Squash of all shapes, colors and textures are flooding the farmer’s markets and grocery stores, replacing the vibrantly-colored vegetables of summertime. Many people, including myself, welcome the arrival of Fall and its delicious nourishing and grounding produce. While I do love summertime’s juicy tomatoes, there’s something so comforting and cozy about hard (winter) squash.
The most popular of these squashes is Butternut. I enjoy cooking with Butternut squash, it can be made into a variety of recipes, including my Butternut Squash & 3-Bean Chili and my Simply Spiced Squash Soup. I always have at least one of these huge squashes in my pantry to be made into some sort of soup, stew or chili. The biggest challenge with Butternut squash is that it must be peeled, and that can be a messy (and dangerous) chore! Nowadays, there is peeled & cubed Butternut squash available at many grocery stores; this makes eating this type of squash very convenient. Butternut squash can also be turned into “noodles” using a vegetable spiralizer, which makes eating any vegetable fun!
But for the arrival of squash season this year, I wanted to break away from my comfort zone and start with another common variety of squash – Acorn squash. I love the way that an Acorn squash can have a splash of orange on its skin. From what I know, the color variation does not indicate degree of ripeness, so if you pick-up an all-green squash, no worries.
Unlike Butternut squash, the skin of an Acorn squash is completely edible, which makes cutting and preparing this type of squash much easier. Using a very sharp knife, I cut the top of the squash off and then cut the body of the squash in half lengthwise. Inside is a web of fibers and seeds – simply use a spoon to remove them – and save the seeds to roast later!
So many Acorn squash recipes call for baking the squash halves and then stuffing the cavity with a filling…but how does one easily eat a half of an Acorn squash? Not too gracefully, in my opinion. Another common way to serve Acorn squash is in long slices, which is much simpler than eating an entire half of the squash, but I’ve had difficulties getting the slices to cook evenly. I knew there must be a better way to prepare Acorn squash! For this recipe, I cut the squash into rough 2-inch cubes, which are perfect for roasting.
To get any vegetable really nice and golden brown in the oven, with crispy edges, a good coating of oil is needed. For this recipe, extra-virgin olive oil was my fat of choice since the squash is roasted in a medium-hot oven. I also wanted to infuse the squash with some Fall flavors, so I added maple syrup and cinnamon to the olive oil, along with some sea salt and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. The squash cubes should ideally be in a single layer on the parchment-lined sheet pan, to allow them to caramelize and brown. A crowded pan leads to steaming and mushy veggies!
The squash roasts for while, with some stirring mid-way through, to get all of the edges nice and crispy! I burnt my fingertips as I reached into the oven to taste a few pieces periodically, the aroma coming from the oven was intoxicating.
Purple cabbage is a staple in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. I use this antioxidant-rich vegetable nearly everyday in my morning smoothie bowl. If my daughter could write our family’s weekly dinner menu, it would certainly include her favorite Colorful & Crunchy Orzo Salad with its long ribbons of purple cabbage tangled into the pasta. I love the way the cabbage’s color looks against the orange and green of the squash, so I knew that I wanted to include it in this salad. I cut 1/4 of a large head of cabbage into thin ribbons and added some sliced local apple, for sweetness and texture.
While purple cabbage is delicious eaten raw, many people find it a bit difficult to easily digest. The first step in breaking-down the tough fibers in cabbage is to add an acid to them, which starts the digestive process. I made a delicious dressing, using apple cider vinegar, which not only gives the cabbage and apples a zingy flavor, but it also helps to make the digestion a bit more manageable. Another way to aid in the digestion of the cabbage is to heat it – but I didn’t want to fully cook the cabbage since I wanted to retain some of the addictive crunch that is a wonderful trait of this cruciferous vegetable. So, upon removing the roasted squash from the oven, I immediately put it on top of the cabbage to gently wilt the ribbons.
Patience got the best of me…and after 10 minutes, I couldn’t wait any longer. I tossed the bowl of squash, purple cabbage, apples and dressing. For some added crunch, I topped the bowl with sliced scallions and toasted pepitas. The first bite – all of the flavors and textures coming together – it was heavenly. Not like chocolate ice cream heavenly, but the best of Fall in one bite!
This colorful salad is stunning to many senses and would be a welcome addition at every Fall pot-luck dinner gathering. Give the recipe a try and let me know if Acorn squash has become your new favorite squash this season!
Maple & Spice Roasted Acorn Squash Salad
Ingredients: (note – use organic whenever possible)
1 Acorn squash, cut into 2” cubes (reserve seeds to roast, if desired)
1/4 C + 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 C maple syrup
1/2 t sea salt, plus additional for dressing
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t dried red pepper flakes (optional)
4 C thinly sliced red cabbage (approximately 1/4 of a large head of cabbage)
1/2 apple, seeded and thinly sliced
1 1/2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 t Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 C pepitas, toasted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Place Acorn squash cubes in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil, maple syrup, 1/2 t sea salt, cinnamon and red pepper flakes. Pour mixture over Acorn squash cubes and toss to coat. Put the squash cubes and any remaining liquid mixture onto the baking sheet, spreading out the cubes so they are not touching. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, stir and turn pieces over, and continue to bake for an additional 25 minutes.
While the squash is baking, add the red cabbage and sliced apple to the large mixing bowl (no need to wash it out). In the small bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, 2 T extra virgin olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour dressing mixture over cabbage and apples, toss to coat.
When squash is finished roasting, pour the pan of hot squash over the cabbage-apple mixture. Allow the heat of the squash to gently wilt the cabbage – leave it undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Toss the entire bowl of ingredients together to distribute the squash among the cabbage and apples, coating with the dressing. Pour salad into a serving bowl and top with sliced scallions and toasted pepitas just prior to serving.
recipe yields 6 generous servings
salad can be made in advance and held at room temperature for 3-4 hours
store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator, consume within 2-3 days