Delicata Squash and Cranberry Kale Salad
If you’ve been looking for lighter Thanksgiving sides, look no further. This Delicata Squash and Cranberry Kale Salad is the perfect holiday dish because it’s healthy, bursting with flavor, make-ahead friendly, and – the best part – super easy to make. This recipe is brought to you by my Instagram friend, Jessica Grosman, a Registered Dietician who shares my obsession with simple, nourishing bowl recipes (check out her feed for creative inspiration). I love this cranberry kale salad because it uses one of my favorite time-saving tricks: roasting everything together on one pan. So you can spend more energy on the things that really matter. Like not burning the turkey. Or enjoying that hard-earned wine ;).
From Jessica: This Delicata Squash and Cranberry Kale Salad has all of the flavors of fall in one bowl. Delicata squash is one of my favorite ingredients since it doesn’t need to be peeled. Fresh cranberries add a burst of sweet and sour to the salad. Pecans are the iconic nut of the season, toasted to enhance their flavor. Serve this hearty salad alongside a bowl of soup for a delicious lunch or light dinner.
Cranberries are a medicinally powerful berry and are commonly found in late-fall recipes. They are a potent source of polyphenol antioxidants and have anti-cancer properties. Cranberries are naturally very sour and are tannic, which helps to increase the level of acidity in urine and helps to keep bacteria from infecting the body, especially the bladder, urinary tract and teeth. Dried cranberries are often sweetened to make them more palatable and similar in taste to raisins. Freshly harvested cranberries, such as those in this recipe, provide a delicious sour note to balance the sweetness from the maple syrup, squash, and roasted red onions.
Delicata squash is a variety of winter squash, with a mild flavor and smooth texture. This type of squash is an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, potassium, magnesium, and is high in complex carbohydrates, which is beneficial for people with digestive difficulties. The beta-carotene found in squash provides an excellent source of anti-carcinogenic properties. Winter squash is naturally sweet and the sweetness increases with cooking. Unlike most other winter squashes, the thin skin of delicata squash is edible and adds a good amount of fiber.
Maple syrup is a natural sweetener with many culinary uses and some medicinal benefits. Although it is less sweet and less processed than white sugar, maple syrup still causes insulin and adrenaline reactions within the body. It should be used in moderation to accent the sweetness of other ingredients in a recipe.
Lacinato kale is often referred to as “Dinosaur” or “Tuscan” Kale. It is a very old variety of kale and has a very mild flavor, making it the perfect green for this salad recipe. Kale is an excellent source of plant-fiber and contains many nutrients including chlorophyll, beta-carotene, vitamins A and C, and a calcium. It also contains the nutraceutical indole-3-carbinol, which may protect against colon cancer. A note of caution for anyone taking prescription blood thinners (ex. warfarin) - dark green leafy vegetables (including kale) have an antagonistic effect with the role of blood thinners. Please check with your doctor, if taking blood thinners and adding kale to your diet.
Pecans are an important crop, native to America and a stable in the diet of the Native Americans. They’re a relative of the walnut and are very high in fat (2nd only to macadamia nuts). Pecans contain one of the highest sources of vitamin B6, which helps to support the immune system and cardiovascular health. They are also an excellent plant-based source of thiamin and a good source of iron.
Cumin is a very aromatic spice, just a little bit goes a long way in flavoring a recipe. Its bitter taste has been known to help relieve abdominal distention, gas, colic and other digestive-related problems. Freshly ground cumin is less-bitter and its taste may be preferred.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the best-tasting and most healthful olive oil. It’s a very stable vegetable oil, meaning that it can withstand moderate heat and retains its nutrient properties, including its high vitamin E content. Olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat and has been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol while maintaining HDL-cholesterol levels.
Jessica Grosman is a Registered Dietitian, culinary nutrition educator and recipe developer. Her goal is to empower people with the tools they need to help them feel their very best. She earned both a BS and MS in Nutrition, prior to completing a dietetic internship in 2001. Additionally, she graduated with honors from the Academy of Culinary Nutrition’s Culinary Nutrition Expert (CNE) program. Jessica’s passion is sharing her knowledge and education with others; she is experienced in teaching cooking & nutrition classes to a wide variety of audiences. She currently is working on developing a variety of recipe & meal plans, as well as teaching boutique cooking classes. When not in the kitchen creating deliciously nourishing recipes, Jessica enjoys reading, exercising, and traveling with her family. Join Jessica’s online community here and follow along on her daily kitchen adventures on Instagram.
Delicata Squash and Cranberry Kale Salad
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1 delicata squash
- 1 cup fresh cranberries (can be thawed from frozen)
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large bunch Lacinato (aka Dinosaur) kale (see notes)
- 4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or more, to taste)
- pinch of cayenne (optional)
ROAST THE PECANS AND VEGETABLES
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Chop pecans into coarse pieces. Place on the lined sheet pan and toast until golden and fragrant, approximately 10-12 minutes. Remove pecans from the pan, place on a plate to cool.
- To prepare the delicata squash, wash well and cut in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds (save to roast later, if desired), and slice into 1/2 inch semi-circles. Cut each semi-circle into 3-4 pieces and put into a large mixing bowl.
- Rinse the cranberries and add to the bowl with the squash. Dice the red onion (pieces should be roughly the same size as the squash and cranberries) and place in the bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, maple syrup, and kosher salt. Toss to combine. Pour mixture onto the parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
PREP THE KALE
- While the squash mixture is roasting, prepare the kale. Wash the leaves well under cool running water, shake off excess liquid, and place on a cutting board. Cut out the tough center rib on each leaf and chop the leaves coarsely. Place in a large bowl.
MAKE THE SALAD DRESSING
- Prepare the salad dressing by putting all of the ingredients into a small jar (a pint-sized mason jar works well) and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss well. Place dressed kale into a serving bowl.
- Remove the squash mixture from the oven and allow to cool 10 minutes. Once cooled, spoon the squash mixture over the top of the kale and toss gently. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the top of the salad and serve.
Curly kale can also be used as shown here; just massage to soften before assembling. Salad can be made in advance and leftovers keep well for 2-3 days in the fridge.