Acorn Squash Salad with Green Dressing

Yesterday I took my parent’s dog Lola for a walk. It was a stubborn thing to do. Sleet was pounding the ground outside, and Mitch had already given the report on the accidents he’d seen. Abby’s flight back to San Francisco was cancelled. The weather was truly frightful, and inside we had all the trappings of delightful, including a fire.

But I was getting cabin fever, and Lola was flopping dramatically whenever someone moved. So we went for a walk, me clad in the jacket and boots I borrowed from my mom. We had gone the length of three houses before my jeans were drenched. My mom’s water repellent jacket wasn’t repelling much water, and water was soaking into my wool socks. And so Lola and I did the only sensible thing at that time. We ran.

We were a sight, a girl in jeans and snowboots and a sopping dog half jogging, half trudging through the sleet. Lola’s interest in running came in fits and starts. One moment she was running, the next she had to smell, then shake. We took the shortest walk we could. It took forever.

And when Lola stopped to smell at one point, I realized how broadly I was smiling. I had decided not to turn back, and so the only way out was through. It was wet and cold and in many ways uncomfortable. It was also brisk and bright and joyous. It was an unconscious decision on how I wanted our walk to go.

A few hours later our flight to Minneapolis was cancelled due to this same sleet. We’re trying again tonight. Today I’m deciding to be happy about this- deciding to enjoy this extra day of vacation with my family, an extra day to watch reruns with my parents and walk Lola and wear nail polish. I’m deciding not to worry about our mail piling up and yogurt probably growing mold in the fridge and our car that needs to be moved by tomorrow or it will be towed. It’s a small decision, one that only changes my perspective, but sometimes perspective is everything.

We’re approaching the new years, when many people, myself included, make a myriad of resolutions to improve their life. One of the most popular is some variation of eating better and/or losing weight. That usually means some restriction- no sugar in any form, or no gluten regardless of medical necessity, or only juice for breakfast, or no eating after 6pm, or no snacking ever. It’s a joyless regiment that can only be gotten through on sheer willpower. It’s not how I want to start my year.

Instead we should be eating food because it tastes and makes us feel good. I can’t be convinced to drink kale juice, but I will gobble up kale sautéed with garlic, chilis, and lemon in a matter of minutes. In the vein of good food (verses the more dictatorial Food That Is Good), I offer this roasted acorn squash salad.

It’s a simple, elegant dish that made a fantastic dinner for Aaron and I the day before we set out to Illinois. It made a great dinner for the two of us, and it would make a wonderful side for a dinner for more people. It’s easy- it needs some chopping, some roasting, and some whisking. The toughest task is peeling the squash, and after that it’s smooth sailing. The squash itself is has a wholesome, vegetal sweetness, but blanketed in the green dressing (parsley, cilantro, currents, white wine vinegar, lime, pistachios, feta, and a heady mix of spices) it becomes intriguing and multi-faceted, here sweet, here tart, here astringent, here a hint of piquancy. It’s naturally gluten-free, vegetarian, and could easily be made vegan. It’s good food at it’s purest- so tasty you don’t worry about the nutrients, and so healthy you don’t need to worry.

Acorn Squash Salad with Green Dressing

adapted from The New York Times

Serves 2 for a meal, 4 for a side

The original recipe called for kabocha squash, but my local grocery store doesn’t carry kabocha squash this time of year. Because of my choice of squash the dressing was about double what was necessary, but the dressing was so good that I started dipping bread straight into it. I would make the whole amount, and then save the rest for another use.

5 tablespoons dried currants
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 acorn squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into quarter inch half moons
1/2 to 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon ground sumac
1 tablespoon plus 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
½ cup chopped parsley, packed
½ cup chopped cilantro, packed
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, approximately 3 to 4 limes
½ cup chopped pistachios
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

In a small bowl combine the dried currants with the white wine vinegar and let soak for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450. Toss the squash slices with two tablespoons of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread out onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing once, until tender.

In a large bowl whisk together the spices, the herbs, and four tablespoons of oil. Once that’s all emulsified add in the currents with their vinegar, the lime juice, the pistachios, and the feta. Whisk together, then add as much olive oil as necessary to get the viscosity you desire- I only added two tablespoons. Taste, and add as much salt as the dressing needs- mine only needed a pinch.

Arrange the squash on a platter to serve, and spread with the herb dressing. Eat warm or at room temperature.


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