Wednesday, January 16, 2013
CHILI-LIME ROASTED SQUASH SALAD
I was in serious danger of getting tired of butternut squash. The squash = winter equation is so ingrained in me, and I have so many great squash recipes, from soup to pizza to pasta, that I end up buying one about every other week, but lately I’ve been less enamored of its mushy (sometimes mealy) sweetness. What I needed was to spice things up, literally. When I spotted this Everyday Food recipe at The Bitten Word, I was intrigued by its flavor profile. Instead of pairing squash with the usual suspects—fallish ingredients like sage, maple, cinnamon, apples and pears, or sausage—it went in the opposite direction, with the summery-seeming southwestern tastes of chili, lime, and cilantro. It turns out that the heat of the spice, the tang of the citrus, and the herby freshness were exactly what I needed to shake off the squash doldrums.
I followed the recipe exactly, except that I threw in a bit of smoky chipotle chili powder with the regular stuff (recommended), and since I’m not especially passionate about Romaine hearts and noticed that the photo on the Bitten Word showed different greens instead, I used a bagged baby spring mix from Trader Joe’s. The recipe is a bit vague about what temperature the squash should be when you serve it; I like warm salads when they involve spinach or arugula, but hate wilted lettuce, so I compromised and went with room temperature. Roasted squash is always best right out of the oven, when the exterior is still crisp and caramelized, but the leftovers the next day were decent despite the soggier squash; I heated it briefly in the microwave (less than 30 seconds) just to take the chill off it before I added it to the greens.
This is just a personal taste thing, but I think next time I might cube the squash instead of slicing it, then just toss it with the olive oil and chili powders instead of sprinkling the chili powder on top—that would distribute the seasoning more evenly, help the squash cook more quickly, and make the salad easier to eat. I loved the salty crunch of the pepitas as a foil for the tenderness of the squash, but the cheese (I used feta, since I had some on hand) didn’t do as much for me; its creaminess seemed to blend too much with the squash, and it didn’t add much beyond salt and color contrast. I can’t believe I’m saying this, since I’m usually more apt to add feta to recipes that don’t call for it, but I think next time I’d leave it off entirely. Maybe cotija, which seems a bit drier and firmer, might work better, but for me, I’d rather just eat a quesadilla on the side to round this out into a meal than include cheese in the salad.
Chili + lime + cilantro is one of my favorite flavor combinations, but I never would have thought to apply it to squash (even though of course it’s been done before; now I want to try this version). I’m so glad I found this fantastic salad to expand my horizons and rehab the poor old butternut.
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, halved, seeded, and cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon chili powder (I like to use ½ teaspoon regular and ½ teaspoon chipotle)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons lime juice (1–2 limes)
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¾ teaspoon honey
1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped, or about 5 ounces mixed spring greens
¼ cup toasted pepitas
¾ cup (3 ounces) crumbled Cotija or feta cheese (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle with chili powder and season with salt and pepper. Bake until soft and lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Whisk together lime juice, cilantro, honey, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper.
4. Arrange lettuce on a platter or in serving bowls, then top with squash, pepitas, and cheese, if using; drizzle with dressing.
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; store all components (roasted squash, dressing, greens, pepitas, and cheese) separately and assemble right before eating.