As I made this acorn squash and spinach salad, I thought about how my idea of what constitutes a “salad” has changed over the years. I used to think that salads had just one iteration: iceberg lettuce topped with out-of-season tomatoes, cucumbers, large rings of onion, cheddar cheese, and Italian dressing (basically the standard side salad at any American chain restaurant). That was it – no changes or substitutions.
Sometimes a salad like that is exactly what you want; it’s light, crisp, and refreshing. One thing it definitely is not, though, is filling. If I brought that salad to work for lunch, I would probably be hungrier after eating it than I was before I ate it.
These days, my salads are more of a one-bowl-lunch deal, filling and nutritious. Usually they have a base of some dark leafy green (spinach or kale), maybe mixed with a crisper lettuce like romaine or Bibb. Depending on the season I’ll add raw or roasted vegetables. In the summer, I prefer to use whatever fresh vegetable is in season (tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers), and, in the winter, I may add roasted vegetables instead.
Adding grains, beans, nuts and seeds adds extra nutrition and makes the salad filling enough to eat as a main dish. I’ll use whatever grains and beans I have leftover from other meals. Nuts and seeds amp up the salad with a nice crunch, and add a lot of flavor, especially if they’ve been toasted.
Top it off with some homemade dressing. A vinaigrette takes only a couple of minutes to make, and many other kinds of dressings can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. I often end up topping my salads with just salt, pepper, and some freshly squeezed citrus (from whatever citrus fruit I have around).
This acorn squash and spinach salad with balsamic orange vinaigrette includes all of the above. First, acorn squash is cut into wedges and roasted until sweet and tender. While the squash is roasting, the dried cranberries are soaked in the orange juice. I do this because it hydrates the otherwise dry and bland cranberries and gives them extra flavor. Be sure to zest the orange before juicing it (I did not, and zesting a cut and juiced orange was messy).
If you don’t have leftover rice, cook some up while the squash roasts. If you don’t use it all for the salad, you can eat it with other meals later in the week.
As the squash roasts and the cranberries soak, chop the pecans and parsley, and mince the garlic. Once the squash is tender, set it aside to cool. Drain the cranberries, making sure to reserve the orange juice. Mix up the dressing, then, if the squash is cool enough, take the skins off. Cut the squash into cubes, then toss all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
If you plan to eat it the next day or day after, keep the ingredients separate and combine just before eating (or just before heading to work).
If you like this recipe, or any of my other recipes, please comment below, or share with your friends! I have also submitted this recipe to No Croutons Required, run by Lisa at Lisa’s Kitchen and Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.