Written and photographed by Natalie Hoch
Salad has always been my all-time favorite, to the ridicule, shock, and enjoyment of friends and family. I love all foods, but something about salad really does it for me. As long as I can remember, my mother has recounted endless evenings around the dinner table when I passed on dessert for more salad. No joke. A five year old skipping the brownie for more iceberg and mustard vinaigrette. Our family followed my Dad’s Swiss family tradition of having salad at the end of the meal and I ritualistically gobbled up the last bits of dressed lettuce as the plates were cleared.
This obsession continued, even blossomed, during my college years when I had free reign of my own fridge for the first time. My roommates will attest that I was often found chopping veggies and whisking up vinaigrettes drunk at 2:00 am while everyone else wolfed down mac and cheese. I’ve even been known to crave a crisp, ranch-smothered salad to ease the pain of a particularly vicious hangover. It’s weird, I know.
I think it all boils down to my longstanding, unwavering, and at times unhealthy love affair with vinegar. I can’t get enough of the stuff—cider, red wine, sherry, balsamic, you name it (although my “death row” salad would be tossed in a good red wine vin). As a kid, I used to bribe my grandmother into spoon-feeding me the stuff when mom and dad weren’t looking. And as a grown woman, I regularly solicit the stern scolding of my husband when I serve myself an overly vinegared salad, as it almost always ends up in a brief but brutal tummyache.
Beyond the vinegar, though, I love the endless options of salads. So many variations—each so different from the next. They can be comforting, light, hearty, satisfying, refreshing, or indulgent. Entrée, appetizer, side, or even dessert. Anyone who knows me longer than a day knows about my salad obsession—and at this point anyone I love, even a little bit, has had one of my salads. It will always be my assignment for any potluck I attend, and this suits me just fine.
I like salads to be seasonal, inspired, and well-balanced in flavors, textures, and colors. Here in Brooklyn, the weather’s chilly, the leaves are changing, and the farmers’ market is in full fall mode, inspiring many delightful combinations. Here’s a salad to celebrate the season:
Warm Autumn Squash and Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4-6 people
For the salad
- 3 ounces baby field greens
- 2 cups butternut squash, diced into 1-inch cubes (acorn squash is a fine substitute)
- 1/4 cup dried cherries (cranberries offer a tarter but yummy alternative)
- 1 small log of plain goat cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 3 heaping tablespoons roasted pepitas (or any other roasted seeds)
For the dressing
- *1/4 cup good cider vinegar (heaping)
- 1 teaspoon smooth spicy mustard (Grey Poupon or Guldens are great)
- salt and pepper to taste
- *1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (not heaping)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Place the butternut squash cubes on baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and caramelized.
While the squash is in the oven, wash and dry the greens and put in your favorite salad bowl. Roughly chop cherries and sprinkle on the greens. Depending on how much you enjoy goat cheese, break all or some of the log into pieces and sprinkle over the salad.
Pour the cider vinegar into a small mixing bowl. Whisk in mustard, salt, and pepper to emulsify. Once well blended (and only once well blended!), while whisking, slowly pour in the olive oil.
*As you’ll note, I tend to make my vinaigrettes more of a 1 to 1 ratio, even a bit heavier on the vinegar. I find it adds more flavor and punch. Most vinaigrette recipes will call for 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil (that tends to be a bit too bland and oily for me). However, if you’re not a vinegar nut, change ratio as necessary.
Once the squash is partially cooled, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and add about 2 cups to the salad (the rest serve as fantastic leftovers).
Finally, toss the pepitas and dressing with the salad. On a crisp fall day, this would go great with herb-roasted chicken or juicy pork chops. The warmth of the squash will soften the lettuce and melt the goat cheese a bit, adding a lovely creaminess to the dressing.