Dear San Francisco Bay Area: Thank you for finally feeling like fall.
Today’s weather was perfect—the temperature never rose above 62 degrees all day, it was unusually foggy, and we even got a bit of rain. That totally caught me off guard. As I’m sure you’ve all heard, we’ve been having a pretty serious drought out here in California and I have to admit that sometimes I forget that rain exists at all. I know that probably sounds kind of ridiculous, but I’m serious.
Anyway, thank goodness the weather shifted because last week’s 90-plus degree days were taking a toll on me. It’s also a lot easier to get excited about this quintessentially fall massaged kale salad with roasted butternut squash and lemon tahini dressing when I’m not melting inside our non-air conditioned apartment. Truth.
The concept of this salad is as simple as it gets and the beauty of it is that you can swap in and out ingredients depending on what you have available. No butternut squash? Try sweet potato or carrots. Prefer rice to quinoa? Use rice! What I’ve shown here is basically a template. Choose a gluten-free grain as the base, add massaged kale, roasted vegetables, a little protein, drizzle with a thick and creamy tahini-based dressing, add protein as you see fit, and voila! You’re good to go!
The other beautiful thing about a salad like this is that it’s much more satisfying and hearty and will certainly satiate even the most skeptical salad eaters. You know, the ones who are always complaining that salads don’t fill them up. It’s got loads of nutrients from the butternut squash, beets, and kale and plenty of healthy fats from the tahini dressing.
DON’T FEAR FAT
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating, fat is super important for healthy skin, nutrient absorption, and cellular health so don’t shy away from it. Especially when eating a salad. If you frequently opt for low-fat salad dressings and toppings, you’re doing yourself a major disservice. Fats protect our organs and help slow the transit time of food in the stomach, creating feelings of fullness and satisfaction. Without fats, you’re less likely to be satisfied by the salad and your body will be less able to utilize all the amazing fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K) in the leafy greens and vegetables.
Fats protect our organs and help us feel grounded. Tahini is one of my favorite ways to add fat and depth to a salad dressing. While I love olive oil, tahini adds a whole notha level of richness and flavor. It’s a creamy paste made from ground hulled sesame seeds and it imparts nuttiness to dressings, sauces, and dips, like hummus. (PS: Have you tried my beetroot hummus yet? Get on it!) Sesame seeds are also a rich source of phytoesterols and can help promote regular bowel movements and lactation.
Tahini isn’t as thick as nut butter, but it’s definitely creamy making it the perfect way to add more substance to an otherwise flimsy dressing. It holds up really well in this salad filled with nourishing root vegetables, squash, and kale.
OH KALE YEAH
While the widespread popularity of kale has only recently taken hold in the U.S., other countries have been eating it for centuries (hey Scotland, I’m looking at you) and it was first cultivated around 2000 BC. Kale is considered the grandmother of the cabbage family and its hardy leaves reflects its old heritage.
Whether you opt for curly kale or lacinato, all varieties are exceptionally nutritious. Kale is full of cancer-fighting compounds and antioxidants and rich in calcium. Haters often complain that it has a slightly bitter flavor. This attribute increases with time so if you don’t like bitter greens, try to use it within a day or two of purchase.
One of the ways to reduce the bitterness and the rough texture is to massage the leaves prior to use in a raw salad. I know that probably sounds a bit strange but stick with me here. By massage, I simply mean drizzle with a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar and, well, yes—massage it into the leaves. The acid in the vinegar along with the lubricating effect of the oil will help break down some of the cellulose fibers in the leaves, making them softer and more pliable.
The great thing about kale is that even after being dressed, it still holds its crunchy texture for a few days when kept in the refrigerator. So whereas most salads cannot be prepped ahead of time, this one can and should be.
If time is your biggest hurdle to eating healthy, this salad will solve that dilemma.
Nearly everything in this massaged kale salad can be prepped in advance so you’ll have a nourishing and delicious meal to turn to when hunger strikes. It can be eaten chilled for lunch or even warmed up and served with roasted chicken or other protein. It also takes only a few minutes to prep the vegetables and then into the oven they go. Even the most kitchen phobic can handle this task, I promise.
The beets do require a tad bit more TLC since they need to be peeled. And unfortunately there’s not really a shortcut for them. If you’re someone who hates beets, I encourage you to give them another chance. I used to loathe them until I tried them roasted. Prior to that, my experience with them was limited to cold salad bars and I’m pretty certain those beets come straight from a can (shudder). Slimy and soggy and, uh, no thanks! Fresh beets, however, are crunchy, earthy, and amazing for liver health, which is why they are touted as a detoxifying vegetable. I wrote a post all about the health benefits of beets, so check it out here!
Thankfully there is a shortcut for butternut squash—purchase the pre-peeled and cubed version. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other markets all typically sell ready-to-use butternut squash. Of course, you’re welcome to roast it whole if you like but I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars to skip that step from time to time. I think a common misconception with eating clean and real food is that everything needs to be 100% from scratch but I think we have to be realistic. There’s nothing wrong with buying pre-bagged butternut squash or other vegetables if it helps you eat more vegetables overall.
Butternut squash is a winter squash and is naturally very warming, grounding, and nourishing with heaps of vitamins A and C, potassium, and magnesium. Full of pre-vitamin A and carotenoids, it’s also anti-carcinogenic and medicinal to the liver, spleen, stomach, and large intestine and it can help improve blood circulation. Butternut squash is higher in carbs and natural sugars than say delicata (stay tuned for more on that one!), but it’s also far more nutritious compared with other starches. Embrace it!
// RECIPE //
MASSAGED KALE SALAD WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH + LEMON TAHINI DRESSING
Serves: 4–6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes
1 cup red quinoa, soaked and rinsed
1 larger watermelon radish, sliced paper thin
6 cups organic Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dino kale)
3 organic red beets, peeled and roasted
1 bundle asparagus
For the salad dressing:
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1-2 garlic cloves
2/3 cup cold water
1 tsp sea salt
black pepper to taste
1-2 tsp oregano
Prepare the roasted vegetables:
- Pre-heat oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit and line two small baking sheets or pans with foil. Lightly coat each pan with coconut oil.
- Rinse and peel beets with a vegetable peeler, chop into small bite-sized cubes, and place on baking sheet.
- Toss cubed butternut squash with 1 tsp coconut oil and fresh rosemary, season with sea salt and pepper, and place on baking sheet.
- Snap ends off asparagus. A trick to know where to cut them is to bend it in your hand and wherever it snaps naturally, that’s where you want it to break!
- Roast vegetables for 20–30 minutes, until tender. The asparagus won’t take more than 15 minutes, butternut squash about 20 minutes, and the beets roughly another 5–10 minutes longer.
Prepare the quinoa:
- Ideally, quinoa would be soaked overnight and rinsed prior to use. If you don’t have time to soak it, be sure to give it a really solid rinsing.
- Place 1 cup quinoa in a pot with 2 cups water and a dash of sea salt. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes covered. Do not remove the lid until it’s been at least 20 minutes! Fluff with a fork and voila! A nice big batch of quinoa at the ready!
Prepare the salad dressing:
- Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. It may seem really thin but don’t fret. It will thicken right up after you pop it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes or overnight. Trust me! And if not, you can always add more tahini. No biggie!
- Thin it out as needed by adding cold water and whisking. Use within 2 days of preparing.
Assemble everything on a pretty platter and you can pick and choose how much of each ingredient you’d like to enjoy. Drizzle with the tahini dressing and top with nuts and seeds for added crunch!
*There’s plenty of protein in the quinoa (read more about it here), but if you want to add a bit more, try roasted chicken, baked tofu or chickpeas, kidney or black beans.
If you’re biggest hurdle with healthy eating is finding the time for it all, I encourage you to give this salad a try. Like I said, it can be made ahead of time to provide you with a nourishing meal quickly and easily and it’s full of grounding and warming vegetables, plant-based protein from the quinoa, and nourishing fats.
I think you’ll totally fall in love with this nutritious and hardy salad (pun totally intended).
Speaking of fall, we are headed to a wedding on the East Coast this weekend (Hilton Head Island to be exact) and are planning to do a little road trip from Atlanta to Charleston beforehand. I’m hoping to catch a glimpse or two of some fall colors. Have the leaves changed out there yet? Any good recommendations for things to do in Charleston? I’m all ears!
Enjoy your week and I hope you’ll give this recipe a try! Share your versions using the hashtags #honestlynourished and #eatpretty!
What’s your favorite food to enjoy in autumn? If it’s pumpkin, I have a few things you’re definitely going to LOVE! Follow me on Snapchat (@honstlynourishd – no “e’s”) for all the behind the scenes fun!