When the red kuri squash turned up at the CSA pick up a few weeks ago I thought only for a few minutes about what I was going to do with it — then turned back the clock a couple of years to the first red kuri squash I received and decided to reprise what also was one of the first recipes I presented on this blog. That previous creation was a roasted-squash salad which featured a mango vinaigrette and caramelized onions.
If you look at that recipe, you’ll see that my blog “style” has evolved a bit since then, so I thought for a second of simply remaking that recipe and republishing it with more replete description and updated pictures — but then I thought, if other artists can reinterpret their own music and creations, why couldn’t I?
I like the idea of a variation on a theme — it fits me. I rarely cook with recipes and, when I use them at all, I treat recipes as inspiration or starting points. Before this blog, even with my own creations, I seldom wrote them down and so when I was asked to reprise a creation, it would invariably come out different and nuanced — sometimes better; sometimes just different. So, in reality, while I’m far from being the Glenn Gould of cooking, I’ve long been cooking variations on a theme … so why not capture it here? Perhaps new variations on this theme will emerge over time. I would be a an interesting bit of ‘history’ for me one day.
So, to the red kuri squash from CSA Mystery #5 a type of squash that is also known as the “onion squash” in some circles because of its distinctive shape or as a “red hubbard” because it is related to this other popular cultivar. While it is described by some as a “thick skinned” squash, in my experience it is relatively thin skinned as “winter squash” go. After all, as you can see, I can easily peel it with a vegetable peeler. What makes this squash so desirable, though, is the fact that it is sweet, mild, and firm — which means it doesn’t bake to a mush when cooking. This in turn means you can do things with it that you can’t with squash with higher water content (like a pumpkin) or, say, a spaghetti squash or squash stronger in flavour that need other ingredients to have any mass appeal. As a result, the Red Kuri holds up well to roasting while maintaining its shape — which gives possibility. Enter the salad … and variation on a theme.
As much as I loved my previous variation, that squash came later in the season (read: end of season) and with this one, well, lighter greens and flavours are still around. However, I’ve been somewhat driven by the roasting of beets this summer … roasting them on the barbecue, more specifically. And so while the previous version of this salad was done in the oven, I wondered about ‘roasting’ the squash on the ‘cue. I also got to thinking about colour and seeing if I could really bang this one out: (re)enter the beets. And, working from a recent conversation with a friend about maple dressings, I thought I’d up the ante on my previous yummy dressing with one more focused on the ‘maple’ and toss in a bit of citrus (lemon) for zest and freshness. The rest is, well, simple enough and it doesn’t really need explanation.
It is worth noting, however, that as ‘light’ and petite as this salad might appear, the squash and beets easily make this into a meal and is deceptively filling. Keep the servings smaller if making side salads.
Cooking Tip: Roasting on the barbecue presents a few risks and benefits, with the biggest being that it will bring a deeper and richer and slightly smokey taste to both the beets and the squash. I’ve chosen temperatures that work for my barbecue, but most ‘cues are different, so be careful and watch what you’re doing. If you’re averse to barbecuing, no fear — this works just as easily in the oven. Either way, keep an eye on their progress because the squash, in particular, will go from perfect to burnt in minutes. And, wherever you cook them, the beets will take about twice as long to cook as the squash. If anything gets a bit ‘too’ crisp, well, just pare it off during your final preparations.
Finally, the one tip I took from my previous preparation was that the roasting does tend to ‘dry out’ this squash. Great for texture and workability, but tough on the palette. The solution: toss the squash in the dressing right off the grill to maintain the moisture in it.
Prep time: 10+10 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Total time: 80 minutes
Servings: 8 side salads or 4 as meals
Roasted Red-Kuri and Beet Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
- 1 medium red kuri squash
- 3 medium beets, tops removed
- 4 cups (1 litre) baby spinach
- 1/2 cup (125mL) pecans, roasted
- 1/2 cup (125mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons (45mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons (30mL) maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon (5mL) grainy ‘old style’ mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon (1mL) salt (to taste)
- Preheat grill to 375ºF (200ºC). Trim tops off the beets, leaving an inch or two of the stems attached. Lightly oil the beets and place them on the grill and roast for 30 minutes.
→ Alternatively, do this in oven. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper and otherwise follow the same instructions.
Meanwhile, cut the squash in half (top to bottom) and spoon out the seeds. Then, use a vegetable peeler to remove the tough outer skin.
Cut the squash into strips roughly 1½” (4cm) wide and lightly oil.
When beets are ready, reduce heat to 350ºF (175ºC), flip beets, and add the squash to the grill and continue roasting for another 15 minutes.
… the flip squash …
… and continue cooking for another 15 minutes at which time both the beets and squash should be tender to the fork, in which case they’re done. The beets will also start to ‘blister’ on the outside of their skin.
… both should be done. Remove from grill and let cool.
- While the vegetables are cooling, prepare the Maple Vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients together in a graduated measuring cup. Stir well, and let sit.
Prepare the pecans (or substitute walnuts) but placing them in a small pan and over medium-high heat, ‘roast’ them until they have lightly browned (about 3-4 minutes), tossing/stirring them regularly to prevent burning. Remove from pan and let cool.
- Prepare the beets and squash, now. Cut the squash into bite sized pieces and place them in a medium bowl. Spoon over them a couple tablespoons of the Maple Vinaigrette, toss, and let stand.
Next, prepare the beets. I recommend placing a latex glove on the hand holding the beets to prevent staining. Either way, carefully trim away the ‘roasted’ and blistered skin and the tops and tails, leaving as much of the roasted beet whole as possible.
Cut the beets into bite sized pieces and place in a separate bowl.
And similarly toss with a few tablespoons of the Maple Vinaigrette. Watch how the vinaigrette brings out the colour of the roasted veggies — it’s like a lacquer stain on wood. They’re gorgeous.
→ Note: I preferred to do these separately to keep their colours and dyes off of each other, but if you’re just going for flavour, you can toss them together.
→ When done, remove from oven and let cool.
- Wash and drain the spinach, making sure it’s ‘dry’ (a salad spinner does wonders).
- To prepare the salad, you have a few choices. You can either
(a) build the salad on each plate (see picture above) and drizzle liberally with dressing, or,
(b) toss the spinach with dressing and then arrange spinach and roasted veggies on the plates, or
(c) toss them all together and let nature do what it wants.