Fall has settled in with its colorful leaves and a bounty of autumn-hued produce at the market. The switch of the seasons is invigorating as a cook, inspiring us with a fresh palate of fruits and vegetables to play with. Winter squash, woody herbs, root vegetables and hearty greens take center stage, just asking to be roasted, braised and served as part of dinner during the week or on Shabbat.
Sweet and nutty butternut squash is a personal favorite. This year, I’ve started adding it to everything from salads to stews. My new favorite combination is fiery harissa (a spicy North African red pepper paste) with breadcrumbs, ground walnuts and mint (recipe below). The mellow sweetness contrasts with the pleasant spice of the harissa (the heat of which can vary greatly), while the walnuts complement the nutty undertones of the squash. Add in a great mix of textures and you’ve got yourself one killer side that’s as good with roasted chicken as it is with steak, fish, or even tofu. The dish is packed with vitamin A and is also a great source of fiber and potassium and when the squash is roasted, it’s pesky tough skin becomes tender and entirely edible.
It’s also around this time of year that I move away from delicate greens and towards grains as the base for my salads like vibrant red quinoa (yes, it’s technically a seed). I toss it with whatever vegetables I have on hand for a nutritious side or light but filling lunch.
For a robust fall and winter salad that’s as pretty as it is delicious, try the quinoa salad (recipe below) with shaved Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, with sweet-tart dried cranberries and crunchy almond slivers, finished with a bit of sweet maple syrup. The festive dish is fitting for a Shabbat table or even Thanksgiving.
Besides being seasonally inspired, both of these recipes are parve and vegan, so can complement any meal. Served together, they even make a delicious vegetarian supper, although my preference is to enjoy them alongside a juicy roast chicken.
Cook Ahead: Since they tend to be heartier than their fragile summer cousins, sides made with autumn vegetables can often be made ahead and easily transported to a potluck.
Harissa Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves: 6 to 8
1 (2 ¼ pound / about 1 kg) butternut squash
½ cup shelled walnuts
½ cup coarse breadcrumbs
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup harissa*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1) Preheat the oven to 350F.
2) Wash and halve the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and slice into ¼-inch thick wedges. Arrange on 2 baking sheets that have been lightly coated with olive oil.
3) Grind walnuts in a food processor until the consistency of very rough breadcrumbs. Mix together with the breadcrumbs, mint and salt and set aside.
4) In a small bowl, whisk together harissa and olive oil.
5) Brush harissa mixture over the tops of the butternut squash slices. Sprinkle evenly with the walnut and breadcrumb mixture and pat down slightly.
6) Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender and breadcrumbs are golden brown.
7) Remove from the oven and serve.
*Harissa is a spicy North African pepper paste. Use store bought harissa, or check out my recipe here.
Quinoa Salad with Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Serves: 6 to 8
1½ cups uncooked red quinoa
1 small sweet potato, cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ pound Brussels sprouts, shredded
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup blanched almond slivers
½ cup chopped cilantro
1) Cook quinoa according to package directions or preference (I like to cook it in 2¾ cups water, simmer for 15 minutes, then let stand, covered for 5). Let cool slightly.
2) Put sweet potato cubes in a small pot and cover with water. Simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3) Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and sauté, stirring often, until softened and lightly browned. Remove from the heat.
4) In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, sweet potato and Brussels sprouts with maple syrup, dried cranberries, almond slivers, cilantro and salt. Toss well and serve warm, cold or at room temperature.