Salad, with all its toppings, accommodates an array of ingredients to a degree few dishes can match. We all know the elements that make a salad great—tangy, salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy, creamy. Sometimes though, it's nice to break with tradition, cast off the things we think we know about salad—add an unexpected element (granola) or go a little overboard with jewels like pomegranate arils and dried cranberries (or, in this case, both).
This salad began in familiar territory, with a big green buttercup squash. Buttercups are similar to butternut, though the texture has a bit more heft—it stands up to a stint in the oven nicely. While not quite crispy, roasted squash is at its best when it has a caramelized, smoky exterior and a pillowy sweet interior, here made all the more delicious with a dusting of paprika and cinnamon.
To best highlight the roasted buttercup, I set about pulling in contrasts. I combined orange juice-soaked dried cranberries and almost too many pomegranate arils with the warm squash. I repurposed the cranberry soaking liquid for a strikingly simple dressing of orange juice, olive oil, and sea salt. Just before serving, I tossed the warm salad with a drizzle of dressing and topped it off with a few handfuls of spiced oat clusters. They're a delight just on their own, but on the salad, fragrant cinnamon lent a playful, satisfying crunch to every bite.
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon plus 1 pinch sea salt, divided
1 small buttercup squash, peeled, cored, and seeded
2 teaspoons heat-tolerant vegetable oil, such as grapeseed
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup pomegranate arils
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 handful oat clusters
Photographs by Elizabeth Stark