This delicious butternut squash and kale salad is warm and earthy! A bed of kale gets topped with homemade candied pecans, warm roasted squash, and creamy goat cheese. It is packed with umami and healthy fats, so dig in!
A good salad has lots of different elements. Something a little bit sweet. Something crunchy. A bite of creamy goodness. That's what makes it exciting. Every bite has a surprise and you just keep going back for more more more.
For this salad, we make our own candied pecans, which really couldn't be easier. The pecans are flavored with thyme and vanilla, which is a heavenly combo for those of you (like me) who live for sweet/salty mixes.
The roasted squash is cut into small cubes, so that it roasts right alongside the nuts in the oven. Both cook up just in time for you to whip up a homemade shallot dressing. Don't worry, it only sounds fancy.
A few pantry staples like red wine vinegar and dijon mustard turn up the tartness level and combine with shallots for the perfect punch.
As for greens, I go for kale, but you could just as easily use any hearty green, or even baby spinach if that's what you prefer. Just make sure to de-stem anything a little tougher.
Let's dive in to the details.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD INGREDIENTS
- Kale: I love Lacinto kale, which is softer and less bitter. It isn't as curly. It's also called Tuscan or Dinosaur kale and is a beautiful deep green! Feel free to use any green you like. If you're using a more tender green such as spinach or arugula, don't dress more than 15 minutes in advance of eating. Otherwise, this whole salad can be made and dressed a few hours in advance. Here is a great trick for how to quickly de-stem kale.
- Squash: You can use any squash you like, just be sure to peel and cube it finely so it cooks fairly quickly. My personal favorite is butternut!
- Pecans: One of the most delicious nuts around! Going the extra mile and candying the nuts in the oven while the squash roasts makes them extra special. I flavor the pecans with aromatics like vanilla extract and thyme, which feels perfectly wintery.
- Goat Cheese: Which adds a beautiful creaminess. My favorite goat cheese is from a woman-owned creamery in California called Cypress Grove! It's got lavender and fennel pollen in it.
- Dried fruit: Something tart and sweet like dried cranberries or cherries would be perfect here. I used golden raisins because they are what I had on hand.
- Vanilla Extract: For the pecans!
- Sugar: You can use regular sugar or coconut sugar. I love the deep flavor of coconut sugar so that's what I use.
- Maple Syrup: I prefer Grade B, which is darker. Honey is a great substitute if you need one, just be sure to warm it before using on the pecans. Cold honey will clump up on one nut and not distribute properly.
- Thyme: about 1 tsp (4-5 smaller sprigs) chopped up
- Shallots: Like an onion, but milder; for the zippiest salad dressing.
- Red Wine Vinegar: or your favorite vinegar. Some good alternatives would be apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, or rice wine vinegar.
- Dijon Mustard
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: The fruitiest, most flavorful you can find. The base of any good dressing is really high quality oil.
- Salt and Pepper: To season the dressing.
HOW TO MAKE THIS BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD
- Preheat: Your oven to 400º.
- Prep squash: Cube your squash and place into the oven to roast.
- Candy pecans: Even though this is a handful of ingredients, it really only takes a second to pull together! Combine maple syrup, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and thyme.
- Roast: The pecans cook for 8 minutes, whereas the squash roasts for closer to 22 minutes.
- Make dressing: While the squash roasts, whisk together dressing by combining minced shallot, red wine vinegar, mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Clean kale: De-stem the kale using the tip above, then chop and massage with a little bit of oil.
- Dress and serve!: I love how salads look on a big platter vs. a bowl. Appreciate the beauty!
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- 2 bunches of kale
- ½ large butternut squash, or 1 small squash
- 1 cup pecans
- 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
- ⅓ cup dried fruit: raisins, cranberries or cherries
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp regular or coconut sugar
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp freshly chopped thyme or rosemary
- 1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tbsp)
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (or your favorite vinegar)
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- extra-virgin olive oil, for roasting and for the dressing
- kosher salt and pepper
- Preheat your oven to 400ºF
- Peel and clean squash, then cut into small cubes, approximately 1"x 1"
- Place squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 22-25 minutes, until tender.
- Prepare your candied pecans: in a medium bowl, combine pecans, sugar, vanilla extract, thyme, salt, and 1 tbsp maple syrup. Toss to combine well.
- Lay pecans onto parchment-lined baking sheet and spread them out evenly so there are no clumps.
- Set in the oven for 5 minutes (use a timer, it goes quickly!), then remove. Toss gently, then roast for 3 more minutes.
- Remove after 8 minutes total, and immediately remove the parchment piece from the baking sheet, so the pecans cool faster.
- While the squash finishes roasting, de-stem and roughly chop your kale.
- Place chopped kale into a large bowl. Add 1 tsp olive oil and massage very thoroughly. You want to break down some of the kale fibers and make it more tender.
- Prepare the dressing. In a measuring cup, combine: shallot, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp maple syrup, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar. Whisk until thick and creamy.
- Combine kale with 1/2 of your dressing, pecans, dried fruit, and squash when cooked.
- Plate salad, then top with crumbled goat cheese and remaining dressing.
- Category: Salads
- Method: Oven Baked
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: salad, butternut squash, winter, winter salad, pecans, candied pecans, goat cheese, roasted squash