (The skin of Delicata is supposed to be tender enough to eat, but I was too skeptical.) It really didn’t work as planned. It was difficult to remove the squash peel, and I didn’t end up with nicely shaped squash pieces.

I’m always trying to find ways to avoid peeling and chopping winter squash, and I think I’m just going to have to admit that if I want squash pieces in a dish, I’m going to have to dedicate the time, effort, frustration and feeble hand strength to achieving peeled, cubed squash. Perhaps I could benefit from a visit to a Zen Buddhist center or something: When you’re peeling the squash, peel the squash. When you’re chopping the squash, chop the squash.

Anyway, I think you could use any winter squash that you have the strength of body, mind and spirit to peel and chop, (butternut squash, with its smooth skin, is about the easiest variety to peel) and I have given directions below for doing things that way instead of the way that I tried to do them. You can also vary the proportions of squash, lentils and arugula. You could use other greens besides or in addition to arugula, such as spinach, tender chard or baby lettuces. The dressing is also open to interpretation based on taste, as is the amount and type of cheese you use (for instance, you could use soft goat cheese.) It’s just a salad after all, and using whatever seasonal ingredients you have is all part of basic salad theory anyway. Just remember: If you’re going to make a salad, make a salad.

Arugula Salad with Squash and Lentils
Based on a recipe at smitten kitchen.

I like to serve this at room temperature or even slightly warm.

1 1-2 pound winter squash (I used Delicata)
2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin), divided
¾ teaspoon ground cumin, divided
½ teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided, plus more for cooking lentils
¾ cup dried lentils
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
4 cups chopped arugula

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut open the squash. Clean out the seeds and membranes, and remove the peel. (If this is difficult to do with a larger squash, I recommend piercing the skin, roasting the whole squash for 15 minutes or so and allowing it to cool until it is easy to handle. Then, the squash flesh will be softened and easier to cut into.)

2. Cut the squash flesh into approximately 1-inch cubes. Place the squash in a baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

3. Roast the squash for about 20 minutes. Turn the squash cubes or stir and continue roasting 15 minutes more, or until the squash is very tender. Set aside to cool.

4. While the squash is roasting, cook the lentils in boiling water with a pinch of salt. This should take 25-35 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

5. In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, ¼ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika, ¼ teaspoon salt, and red wine vinegar. Whisk together until well combined.

6. Add the arugula, cooked squash and lentils and about half of the feta cheese to the dressing in the bowl. Mix to combine and coat with the dressing. (It will be a thin coating.) Top with the remaining feta cheese.

Makes about 4 main dish servings.

Another recipe like this one: Winter Squash and Chickpea Salad with Apricots and Tahini Dressing

One year ago: Apple Turnovers with Dried Fruit and Easy Cream Cheese Pastry

Two years ago: Guinness Hazelnut Quick Bread and Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

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