I don’t know when it happened, but somehow my concept of “salad” has been evolving away from leafy, light, and most of all green. I hardly ever buy those bags of prewashed lettuce anymore (even fancy arugula or mesclun!), whereas once they were a mainstay for me. I still buy healthy cruciferous vegetables for my salads, but now they tend to be the type that takes well to roasting, braising, or wilting: we’re talking kale, broccoli rabe, or cabbage. They then get tossed with hearty roots or squash, and chewy wheat berries or brown rice. Rather than cool and crisp, these salads need to be served room temperature or even slightly warm. I think the only thing this has in common with the more typical approach to salad that the mix of flavors and textures is bound together by a salty-sweet-smooth vinaigrette.
This salad I’m going to tell you about continues in my new vein. I roasted chunks of squash and chopped brussels sprouts in the oven, while a pot of brown rice simmered and steamed its way to tenderness on the stove. Meanwhile, to bring out the sweet caramelized flavors of these vegetables, I made a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette.
Pomegranate molasses is an intense syrup made by boiling down pomegranate juice until thick and viscous–you can do it on your own, but unless you have a source for affordable pomegranate juice, it would be prohibitively expensive. (But if you do have a source, please let me know!) Much easier to buy it in the middle eastern section of the grocery store or online. I’m always searching for interesting uses for it, and it occurred to me that its acid tang could brighten a winter salad. I chose apple cider vinegar to complement the fruity notes of the molasses while cutting its intense sweetness. A little salt, a healthy glug of olive oil, and your dressing is ready.
For a stunning visual effect I garnished with pomegranate seeds–I love the way they are both chewy and yet burst in your mouth, and their unusual mix of flavors: an almost berry-like flavor with a gently bitter finish. To prepare your own, cut the pomegranate in half and hold over a bowl while you use your fingertips to massage the seeds out. Remove any white membrane that falls into the bowl and discard. There’s one additional tip that I find indispensable–wear something you don’t mind staining. This juice is dark and red and no matter how careful you are seems to squirt everywhere as you fish out the fruit. An apron is just not enough. (Or, I’m particularly messy, which is a possibility that cannot be discounted).
You don’t have to use the pomegranate seeds, but they are a nice touch. Persephone found them tempting enough to get herself stuck six months of the year in the underworld, but I promise there’s no downside for you.
Either way, this turned out to be a great addition to my growing repertoire of hearty salads. Unlike a green salad, you can make it in quantity and, find that the flavors have improved and melded the next day. Perfect for stocking your lunchbox for the week, and for not leaving you hungry. Rabbit food it most definitely is not.
Roasted Squash and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
Note: All the ingredients are approximate–tweak and adjust to suit your taste.
- 2c cubed squash (approximately 1/2 inch pieces)
- 1c brussels sprouts, cut in half
- 2 t pomegranate molasses
- 2T apple cider vinegar
- 6T olive oil
- 1 cup brown rice
- salt and pepper for seasoning
- pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
To roast the vegetables, preheat the oven to 425. Toss the squash with a little olive oil and salt and spread on a rimmed cookie sheet. Do the same on a second cookie sheet with the brussels sprouts. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the squash is tender and the sprouts are wilted and even a bit crisp at the edges.
Make your vinaigrette: whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar, and a pinch of salt, then whisk the in the olive oil, adding it in a thin stream. I always mix the vinaigrette in my serving bowl–that way there’s plenty of room to mix the dressing, then I add the salad ingredients.
Allows the the rice, squash, and brussels sprouts to cool slightly, then mix together with the dressing. Adjust for salt. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds if desired.