2019 update! Come fall and winter this butternut squash salad becomes a staple on our table. Because yes, YOU CAN MAKE SALAD IN WINTER! But this is the time to forgo delicate greens (which will cost you an arm and a leg) for heartier, in-season veggies. This is the season to eat salads with a bit of brawn, that will carry us through cold days and dark nights. In other words, this beauty is what needs to be in your belly

Overhead close-up shot of roasted butternut squash salad with grains, apples and goat cheese.

Roasted butternut squash salad

Roasted butternut squash is the foundation for this salad. Caramelized squash gets tossed with maple-roasted pecans, brown rice (or any whole grain you like), crisp apples, creamy goat cheese and a roasted garlic dressing.  It’s savory, sweet, full of texture and flavor and is just as fitting as a side dish to a special feast as it is for a humble, healthy Tuesday night supper. I love it so much that I featured the recipe in my book, Build-a-Bowl!

Cover of Build a Bowl book.

How do you serve this salad?

First of all, this salad can happily sit at room temperature for several hours (making it perfect for entertaining). You can serve it alongside roasted chicken or fish, you can bring it to a potluck, OR you can save it for nutritious lunches throughout the week (e.g. best work lunch EVER). It’s as crowd-pleasing and adaptable as Tom Hanks circa 1994.  

Close-up of roasted butternut squash salad with fried sage leaves on top.

How to roast butternut squash 

This recipe calls for a 2-pound butternut squash, which you will need to peel and chop (you can knock out that step a day or two in advance and refrigerate the chopped squash). If that is daunting, you can buy pre-cut squash—just cut it further into 1/2-inch chunks if needed. Adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to the squash before cooking helps it to caramelize, while chopped sage provides flavor. Whole garlic cloves are roasted with the squash, as they will be used for the dressing (see below!).

Process shot showing roasted butternut squash cubes on a baking sheet.

Butternut squash salad with quinoa, rice or farro

You can use any whole grain you like in this recipe. Brown rice is a favorite (shown here), but you could go for quinoa, farro, barley or wheat berries (check out Build-a-Bowl for instructions on how to best cook different grains!). If you’re looking for a shortcut, buy pre-cooked frozen brown rice, which you can find in most grocery stores.

Process shot showing the components for the squash salad in a large bowl with the dressing on the side.

Can you make the butternut squash salad ahead?

Yes! The salad can happily sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours. All of the components, including the roasted butternut squash, maple pecans, roasted garlic dressing and whole grains can also be made the day before, then assembled before serving.  

Roasted garlic dressing

The secret elixir that ties this salad together is a roasted garlic dressing. It’s made with sweet roasted garlic cloves (which are cooked alongside the squash), apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and a bit more sage. The dressing generously coats the squash and grains, infusing them with flavor.

Process shot divided into four quadrants showing how to make the roasted garlic dressing for the squash salad.

Maple roasted pecans

Maple roasted pecans are one of my favorite ways to add a sweet-salty crunch to dishes, from soups, to salads, to these crustless pumpkin pie custards. Here they bolster the flavor of the salad and provide texture. (They’re also awesome on their own as a snack or cocktail nibble!)

Maple roasted pecans on a baking sheet.

Ingredient swaps for this recipe

  • You can swap out the butternut squash for roasted delicata squash or sweet potatoes. 
  • Instead of using apple, you can try cubed pear (just note that the pear will brown faster than the apple) or even roasted cauliflower for a more savory approach.
  • Crumbled feta or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano are delicious swaps for the goat cheese. 
  • You can swap out the pecans for walnuts. 
  • Baby arugula is a nice addition to the salad, if you’re craving some greens.
  • For some more protein, throw in some white beans or shredded chicken!
All of the ingredients for the salad laid out on a countertop.

Find more nutritious one-bowl meals in my book, Build-a-Bowl!

Other squash recipes to try:

Overhead shot of the squash salad in a bowl with a fork.

Get the recipe!

Butternut Squash Salad with Apples, Goat Cheese & Grains

Adapted from Build-a-Bowl, by Nicki Sizemore (Storey Publishing, 2018). Caramelized butternut squash gets tossed with maple-roasted pecans, brown rice (or any whole grain you like, such as farro, quinoa, barley or wheat berries), crisp apples, creamy goat cheese and a roasted garlic dressing for a salad that’s savory, sweet and full of texture and flavor. It’s a fantastic side dish or healthy main course. Best of all, it can happily sit at room temperature for several hours, making it perfect for entertaining or for packing into work lunches. If you want to really gussy it up, garnish the salad with fried sage leaves just before serving (see the notes below). Baby arugula and/or white beans are also a delicious addition!
*Take note that you’ll need cooked grains for this recipe.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Keyword: butternut squash recipes, butternut squash salad recipe, roasted butternut squash recipe
Servings: 6 -8 people

Ingredients

Roasted squash, maple pecans and dressing

  • 2- pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice (4 cups diced)
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage, divided
  • 1 ½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup, divided
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

To assemble

  • 3-4 cups cooked brown rice (from 1 cup uncooked), or other whole grains, such as quinoa, farro or barley
  • 1 crisp apple, such as Fuji, Granny Smith or Pink Lady, cored and cut into ½-inch dice
  • 2-4- ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • Fried sage leaves (optional, see notes below)

Instructions

Make the roasted squash, maple pecans and dressing

  • Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line one large baking sheet and one small baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Spread the diced butternut squash on the large baking sheet and add the garlic cloves, 1 ½ teaspoons of the sage, the balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix everything around on the pan to coat. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and caramelized around the edges, about 30 minutes. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Let cool (reserve the roasted garlic cloves for the dressing). Do Ahead: The squash can sit at room temperature for several hours or it can be refrigerated overnight.
  • While the squash bakes, make the maple pecans. Pour the pecans onto the small baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup. Season with salt. Toss the pecans to evenly coat in the syrup, then spread them in an even layer. Slide the pan in the oven (this can be alongside the squash) for about 5 minutes, or until the nuts are a shade darker in color and aromatic. Cool completely (the nuts will harden as they cool). Coarsely chop. Do Ahead: The maple pecans can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
  • Squeeze the roasted cloves out of their skins into a small bowl, and mash them to a paste with a pinch of salt. Add the apple cider vinegar, the remaining ½ tablespoon maple syrup and the remaining ½ teaspoon sage. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the remaining ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil. Do Ahead: The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Assemble the salad

  • In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, roasted butternut squash, apple and chopped pecans. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Gently fold in the goat cheese. If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with fried sage leaves just before serving.

Notes

Do Ahead: Once assembled, the salad can sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours (garnish with the fried sage leaves right before serving).
Notes:
  • To fry sage leaves, heat ¼-inch of neutral vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once hot, carefully add about 1/4 cup of sage leaves. They should start to bubble immediately. Cook, flipping once, until the leaves start to crisp up but not brown. Transfer the leaves to a paper-towel-lined plate and season with salt. Store at room temperature, uncovered, for up to 3 hours.
  • For a speedier version of this salad, you can use defrosted frozen cooked brown rice (you can find it in the freezer section of most grocery stores).

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