Jessica Grosman

Butternut Squash-Beet-Grain Salad

Jessica Grosman
Butternut Squash-Beet-Grain Salad

Well, the calendar says that it's Fall, but just looking outside my window this week has me thinking that it's still summertime!  Every morning has been humid - sticky and damp - and the afternoons have been very sun-filled (no complaints) but unseasonably hot.  What happened to cool, crisp Autumn?  When will the weather that my body truly desires return?  I wish I had Al Roker on my contacts list...

Despite the summer temperatures, hard winter squash is abundant in the stores and farmers markets right now.  I love these varieties of squash - Butternut, Acorn, Delicata, Spaghetti - and those are just the most common types.  Of course, there's also Kabocha, Cinderella, Carnival, Hubbard, Kuri, and all of the Pumpkins...there are so many different heirloom varieties, each with its own flavor and personality.  The similarity among all of these squashes is in their nutritional profile.  The orange-colored flesh is indicative of high levels of beta-carotene, a potent pigment which is the precursor of Vitamin A.  We all need Vitamin A for a multitude of bodily functions, including for the health of our skin and mucous membranes, for a healthy immune system (especially important as we're entering cold & flu season), as well as for good eye health and vision.  Consuming winter squash many times a week is easy to accomplish, due to all of the delicious seasonal recipes featuring these plants!

There are 4 weeks in October, and I've decided to dedicate this month to all things SQUASH!  Each week, I'll be sharing a unique recipe to make with squash - not only are these recipes unfamiliar to you (new content on my website), but they are newly devised recipes which I'm adding to my repertoire.  I'm flexing my creative muscle a bit more lately, I hope you enjoy my latest recipe successes!

This week, I'm starting with Butternut Squash, which is the most common variety of squash.  I love using Butternut Squash in soups and salads, as the filling for pastas or as a topping on a flatbread.  The possibilities are endless, this type of squash is quite versatile!  Most of the preparations for Butternut Squash are either as a purée or roasted, but I wanted to try another approach with Butternut...so I grated it into shreds, and quickly sautéed it until it was softened.  The results were amazing!  

If you're a skeptic, I want you to consider that vegetables take on different flavors when their textures are altered.  I know people who dislike puréed Butternut Squash, they say that it reminds them of baby food.  However, when the squash is prepared in a different manner altogether, it takes on a different taste, a different mouthfeel, a different persona.

Today's recipe features spelt, which is an ancient heirloom grain.  If you are gluten-sensitive or have Celiac Disease, spelt is not a grain for you to consume.  See the notes at the end of the recipe for some simple substitutions which won't greatly alter the flavor of the recipe, but will make it gluten-free!  I've been experimenting more and more recently with ancient grains, reintroducing gluten into my diet gradually.  I'm lucky that my body has responded favorably, I hope this is a continuing trend.  If you are curious about re-introducing gluten to your diet, please reach-out to me and I'll be glad to discuss the pathway for this type of dietary modification.

I hope you will give today's recipe a try, it's such a great recipe for this time of the year when we're craving heartier grounding foods, yet nothing hot, heavy, or cloying.  With plenty of crunch and texture, my Butternut Squash-Beet-Grain Salad will surely become a favorite in your home, too.

Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.

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Ingredients:  (note - use organic whenever possible)

2 medium beets
4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
pinch of kosher salt
1 1/4 C spelt *
1 butternut squash
3/4 C pecans, chopped & toasted
1 bunch Lacinato (dino) kale

dressing:
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
4 T apple cider vinegar
2 t maple syrup
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Prepare the beets by peeling and dicing the beets into 1" cubes.  Toss with 2 T extra-virgin olive oil and place in a baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes.  Carefully uncover the dish and continue to roast the beets, stirring occasionally, for an additional 30-45 minutes.  The beets should be browned on the edges, but not charred.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

While the beets are roasting, prepare the other salad components.

Cook the spelt * in salted water (use kosher salt).  The spelt should be al-dente when fully cooked - slightly chewy but not mushy.  Prior to cooking, rinse the spelt with cool water, drain and add to the pot of boiling salted water.  Continue to boil for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to simmer for 45 minutes.  Once cooked, drain and rinse the spelt under cool water.  Place cooked spelt in a large mixing bowl.

While spelt* is cooking, prepare the remaining ingredients.  
    
Cut the Butternut squash into two pieces - the neck and the bulb.  Carefully peel the neck and grate the flesh into a bowl.  Use a large-holed grater to produce coarse shreds of squash.  Continue until 3 C of squash are in the bowl.  Heat 2 T of extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.  Once hot, add the grated squash and sauté, stirring frequently, until the squash has softened (5-7 minutes).  Remove the squash from the heat, add it to the large mixing bowl with the cooked spelt*.  

Wash and dry the leaves of the Lacinato kale.  Stack the leaves into a pile and cut crosswise into thin ribbons, about 1/2"-wide.  Discard rough woody ends of the kale.  Toss 3 C of the kale ribbons into the large mixing bowl with the spelt* and squash.  Gently fold the toasted chopped pecans into the bowl and toss all of the ingredients together.  It should look like colorful confetti!

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.  Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed, before pouring the mixture over the large mixing bowl.  Toss the mixture to coat all of the ingredients with the dressing. 

Serve at room temperature.
   
Notes:
recipe yields 5-6 generous servings 

* use a gluten-free grain (sorghum, rice, buckwheat) or pseudo-grain (quinoa) in place of the spelt, if necessary or desired 

substitute the beets with roasted diced carrots, if desired; swap the pecans for another toasted nut or seed; replace the Lacinato kale with an equal amount of chopped curly kale or another green of choice

serve salad as a main dish, or as a side with some grilled fish, poultry or meat