Although there are times when I might appreciate a salad more than others (ahem, the day after an indulgent holiday meal) …. I do not need an excuse to have a salad. Salads are a ritual for me, one that I very much enjoy. They are my go-to lunch, and how I clean out the fridge while nourishing myself at the same time. Rarely are two salads exactly alike in my house, but once in a while, I do come up with a combination that I fall completely in love with and I recreate it more than once.
I think it’s obvious to say that my salad creations change with the season, lighter in the summer and heartier in the winter, but they do always have a few common characteristics that pass through each season. They always have to have some form of green, a plant-based protein, a gluten-free grain, and last, but maybe most importantly, a homemade dressing.
It’s right around this time of year that my salads become mostly warm. Cozier ingredients such as rice and roasted vegetables become a part of the salad routine, and the greens go from raw to sautéed. A stick to your ribs salad is what my body craves when the weather gets chilly.
We all are busy people, so I know how easy it can be to think that a homemade salad for lunch on most days is an ambitious luxury, one you could easily pass on by saying, “ain’t nobody got time for that” ….. but I can promise you it’s not. My salad making rituals date back to my busy, long-hours-at-the-office days, so I know for a fact it can be done. If you take an hour on Sunday, or one weeknight, you can have homemade salad for at least a few days out of your week. Make a big batch of dressing that can last you a week or two. Make a pot of beans, quinoa, brown rice, that can last you a few days. Roast some veggies, chop up some greens. All of the components of a salad can be prepared days in advance; we can all try and make time for that.
As you may have already guessed, this salad here is one that I have made more than once recently, which inspired me to share it with you. The first time I made it was on our first cool day when I was craving a rice and ginger dressing combo. I had some butternut squash I needed to use and some spinach in the fridge. The flavors all came together so well, I was craving it a few days later so I made it again …. and again.
black rice salad with spinach, squash, sesame ginger dressing + pumpkin seed crunch
1 cup of black rice
1 small butternut, acorn (or any type of squash), peeled, seeds removed, and diced (about 2 cups)
extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper
2 large handfuls of spinach
1 small red onion, sliced
grapeseed (or a neural high heat oil)
2 tablespoons of sesames seeds
1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
for the sesame ginger dressing:
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 small shallot
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon of lime juice
2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon of tamari (OR 1/2 teaspoon of salt)
3-4 tablespoons of grapeseed or sunflower oil
*Pre-heat the oven to 350º
Cook the rice:
- Place the rice into a medium sauce pan with 1 3/4 cup of water, bring to a boil, cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, and allow to sit, covered for at least 10 minutes, or until you're ready to assemble the salad.
Toast and grind the seeds + roast the squash:
- Place the sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds onto a baking sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes (until light brown). Remove, and turn the oven temp up to 425º (for the squash).
- Then, using a mortar and pestle, grind the seeds until you have a fine crumble.
- Place the squash onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until soft and golden brown. Set aside, covered if you like, until you're ready to assemble.
While the rice and squash are cooking, make your dressing (you can also do this a few hours or days in advance):
- Place all of the ingredients for the dressing, except for the grapeseed oil, into a food processor. Pulse a few times to chop and incorporate, and then run the food processor continuously while you add the oil a tablespoon at a time until you have a creamy, and pourable, consistency. Taste and adjust any seasoning necessary (sometimes I feel it might need a slight lime or salt adjustment).
Sauté the spinach and onions:
- Heat the about 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast iron over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for several minutes until very soft. Then add the spinach and cook for about 2 minutes, until just wilted. Remove from the heat and season with a pinch or two of salt.
Assemble the salad:
- Place the rice, squash, and sautéed spinach into a large bowl with about half of the dressing and half of the pumpkin seed crumble, and toss to combine. Plate the salad onto individual plates, and spoon some additional dressing on top and finish with an additional sprinkle of the pumpkin seed crumble.