Friday, October 28, 2011

Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

Of all the recipes I make with pumpkin and squash in the fall and winter, my favorites are the sweet baked goods. No matter that there’s an overabundance of miniature chocolate bars and other individually wrapped, personal-sized candy treats in the world this time of year, I still gravitate toward the homemade late-fall sweets. Like these frosted pumpkin cookies, for instance.

I bumped up the WFQ* in this recipe from The Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking by swapping out one cup of all-purpose flour with millet flour. As far as I know, millet is gluten-free, so its addition in baked goods will make them a little more soft and/or crumbly than wheat flour does. For this reason, I didn’t go all millet, but left some gluten in the form of all-purpose flour to hold everything together. (If you require a gluten-free flour, there are many of them in the stores and on the internet.)

The millet flour did make these cookies extra-soft, but also extra-flavorful. Millet has a pleasantly nutty, slightly sweet flavor that might just make you forget you’re increasing your diet’s WFQ. I loved it in these cookies, but if you don’t happen to have any on hand, and aren’t looking to expand your whole grain repertoire, you could just use all-purpose flour. (I’m also curious about how whole wheat pastry flour would taste in this recipe.)

I also personalized the flavors of these cookies by creating a Pumpkin Pie Spice blend that I used in place of the plain cinnamon in the original recipe. This blend is a little hoity-toity, I admit, especially since I ground some whole spices just to make it. Yes, I have all this stuff in my spice cupboard on any given day, but if you don’t you could use a commercially-prepared pumpkin pie or apple pie spice blend, use another recipe, make your own, or, heck, just use cinnamon.

As I said, these cookies are very soft, almost cake-like. I think some of that is from the millet flour, but the moist pumpkin contributes to the texture as well, so if you don’t use the millet flour, your cookies will still be quite soft. And then there’s the brown sugar frosting (which I also spiced up just a bit). It’s sweet and just a bit caramel-y and sets up on the cookie nicely without becoming too dry or crusty. It’s like you have your own little frosted cake (or two or three) that you won’t be expected to share.

Perhaps you can let all the costumed kids have their trick-or-treat candy, and keep these cookies to yourself. Nah, I won’t be doing that either…the letting kids eat all the candy part anyway.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

The Messy Apron Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice

1. Combine all the spices and mix well. Keep in an airtight container for a few months.

Makes a scant 3 tablespoons.

Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Sugar Frosting
Adapted from The Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking

I used walnuts to make these cookies, but I think pecans would be even better.

You could use more all-purpose flour in place of the millet flour.

For the cookies:
1cup all-purpose flour
1 cup millet flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons The Messy Apron Pumpkin Pie Spice (or pumpkin pie spice of your choice)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin or other sweet squash puree (canned is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (or pecans)

For the frosting:
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup firmly-packed brown sugar
¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon The Messy Apron Pumpkin Pie Spice (or pumpkin pie spice of your choice)
2-2 ½ cups powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium-size bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, millet flour, baking powder, baking soda, 2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice, and salt. Whisk together until well-blended.

2. In large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, ½ cup brown sugar and 1 cup butter. Beat together with an electric mixer or in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until well-creamed and fluffy, at least a minute or two.

3. Beat in the egg until well combined. Beat in the pumpkin and vanilla extract.

4. Slowly mix in the flour mixture a little at a time until just combined. Stir in the walnuts.

5. Lightly grease cookie sheets for baking. Scoop up heaping tablespoons of the cookie batter and place them on the sheets at least 2 inches apart.

6. Bake at 350 F for 12-14 minutes or until the cookies are just beginning to brown and the surface appears set and slightly dry. Remove from the pans immediately and cool on wire racks. The cookies will be very soft, so may need a little extra care in removal.

7. To make the frosting, heat the 3 tablespoons butter and ½ cup brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the butter melts. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

8. Remove from the heat and cool 10 minutes.

9. Add the milk. Stir until smooth. The sugar may have crystallized, so keep stirring until it dissolves.

10. Stir in the Pumpkin Pie Spice. Sift in about 2 cups powdered sugar. (Failing to sift the powdered sugar may give you a lumpy frosting. I, unfortunately, do this all to often.) Stir until well-combined and smooth. Sift and stir in more powdered sugar if needed to make the frosting spread easily.

11. Frost the cookies when they have completely cooled. Allow to stand until the frosting is set.

Makes about 3-4 dozen cookies (depending on how big you make them). They will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Other recipes like this one: Pumpkin Oatmeal Quick Bread with Dates and Pecans, Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

One year ago: Caramel Corn

Two years ago: Black Beans with Beets and Oranges

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

I’m always looking for recipes to help me prove that spaghetti squash is not just fake spaghetti. Well, not always, but certainly when the stuff is in season and I get a few in my CSA box. Almost two years ago, this search led me to a Greek-flavored spaghetti squash salad that I was feeling pretty smug about, until I realized it reminded me of pasta salad.

This year I found a take on something more like a general vegetable treatment: gratin. You’ve seen other vegetables treated this way, layered with cheese (or béchamel sauce or cream), topped with breadcrumbs and baked. The original version was made with walnuts, bacon and mozzarella cheese, but I went with cheddar cheese and omitted the walnuts. I left the bacon right where it was. Everything’s better with bacon.

Speaking of the bacon, this recipe only calls for two slices of thick-cut bacon. You’ll want more. I know you will. And that would probably work just fine. I found the two slices, chopped, cooked and layered into the casserole, to be enough. You do what you feel you must in the name of bacon.

Let’s face it, spaghetti squash is a bit on the bland side, so I liked the sharp cheddar and bacon, both of which are strongly flavored and add a lot to this dish. I also spiced things up with a bit of Aleppo pepper, which I’ve really only just discovered, and with which I am quite enamored. You could use black pepper or another ground or crushed chile pepper that you like, or omit it if you don’t want the extra heat.

Overall, this is a nice, tasty and easy way to enjoy spaghetti squash. There’s much more work involved in preparing the squash than there is in assembling and baking the casserole. (I still like to use the method of baking the whole squash a bit, then cutting it when it’s slightly softened, which is much easier than hacking into a raw squash.) You could do all the assembly as much as a day ahead, then just heat it up to serve and you’ll have a nice vegetable dish without anyone seeing you sweat.

While this is first and foremost a vegetable dish (with cheese and bacon) and a great treatment for spaghetti squash, I just can’t help but wonder how good it would be with noodles instead.

Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Bacon and Cheddar
Adapted from this recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini

I used two squash for this recipe for a total of about 4 1/2 pounds.

4-5 pounds whole spaghetti squash
2 slices thick-cut bacon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or chile or black pepper of your choice)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the squash skin all over with a sharp knife. Place the whole squash on a baking sheet or in a large baking dish. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds. Return the squash to the baking pan or dish and return to a 375 F oven. Bake another 20-30 minutes or until the squash flesh is tender and can easily be separated into strands. Let stand until cool enough to handle.

3. While the squash is baking and cooling, cut the bacon into small strips. Cook the bacon in a pan over medium heat until browned. Drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

4. When the squash has cooled a bit, scrape the flesh from the shell-like skin with a fork. It will separate into strands. Place these strands in a large bowl. Stir in the salt and pepper.

5. Lightly grease, oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray a 2 quart (2 liter) baking dish. Place about half of the squash mixture into the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese and half the bacon.

6. Layer the remaining squash over the bacon and top that with the remaining cheese and bacon. Cover it all with the breadcrumbs in an even layer.

7. Bake at 375 F for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are browned and toasted.

Makes about 4 main-dish servings or 6-8 side-dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Spaghetti Squash Salad with Greek Flavors, Spicy Potato and Tomato Gratin with Caramelized Onions, Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons

One year ago: Cranberry Vinaigrette

Two years ago: Roasted Vegetables

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Not Broccoli?

I collect about seven million recipes every year. (I’m exaggerating…a little.) And so when I finally get around to going through them, I’ve often missed the season for some of the more interesting ones. Take, for instance, a recipe for Spicy-Sweet Green Beans from Food Matters by Mark Bittman. This summer, I had plenty of green beans with which to try this treatment, but, of course, the notes I took on the recipe were buried in a notebook that was buried in some other papers, which were in turn buried in the ubiquitous clutter when we moved.

So now I have this recipe, but no beans, except, perhaps, for those that would have been grown a thousand miles away in the Emerald City or somewhere else perpetually green. What I was really interested in was the sauce anyway, so I looked at the last few CSA boxes of the season and said, “Why not broccoli?”

Broccoli is always a good vehicle for sauces, since its bushy, bushy green hairdo is lovely for trapping flavors like a mop. This sauce, which is quite thick, didn’t so much ooze into the broccoli florets as coat the whole piece with its rich spicy, sweet, salty, tangy goodness. You kind of have to scoop up the sauce with the broccoli rather than soak it up, but the result is just as good.

Actually, this isn’t really about the broccoli. It’s about the sauce. I don’t care whether it gets scooped by or soaked into my vegetables, or even what vegetables they are (I think it would be good with steamed cauliflower or sautéed cabbage as well as the green beans in the original recipe). It’s about the sauce, I tell you. This sauce is fabulously delicious. This sauce is one of my new favorite foods. I’m trying to think of a way to slather it on every meal. I’m thinking of giving it out to trick-or-treaters.

Okay, that might be going too far, but this is maddeningly good stuff with a sharp, strong, wake-you-up flavor from lots of garlic, plenty of dried chiles, honey and soy sauce. The sweet and the spicy are beautifully balance and the salty-tangy (some would say umami-filled) soy sauce and sturdy ground almonds fill in all the flavor spaces. The only thing I might consider adding is a bit of sesame oil. That, however, might totally blow my mind. If so, I’ll take full responsibility. I doubt I’ll be able to blame it on the broccoli anyway.

Broccoli with Sweet and Spicy Almond Sauce
Adapted from Food Matters by Mark Bittman

1 pound broccoli florets
½ cup whole almonds
2 large (or 3 medium) garlic cloves
2 dried hot chiles
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons soy sauce

1. Place the broccoli in a microwave-safe dish. Add about 2 tablespoons water and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Poke several holes in the plastic wrap with a knife (this will allow steam to escape).

2. Microwave the broccoli for 3 minutes on high. Carefully remove the plastic wrap, avoiding any escaping steam. The broccoli should be tender-crisp, but you can steam it longer if you like. Drain the broccoli. Set aside.

3. Combine the almonds, garlic, dried chiles and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a food processor. Process until a coarse paste is formed. If the mixture is too dry to form a paste, add a little more olive oil. Set aside.

4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add the almond mixture from the food processor and cook about 2 minutes more. This mixture is fairly sticky in the pan, so you’ll want to stir and scrape it up frequently.

5. Stir in the honey and soy sauce. Add the cooked broccoli and toss to coat with the sauce mixture. Cook just until heated through.

Makes about 4 side-dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Sesame-Soy Asparagus with Ginger and Garlic, Spicy Sesame Cabbage and Zucchini, Szechuan Broccoli and Water Chestnut Stir Fry

One year ago: Chard Soup with Cilantro and Lime

Two years ago: Homemade Pizza

Monday, October 17, 2011

Winter Squash Soup

You don’t need me for a winter squash soup recipe. If you have a device that gives you access to the Information Superhighway (I think it’s safe to assume you do if you’re reading this), you can find yourself a perfectly good one. Some are made with peeled and cubed squash, some with roasted squash puree, still others of the quick-and-easy variety start with canned pumpkin or store-bought frozen squash puree. They vary in seasonings from curry to Southwestern and can be loaded with cream or very low-calorie, based on a meat broth or vegan.

For the most part, no matter what you start with or how you like your spices, most of these recipes will give you a thick and creamy (regardless of whether they actually contain any dairy) pureed soup. That’s the standard. And since there’s more than one way to get there, I decided I like to take the easy way. That means roasting a squash until it’s soft and scooping the flesh out of the hard skin. No squash peeling. No squash chopping.

Currently, my favorite form of pureed winter squash soup contains whatever type of winter squash I have on hand (most recently, that was a Red Kuri squash, which looks like a darker orange, flat-ish pumpkin), a good dose of cumin and chili powder, a few spoonsful of prepared salsa and some black beans. The result is a little chunky and a bit more rustic than the elegant, velvety smooth soups out there, but a big bowl of it accompanied by a hunk of cornbread (or other bread) makes a nice meal.

I’ve been roasting whole squash by first piercing its skin all over, and partially baking the whole thing until it’s soft enough to cut into easily. Once it is cool enough to handle (this method does take some time, but it’s largely waiting time), I cut it open, scoop out the seeds and roast it again until it is soft and the skin can be removed from the flesh (or vice versa). The cooked squash flesh can then be simmered in the soup, frozen to be used later, or blitzed in a food processor to be used as desired.

Really, squash soup is flexible in a lot of ways, and you could cook your squash however you want to. You could also leave out all the Southwestern ingredients and replace them with Italian herbs or curry powder or whatever flavors you like. It should be pretty easy to start treating all those creamy squash soup recipes like variations on a theme. The whole world of squash soup will be at your fingertips. You’ll never be without squash soup in whatever flavor you heart desires.

Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll get pretty sick of squash really soon and start looking for Christmas cookie recipes instead.

Roasted Squash Soup with Black Beans and Salsa
You could make this recipe vegan by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.

A 2-2 ½ pound winter squash, such as butternut, Red Kuri, Hubbard, pumpkin, etc.
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 large celery ribs, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt (or to taste)
2 large or 3 smaller garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 cups chicken broth (I used reduced-sodium)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans (about 1 ½ cup)
½ cup prepared salsa as hot or mild as you like (I used medium)
garnishes such as crumbled tortilla chips, sour cream and additional salsa

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Pierce the skin of the squash all over with a knife. Place the squash on a pan or in a baking dish. Roast for 30 minutes at 400 F. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut the squash in half (the skin and flesh should be tender enough to cut easily), and scoop out the seeds and seed membranes. Return the cut squash to the baking pan or dish and continue to roast at 400 F until the flesh is very soft, about 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Remove the squash from the oven. Cool until easy to handle. Remove the squash flesh from the skin. Set the flesh aside until needed in the soup. (This can be done up to a few days ahead. Refrigerate if making ahead.)

4. In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring frequently for about 8 minutes or until beginning to brown.

5. Add the garlic, cumin and chili powder. Cook and stir 1 minute more.

6. Add the roasted squash and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

7. Remove the soup from the heat. Cool slightly. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Return to medium-low heat.

8. Stir in the black beans and salsa. Heat through. Garnish as desired and serve.

Makes about 8-10 servings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pumpkin Applesauce

Pumpkin puree. In applesauce. Really. This is fabulous. Two of my favorite fall fruit flavors mashed together in one bowl. How could I not make this? And why didn’t I think of this on my own? (I got the idea from this post at The Novice Chef. Thanks, Novice Chef!)

Anyway, I just happened to have an abundance of lovely apples grown by some great friends. More importantly, they were harvested by these friends, which is, of course, much more difficult than sitting around and watching them grow. (Thanks, Jake and Jen. They’ve been delicious!)

After lots of snacking, bag lunches and a pan of Apple and Cranberry Crisp that I served to visiting relatives, I still had lots of apples left, so I didn’t hesitate to try this recipe. I’ve always got some squash on hand this time of year (or at least some homemade squash puree in the freezer), so there was no need to put this off a minute more.

The apples I used are the Keepsake variety, which are crisp, with a bit of that super-fresh apple tartness, a brilliantly fruity sweetness, and a slightly starchy mouthfeel. You just don’t get these in your average supermarket. Or even your above-average supermarkets. They don’t cook down to a super-soft mush, so I ended up making a pretty chunky applesauce. I adored it that way, since there was a reminder in every bite that this stuff came from real fruit.

I happened to have another type of sweet squash already prepared, and it replaced the pumpkin in the recipe very well, as far as I’m concerned. You could use canned pumpkin (probably made from another kind of squash anyway), which will make your experience that much easier. And what about that pumpkin/squash in the applesauce? It’s not overwhelming and plays a sweet, subtle, and, well, pumpkin-y back note to the perky fresh apples. Just delicious to a squash-and-apple-obsessed October eater like me.

I sort of stewed my apples in whole spices and apple cider, so the apple flavors were more prevalent than the spices, but the spices are by no means lost. You could use a couple teaspoons of ground cinnamon and call it a day, and I’m sure it would be delicious. My applesauce was fairly tart, since there’s no added sugar and I used the juice of a whole lemon. You can certainly adjust it to your personal sweet-tooth level by adding some sugar and/or using less lemon juice. I’d suggest tasting the apples first to see just how sweet they are…as if you would ever refrain from sinking your teeth into a sample from a big pile of apples anyway.

And I suppose you could just make plain applesauce if you aren’t inclined to put pumpkin (or other squash) in everything from now until December. You’ll just be admitting that you and I have a little less in common.

Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices
Adapted from The Novice Chef

You can adjust this recipe to taste by adding sugar for a sweeter sauce (mine was quite tart), reducing the lemon juice, adding more or less spice, etc.

2 ½ pounds apples
2 6-inch cinnamon sticks
4 whole cloves
juice of ½ to 1 whole lemon (to taste)
¾ cup fresh pressed apple cider
1 cup pumpkin (or other sweet squash) puree
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1. Peel, core and chop the apples. Place them in a large sauté pan. Break the cinnamon sticks in half and add them, along with the cloves, lemon juice and apple cider to the apples in the pan.

2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very soft. This should take 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add some water if the sauce is getting too dry or is sticky before the apples are fully cooked.

3. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves. Add the pumpkin puree, nutmeg and ginger. Mash the apples with a potato masher (or you can use a blender to make smooth sauce) until the sauce is of desired consistency. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 5 cups. Can be frozen.

Other recipes like this one: Mulled Apple Cider, Apple Turnovers with Dried Fruit

One year ago: Shaved Vegetable Salad with Cider Sage Vinaigrette

Monday, October 10, 2011


Things have been a little out-of-the-ordinary in my household lately. Unfortunately, not in a let’s-bake-a-cake-to-celebrate kind of way. I’ve got visions of luscious baked goods and long-cooking comfort foods and creative uses of overflowing seasonal ingredients (like squash). I’ve got about a quadrillion recipes I’d like to try and lots of beets to hide. Dinner, however, ends up being the appropriately-named hash.

Hash is usually associated with leftovers and breakfast and lumberjacks, but I decided to try an idea I found at the blog Pinch My Salt. It’s a very straightforward application of the hash concept with a big flavor twist. This one is made with butternut squash, onions and fresh Mexican chorizo sausage. Well, I had the sausage leftover from making this chili, so all that was really threatening to hold me back was the peeling and chopping of a butternut squash.

There is one place where many recipe writers fail you, and that’s in just casually calling for peeled, cubed winter squash in a recipe. It’s not like pouring a cup of milk. A significant portion of your day, and of your sanity, is going to be required just to prepare this blandly-stated ingredient before cooking. No wonder so many people balk at making half of their dinner plate full of fruits and vegetables. Who has this kind of time?

Well, I’m going to do this same thing to you. I’m going to tell you to peel and cube some butternut squash, just to make hash. Now, I had a huge squash that I cut up, so I’ve got some more of those squash cubes waiting for me in the refrigerator, and when I make something later this week, it won’t take me so much time. But I did it. I patiently and mindfully peeled and chopped a squash. I didn’t lose my temper or curse or hurt anyone, including myself, in the process. Hey, I take my victories where I can.

This hash has a lot of flavor from the sweet and creamy squash to the spicy chorizo. The squash softens significantly as it cooks, to the point where it edges get blurred, resulting in a hash that’s got a bit of mash to it. I took a cue from the original recipe and topped our servings with a fried egg. I also garnished it all with some fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream. It was a bit of a breakfast-for-dinner thing in the end, but when the days are topsy-turvy anyway, hash-ing things up a bit probably does us some good.

Butternut Squash and Chorizo Hash
Adapted from this recipe at Pinch My Salt

Remember, it’s going to take you some time and effort to peel and chop the squash!

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 ½ to 2 pounds butternut squash (or other winter squash), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 ounces fresh Mexican chorizo sausage
cooked eggs, prepared as desired, to serve on top of the hash
chopped cilantro, prepared salsa and sour cream to garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash, onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very soft, about 30-35 minutes.

2. Stir in the cumin and chili powder. Push the squash mixture to one half of the pan. Add the chorizo to the other half. Cook, stirring occasionally, until done, about 10 minutes. While the hash is cooking, prepare eggs for serving as desired.

3. Stir the cooked squash and cooked chorizo together. Serve topped with eggs, cilantro, salsa and sour cream as desired.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Red Flannel Hash with Spicy Mustard, Winter Squash and Onion Curry with Yogurt Sauce

One year ago: Spinach and Feta Scones with Dill and Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

Two years ago: Chorizo and Chipotle Chili

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