Today: The salad you want to eat right now (and the dressing you'll want to put on everything).
Our local farmers' markets -- just when we need them most -- are starting to look a little grim. We're ready for bright and restorative; the market says, "How about a nice onion instead?"
Don't be defeated, and definitely don't give up on your local market. There is an answer, and it's not the hothouse tomatoes and cucumbers, which feel like infiltrators from another world. (You're actually covered in a layer of snow, tomato -- you know that, right?)
"When everybody's trying to counterbalance all the butter they ate during the holidays, but they still want a lunch or dinner that's tasty and satisfying (and brightly colored)," Food52er Ameliorator wrote to me: "This is the salad to turn to."
It starts by roasting butternut (or any) squash in cubes, like you always do, but throws in some nuance -- ground allspice and minced garlic (which won't burn like you'd think).
Then, while they're still a little warm, you'll toss them with chickpeas -- best cooked from scratch, but a can will do.
A vinaigrette might sink into the squash and slide off of the chickpeas. Here, you'll want a dressing that clings.
That's where tahini comes in -- a vegan means of adding smoke, protein, cream, and substance (also an impressive carrier of garlic, lemon, and salt). This dressing is 4 ingredients and 5 minutes away, and you will want to put it on everything.
But your bowl at this point is still looking like a burnt sienna paint strip at Home Depot. You can still do better. How about a good fistful of green cilantro leaves, some purple onion bits?
(Maybe you want the grip of sweet raw red onion to shake up your mouth right now. Maybe you don't. If you'd prefer to tone it down, just soak the onion bits in cold water for 15 minutes or so after chopping.)
This is a salad that eats more like a gratin, without the cheese hangover. As Ameliorator put it, "It's vegan, but warm and filling and never leaves you thinking it would have been improved with bacon."
It's hefty enough to be the only thing on the table, light enough to not make you groggy, lively enough to make winter squash -- and winter itself -- a lot more compelling.
Adapted slightly from Casa Moro by Sam and Sam Clark (Edbury Press, 2005)
2 pounds pumpkin or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
14 ounces canned or home-cooked chickpeas, drained
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
4 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons water, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
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Photos by James Ransom