I know it’s winter and a bowl of warm bean soup or a slow simmering chunk of meat are mostly on your mind (and they’re on mine too), but I’m still craving a good, substantial leafy salad for dinner. And something healthy to increase the amount of vegetables I am eating. January brings lofty eating goals and why not.
Roasted butternut squash and quinoa are the heart of this wintery salad. Both can be prepared the day ahead and refrigerated or made just far enough ahead to cool to room temperature before tossing them in the salad. If you can plan ahead you’ll be able to throw this salad together at 6pm.
What I love about quinoa is that it’s high in protein and it cooks in just 15 to 20 minutes, a shorter length of time than many other grains. Its fluffy texture and mild flavor make it complimentary to combine with other ingredients. I buy quinoa in the bulk section of the grocery store where you can often choose from red, black, tri-color or white varieties. You can also buy it prepackaged.
Roasted butternut squash is as tasty at room temperature or chilled as when it’s right out of the oven. I find it can be a bit challenging to hang onto it when using a vegetable peeler to remove the outer skin, so I secure it be resting one end on the counter while gripping the other with my hand. Once peeled, simply trim both ends then cut it in half and scrape out the seeds. Dicing the squash means it will roast quicker and you’re more inclined to have some in every bite of salad.
Dried currants and pepita seeds are the salad accents with crumbled goat cheese or long shreds of Parmesan optional. Commonly known as “zante” currants from the dried zante grape (originating in Corinth, Greece), they add just the right amount of sweetness and texture to the spinach leaves, quinoa and roasted squash. I use them all the time preferring their tiny size and flavor to raisins. Delicate, light green pepitas (if you’re not familiar are pumpkin seeds with the white hull removed.) are expensive but a few go a long way. Sunflower seeds can be substituted.
- ½ cup quinoa
- 4 cups peeled and ½-inch diced butternut squash (1 medium size)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- pinch kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 8 cups fresh spinach leaves
- Apple Cider Vinaigrette*see note
- ½ cup crumbled goat cheese or large shaves of Parmesan cheese*see note (optional)
- ½ cup dried currants
- ¼ cup pepita or sunflower seeds
- Rinse quinoa in a fine mesh strainer then transfer to a small saucepan and add 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer just until quinoa is soft and water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Spread cooked quinoa on a tray or baking sheet and allow cooling to room temperature (quinoa can be prepared to this point, transferred to a container with a lid and refrigerated several days).
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. or 375 degrees F. convection bake.
- Toss squash with olive oil and spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake squash just until tender when poked with a fork, about 15 to 20 minutes; remove from oven and allow cooling to room temperature (squash can be prepared to this point, transferred to a container with a lid and refrigerated several days).
- In a large bowl toss spinach, quinoa and vinaigrette. Add squash, goat cheese and currants and toss. Sprinkle with pepitas.
To make large shaves of Parmesan: using a vegetable peeler, make long strokes downward on a wedge of Parmesan cheese.