Perfect Autumn Tossed Salad

I went to a local restaurant (Salt) for lunch a couple weeks ago and had the most delicious salad. It was a perfect transitional salad, with elements of both Summer and Fall. It was composed of sweet baked heirloom squash, earthy and rich shiitake mushrooms and French lentils served over mixed salad greens, dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette, and sprinkled with pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The original salad on the menu was made with goat cheese; I subbed French lentils instead and I prefer it that way, but you could certainly do either or both.

Last week’s freeze brought us fully into Fall, from a culinary standpoint. With that in mind, I’ll replace the salad greens with a heartier green like spinach, baby kale, or arugula that will be available locally for at least several more weeks. Of course, there’s Winter squash aplenty at the Market right now, and local shiitake mushrooms are available year round. Until olives and grapes start growing in Boulder, we’ll have to import the ingredients for the dressing.

All of the components of this salad are staples for me at this time of year. It’s worth making them specifically for this salad, but be sure to make extra, as they are all great to have on hand to inspire and/or garnish other yummy and seasonal dishes.

This recipe will make enough to serve four entree sized salads

  • 1 large or 2 medium delicata or other sweet Winter squash
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 cups shiitake mushrooms
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 4-6 cups baby kale, spinach, or arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces, if necessary
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked French lentils (or black beluga lentils)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • optional additions: caramelized onions, fresh thyme in the dressing, a bit of toasted sesame oil on the mushrooms

Heat oven to 400 degrees. There is no need to peel the squash – just cut in half and remove seeds. (I like to put the seeds in a bowl of water with a little salt and soak them overnight, then rinse and roast them the next day.) Cut the seeded squash into cubes, then place on a tray, toss with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slice the shallots and toss with the squash. Put the tray in the oven (no need to worry if it’s not fully heated yet).

Prepare the shiitakes. Rinse them lightly, but thoroughly, to remove any dirt or sand. Cut off stems and reserve for stock, then slice the caps. Place sliced mushrooms on a tray, toss in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. put the tray in the oven, flipping the squash around at the same time. The squash is done when it’s very soft and browned in some places; probably 25-30 minutes after you put them in the oven. The mushrooms are done when they are shrunken and slightly crisp, probably about 10 minutes after you put them in the oven, but more or less depending on thickness.

Meanwhile, measure the oil and vinegar in a small jar with a few pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper, tighten the lid, and shake vigorously. Tear the greens into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and put in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the greens and toss to coat. Add the lentils and toss again. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. When the squash and mushrooms are done, add them to the salad, toss, and finish with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. Enjoy!

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1 Comment »

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