This is a fancy-pants, frou-frou salad, the kind that’s sold at Whole Foods for $9 a pound. It’s the type of salad that’s featured in upscale food magazine stories about updating your Thanksgiving menu. It’s a salad I would normally ignore. A work potluck and a bare fridge changed my mind. I needed to bring something to a holiday lunch, I didn’t want to do extra grocery shopping, and I had a butternut squash and mushrooms to work with.
Winter squash and mushrooms are a good salad match (see a past recipe), but I wanted a grain to make this dish more substantial. A search through my pantry revealed a box of Israeli couscous, a bag of sunflower seeds and some pecans. This ingredient combo created a surprisingly delicious dish: sweet, creamy butternut squash, savory mushrooms, grainy couscous, and crunchy nuts and seeds.
The dressing was a fruity raspberry vinaigrette (okay, it was actually Paul Newman’s low-fat raspberry vinaigrette, which I doctored with extra olive oil and lemon juice. This is one of the few bottled dressings I like).
Frou-frou salads the world over, please accept my apologies. I dismissed your brethren, but this salad changed my mind. I will be making it again.
Preheat the oven to 425. Peel a medium butternut squash, cut it into ½-inch cubes and place in a foil-lined pan. Sprinkle with 1-2 tbs. brown sugar, 2 tbs. olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast until soft and easily pierced with a knife, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. (I also roasted some chopped onions to use in the salad, but I would either leave them out or sauté them with the mushrooms next time.)
While the squash is roasting, cook ½ cup Israeli couscous. I boil it like pasta and rinse it after cooking (if using in a salad), but you can also cook it by absorption (see instruction on the box). Clean and slice 8 oz. white or portabella mushrooms. Heat up some olive oil in a skillet, and sauté the mushrooms 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let the couscous and mushrooms cool 10-15 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the squash, mushrooms and couscous. Add ½ cup chopped pecans (walnuts would also work). Add sunflower seeds to taste.
Add ½ cup of your favorite fruity dressing and mix well. I used ½ cup bottled raspberry vinaigrette , 2 tbs. olive oil, 1 tbs. lemon juice, and extra salt and pepper.
Serve right away at room temperature. If making ahead of time, like I did, add nuts and dressing right before serving.