To mark the changing of the seasons (and our wardrobe), the Let’s Lunch folks unanimously voted for Fall salads for this month’s lunch date. Coming from a tropical island where the weather all year round is pretty much either hot and humid or wet and humid, the concept of changing seasons is something I’m still getting used to even though this will be my third Fall season. Of course I’m absolutely delighted at the different wardrobes I could have throughout the year (you can never have too many coats or boots I say) and constantly fascinated by the new produce at the Farmer’s Markets, but with the shorter days, and having to trade summer dresses for woolen coats, I can’t help but feel a slight twinge of sadness to say ‘Bye!’ to summer and muster up the enthusiasm to greet cooler weather with a nice big smile.
On the bright side though, these quarterly milestones help us to truly eat along with the seasons and, for me, brings me closer to my food. Enjoying a freshly plucked tomato at the height of summer is to experience gustatory joy, as is employing the quintessential Fall vegetable, the pumpkin, in this comforting salad. Bringing together cubes of sweet sugar pumpkin tenderly roasted in a cumin and paprika marinade with pebbles of French green lentils, baby arugula and crumbs of goat cheese, this is one salad that’s sure to fill you up for lunch.
As I browsed different recipes to try for this month’s lunch date, I knew, almost immediately, that this would be the one to share with you. A bite of this gorgeous salad just screams ‘Fall is here!’ with the soft and thick cubes of pumpkin (or butternut squash, which I used), marrying with the tender bite of the lentils and a creamy, tangy after taste from the goat cheese. There is a slight heat from the paprika, just enough to balance out the cool arugula but not too much to overpower the palate. The original recipe calls for a few mint leaves, but I left it out in my version as there wasn’t any in the house. Not in my next batch though, because although this salad is simply delicious the way it is, a few strips of mint never hurt anybody and I suspect it would add another layer of contrast to the dish to truly bring it to life.
Spiced Pumpkin (or Squash), Lentil, and Goat Cheese Salad (adapted from Bon Appetit’s October 2009 issue)
Makes 6 servings
¾ cup French green lentils
6 cups peeled seeded sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1-inch pieces (Danielle: I used a 1½ pound butternut squash but you could also use a 1½ to 2 pound sugar pumpkin)
3 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups baby arugula
11 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
¼ cup thinly sliced mint leaves
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375F/ 190C.
Toss the pumpkin/squash with 2 tablespoons oil, the cumin, paprika, and salt until all the cubes are well-coated in the marinade. Arrange then in single layer on a baking dish and roast for 20 minutes. Turn each piece so that all the sides get the chance to turn nice and crispy, and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes until tender. Leave to cool.
While the pumpkins/squash is in the oven, prepare the lentils. Soak them in cold water for about 10 minutes, then drain and boil them in salted water for about 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain again.
To assemble the salad, combine the lentils, pumpkin/squash cubes, and oil from the baking dish with arugula, half of goat cheese, mint, vinegar, and enough oil to just coat each ingredient. Divide among plates and sprinkle the remaining goat cheese over.
Don’t forget to check out what the rest of the Let’s Lunch folks cooked up today: