One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spiced Butternut Squash, Lentil and Feta Salad

I ask a lot of a meatless salad that wants to be served as a main course. It has to be filling, interesting, low-fat (gotta watch the waistline!) and delicious. I know, I am demanding! This recipe delivers on all counts. The protein-packed lentils and the vitamins A and C in the squash make this salad very nutritious and the hot and sour spices play off beautifully against the sweetness of the squash. 

Peeling butternut squash can be a bit of a pain so I bought it pre-cut from the supermarket. If you start with a whole squash, choose the smallest one you can find. It shouldn't weigh more than 1.5 - 2 lb. Cut it in half from top to bottom, scoop out and discard the seeds, place each half on a cutting board cut-side down and slice it into one inch-thick slices. You can then peel and chop each slice.

Spiced Butternut Squash, Lentil and Feta Salad
Adapted from here. The original recipe used smoked Spanish paprika and goat cheese instead of sumac and feta. That is also a good variation but I liked my Middle East-inspired version more. Dressing the cooked components while they are still hot will help the flavor penetrate. You can cook the lentils and squash 1-2 days ahead of time and mix them with the vinegar and oil. If making ahead, add the mint, cheese and sumac just before serving and toss with a small splash of vinegar to liven it up. Serves 4. 

1 lb (500g) peeled butternut squash, diced into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup (100g) green lentils, preferably French lentils
3-4 oz. (60-80g) feta cheese, crumbled
4 tbsp chopped fresh mint
4 handfuls arugula or baby greens
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sumac
Pinch of ground cayenne, to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp Sherry vinegar or wine vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Bring 3 cups of water to boil in a pot. 

2. Toss the butternut squash with 1 tbsp olive oil, the cumin, and a little salt. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and put in the oven. Throw the lentils into the water. 

3. After 15 minutes, the lentils should be tender but not mushy. The squash should be tender and browning slightly on the bottom. Taste both components and if they are not done, cook for 5 more minutes. 

4. Drain the cooked lentils and toss with the squash, arugula, mint and cheese. 

5. Whisk together 2 tbsp olive oil, the vinegar, the cayenne and the sumac in a small bowl and mix this with the salad.

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