Spicy Squash Salad with Arugula, Lentils, and Goat Cheese
Back towards the end of August I wrote down a large list of treats and dishes that I wanted to make during this year’s Fall season. I scanned through my issues of Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Appetit while checking online at Martha Stewart’s website. I scrawled down a pretty sizable list and was, as you can imagine, pretty excited for the coming season. I dreamed of walking to the farmer’s market in my scarf and tweed coat, scanning the ripe squashes, apples and pears at the Farmers Market, the clear sky above with a crisp bite to the air.
Of course, I became highly impatient when each day I’d have to put up with the warm, sticky, sunny weather outside (oh, how spoiled I am!). I wanted that cold, crisp air, now! Where is the seasonal harvested fall produce I want so much? And then it came, it seemed, out of no where–the perfect, honey crisp apples and chilly mornings. Suddenly, instead of knocking out treat items on my list I realized I was spending more time getting through my week of homework and classes by eating meals of apple slices and peanut butter, simple roasted squash with salt and pepper, or plain buttered slices of toast with some leftover soup.
I made this delicious salad of french green lentils, roasted and spiced butternut squash and creamy goat cheese (twice already) that you see here, but where were the rest of my dreamy items I had written down on my “Fall Season 2011″ list? Still written down there, waiting to be awakened by some magic (or, so we hope) in the kitchen, that’s where. And that’s where they’ll most likely stay.
But you know what? I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ve only gotten about three out of twenty-five things crossed off that list (and that the rest aren’t going to be checked off anytime soon). Who needs an apple upside-down cake, apple pie, apple torte and an apple tarte tartin, anyway? Lord knows I certainly don’t need all the calories, nor the taste of some combination of apple and butter every night (well actually, that latter part I could deal with).
Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a big batch of a lentil and squash salad anyway, packed away for a lunch or for a light dinner. It may not be as impressive as some of the other things I want to cross off my list, but it’s the type of thing I’d eat every day if I could (and oh, I have this past week) and there is definitely something to be said about that. And, probably more importantly, it’s delicious. It’s got all the elements: earthiness from the lentils, the spice and smoothness of butternut squash, and creaminess from the goat cheese. And this is one of the best salads for substitutions: replace the butternut squash with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, or acorn squash; substitute feta for goat cheese; try a different green other than arugula; add in some parsley or some other type of herb—you get the idea.
Although I enjoyed this salad as stated below, I also like it without the arugula—just squash, lentils, goat cheese, and a slash of red wine vinegar. This is reflected in the picture above.
3/4 cup black or green lentils
2 pounds butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut roughly into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon hot smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 cups baby arugula
1 cup soft crumbled goat cheese
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and cener a rack in the middle of the oven. Toss cubed squash with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, paprika, and sea salt. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Turn squash over, as best you can. Continue to roast until all the cubes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. Allow to cool.
While the sqash is roasting, place lentils in small bowl. Cover with cold water and soak 10 minutes. While the lentils are soaking, get a medium saucepan filled with salted water to a boil. Drain the lentils from their soaking liquid, add to the boiling water, and cook the lentils until tender but firm, about 30 minutes. Drain the lentils, then rinse them under cold water. (Both the squash and lentils should be about room tempurature before assembling the salad in order to prevent wilted arugula and melted goat cheese.)
To assemble, combine lentils, squash, arugula, half of the crumbled goat cheese, vinegar, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among plates and sprinkle additional goat cheese or red wine vinegar on the salads to taste.