Some people have the gift to make anything taste great. I can follow a recipe. I can season to taste. But sometimes, I just don’t know what some recipes need to make it taste better.
This is a story of a botched recipe, turned sublime. Last Thanksgiving, Ina Garten’s roasted butternut squash salad was made a few times. The first time, with apple juice, it was nice, and was therefore given the thumbs up for serving at the Thanksgiving dinner.
My friend was helping with the prep work for round 2, but mistakenly made the dressing with 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider. A big oops! However, she tried to salvage the salad by adding in some brown sugar and vanilla. While the salad was still a bit acidic, the vanilla was a magical ingredient. Instead of being as sweet as the first time, it was more savoury.
Therefore, when I recreated the dish this year, when butternut squash started to make its way into the grocery stores, I wanted the best of both worlds: vanilla within an apple cider vinaigrette. I used baby spinach and toasted almonds, instead of the arugula and walnuts Ina suggested. I also omitted the Parmesan cheese and reduced the olive oil, salt and pepper. Trust me, I didn’t miss anything. There were so many levels of flavour here, I was thoroughly content. The butternut squash is roasted to bring out its sweetness and is soft, bit still keeps it shape. The fruity dressing is tamed with the vanilla and works well with the baby spinach. Toasted almonds nail this as a slam-dunk salad.
Here are some other savoury vanilla dishes I’ve made:
This is my submission to this month’s Simple and in Season, to this month’s Food Palette series featuring the rainbow, to Ricki’s Wellness Weekends, and to both Ricki and Kim’s vegan SOS challenge featuring cranberries.
Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with a Warm Cider Vinaigrette
1.5-2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp dried cranberries
3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice (I used cider)
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp minced green onions or shallots
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4-6 cups baby spinach, arugula, your green of choice
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 1 tablespoons olive oil, the maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper (to taste) and toss. Roast the squash for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Add the cranberries to the pan for the last 5 minutes.
3. While the squash is roasting, combine the apple cider, vinegar, vanilla and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 8-15 minutes, until the cider is reduced to about 1/4 cup. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1/4 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Combine the vinaigrette with the butternut squash. When ready to serve, place the spinach in a bowl, top with butternut squash and sprinkle with toasted almonds.