From the beautiful autumn foliage to the sweet and savory harvest foods, we think it’s fair to say that fall is almost everyone’s favorite season. Ask our founder, Nina, and she’ll say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Actually, it’s the colors and flavors of fall that inspired the “Rubbed Kale and Butternut Squash Salad with Quinoa” recipe you’re about to see and hopefully make.
One of That Salad Lady’s original creations this salad bowl recipe is absolutely packed with fresh autumn flavors. With hefty amounts of good fats, dietary fiber and antioxidants, it’s also a powerful explosion of nutrition. In all its richness you won’t even believe it’s a healthy salad!
The recipe itself is naturally gluten-free, vegan-friendly, and even highlights the beautiful colors of autumn making it the perfect addition to a holiday potluck, dinner party or other seasonal gathering.
THE BALANCING ACT
If you’re counting carbs or just trying to lose weight, you might be a little bit hesitant about eating butternut squash and quinoa in a single salad bowl. Both these ingredients are classified as “starches,” which essentially means they contain more calories and carbohydrates than “non-starchy” foods like leafy green vegetables, asparagus and bell peppers.
Here at That Salad Lady, we’re all about whole food nutrition for whole life wellness. This includes starchy whole foods. Besides being a good source of energy, quality starches are also valuable sources of fiber, micronutrients and antioxidants.
Butternut squash, for instance, is chock-full of B vitamins, immunity-boosting vitamin C and disease-fighting carotenoids. Additionally, the starch housed in quinoa is slow-burning starch, which means it’s “slowly” digested in a way that helps reduce spikes in blood sugar levels. Quinoa is also one of only a few plant sources of complete protein. As with many whole foods, the key to eating butternut squash, quinoa and other starchy foods lies in portion control.
Below we suggest sensible portions of these starchy layers. Not too little. Not too much. Just enough to complement the deep, earthy flavor of kale and the sweet, tart and savory notes of dried cranberries, feta cheese, pecans and other layers in the recipe. Starches aside, when prepared as per the full recipe this salad bowl still houses a good amount of carbs. It’s definitely a must try though – even if just a special holiday treat.
Let’s talk more about what’s in our Rubbed Kale and Butternut Squash Salad with Quinoa recipe and why?
A Trio of “Functional Foods”
By now you probably know our recipe calls for kale, butternut squash and quinoa. You almost couldn’t dream up a better trio of “functional foods.” From dietary fiber and quality protein to carotenoids and other antioxidants these layers collectively have it all. Plus, their complex, contrasting flavors deliver the perfect balance of bitter, sweet and savory to the palate.
As hinted by the title we specifically suggest using “rubbed kale” which is basically kale that’s been massaged, ideally with extra-virgin olive oil and salt. When rubbed or massaged, kale takes on a very soft, somewhat feathery texture and the earthy flavors of this powerful leafy green vegetable really come through.
That Salad Lady typically uses black quinoa for this recipe. Compared to white quinoa, it has a stronger, nuttier flavor and more of a pleasant bite but feel free to use whatever you have – all quinoa is equally nutritious. Preparing quinoa is very straightforward. The preparation process for butternut squash is pretty easy too, at least once you get past the chopping part.
Sprinkles for the Finishing Touch
Here at That Salad Lady, we believe the finishing touches are a chance for you to really let your creativity shine through. To bring our tasty trio of functional ingredients to life, we include light sprinkles of dried cranberries, candied nuts, raw pumpkin seeds, julienned red onion and feta cheese for mouthwatering sweetness, savory crunch and a delicate hint of tartness. Prepared as per our recipe, the salad bowl itself smells and tastes like a holiday treat.
If you’re counting calories or carbs, you can easily adjust these layers as needed. For instance, you can go with unsweetened dried cranberries or leave them out altogether. Maybe even forgo the candied pecans and simply toast them (see recipe card). Whether candied or toasted, pecans bring great flavor, texture and nutrition to the bowl. If you don’t have pecans or even like them, you can substitute equal amounts of walnuts or almonds.
If you’d prefer a 100% vegan bowl, leave out the feta or choose a vegan-friendly option. It’s all about building your bowl, your way.
A Simple and Perfectly Sweet Dressing
Finally, we round out the recipe with That Salad Lady’s homemade apple cider vinaigrette dressing. A delightful blend of apple cider vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic and honey, it’s a perfectly sweet dressing that brings the kale, butternut squash, quinoa and all other ingredients together. For a 100% vegan dressing, use pure maple syrup instead of honey. If you choose not to make it at all, a simple light or dark balsamic vinaigrette will suffice.
GET YOUR CHOP ON
Of all ingredients in our recipe, chopping is only required for: (1) kale, (2) butternut squash and (3) onion, the latter of which is just a simple julienne cut so we won’t take a deep dive into that.
As always, using a good chef’s knife will make the chopping process a whole lot easier but you can use whatever sharp knife you have. We suggest peeling and chopping the butternut squash first, as it takes the longest to cook. From there you can chop up and rub down the kale (watch the videos below to see exactly how it’s done).
Peel and Cube the Butternut Squash
Start by slicing off the top and bottom of your squash, and then peel it using your knife or a peeler. From there, cut the round bottom (bulb) from the longer top (neck) and then cut each of these sections in half. Next, scoop out the seeds from both halves with a spoon. Depending on your squash, the neck portion may or may not have seeds. You can either discard or roast the seeds for a tasty treat. The last step is to chop the bulb and neck into 1/2-inch cubes.
Depending on the size of your squash, you might have leftover cubes. In an airtight sealed container, any leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days or in the freezer for 3-6 months. For convenience’s sake, you can also buy a bag of already pre-peeled and pre-cubed squash.
Chop Up and Massage the Kale
We suggest de-stemming the kale leaves and then chopping them into small, bite-sized pieces. You can use pre-packaged kale to cut down on prep time, but you may still need to chop up the leaves further. From here, give the kale a nice, thorough rinse in warm water, massaging all the chopped leaves well as you rinse them. Drain the rinsed kale in a colander or use a salad spinner if you have one.
Once the kale is completely drained, transfer it to a medium bowl and coat the leaves with a drizzle of olive oil and a little sprinkle of sea salt, and then toss and massage them by hand (you can wear disposable food prep gloves if you wish) for 3-5 minutes. Massaging kale this way softens the leaves and reduces their volume in much the same way that cooking them would.
Cooking is required for the: (1) butternut squash, (2) quinoa and (3) pecans. Just decide whether you want to toast or candy the pecans.
Roast the Butternut Squash
For the squash, heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Gently wash the cubes of butternut squash, transfer them to a bowl and then toss them with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg. Once coated, spread out the cubes on a baking dish and then roast them in the oven until all the cubes are tender and lightly browned. This’ll take about 20-25 minutes.
Rinse and Boil the Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, place the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it under cold water. If you don’t have a fine-mesh strainer, just use a coffee filter. This is an important step as quinoa is naturally coated with compounds called saponins, which give it a bitter taste. Once the quinoa is all rinsed and drained, add it to a saucepan filled with water. For one cup of uncooked quinoa, you’ll want to use two cups of water, which’ll yield about three cups cooked.
Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium-high heat and then lower the temperature to medium-low and cover it as it simmers. You’ll want to cook the quinoa until it’s absorbed all the water (about 10-20 minutes). At this point, remove the lid, fluff the quinoa with a fork and set it aside until you’re ready to build your bowl.
Toast or Candy the Pecans
To toast the pecans, just heat up the oven to 350 degrees F and bake them for 5-10 minutes. That’s it! Doesn’t get any simpler than this. Candying requires a bit more hands-on time, but the process is pretty straightforward. Just combine some brown sugar and cinnamon in a skillet with a little water and then add the pecans. The total cooking time is less than five minutes (see recipe card).
Once you’ve chopped up and/or cooked the bulk of the ingredients for the salad bowl, the hard work is pretty much done. If using our apple cider vinaigrette, gather all the ingredients for the dressing (see recipe card), add them to a jar with a twist off lid and just shake it up until everything’s well-mixed. You can also combine and whisk all your ingredients together in a bowl or even use a blender or food processor if you have one.
With variable speed units, start with a low speed and then gradually increase it to a higher speed until the mixture is perfectly smooth.
BUILD YOUR SALAD BOWL
We suggest you don’t “dress” or even build the salad until you’re actually ready to eat or serve it. Adding the dressing and layering the ingredients too soon can result in a soggy salad. If you’re planning for leftovers, you won’t be as happy with your creation the next day. When you’re ready to build your bowl, simply toss the kale, butternut squash and quinoa together and then stir in the dressing.
From there, top off the mixture with sprinkles of dried cranberries, toasted or candied nuts, pumpkin seeds, julienned red onion and feta or whatever finishing layers you’re planning to use. All put together, the actual blend is large enough for eight servings. You can serve this Rubbed Kale and Butternut Squash Salad with Quinoa as a side dish or add another layer of protein (see below) to make it a full meal.
Add Your Finishing Touches
To boost the protein content and overall filling effect of your salad, throw in a handful of cooked salmon, chicken or even roasted extra-firm tofu. Visit our Nutrition Glossary for more ideas. It’s all about making YOU confident in building YOUR bowl.
SHOW US YOUR BOWL
That Salad Lady wants to see your bowl! If you like it, which we are sure you will, drop a comment below and tag pics on Instagram with @thatsaladlady, #thatsaladlady and #buildyourbowl. If you love it, pin it on Pinterest and share it on Facebook and Twitter using #thatsaladlady.
This information is provided as a courtesy and is only an estimate. Please review our full disclaimer to get a clear understanding of the nutrition and health information and resources presented and written on our website.
This salad has wonderful flavors. Everyone I serve it too, has said how good it is. To cut the calories in the dressing, I started substituting Greek yogurt for part of the oil. Do you have any low calorie salad dressings?
Hi Paula, great question! Most of our dressings are based with extra-virgin olive oil and other quality fats, as they help the body better absorb many of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants housed in plant-based foods. With that “good” fat comes the calories. As we continue to add more dressings, we’re definitely shooting to have more low-calorie options for those who count calories. We also encourage our followers who count calories to continue to drizzle on our full-fat dressings to reap the health benefits. A little goes a very long way.
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