Sure, turkey is great - but come Thanksgiving, for me it’s about the sides! I could make a plate of sides alone, skip the bird, and be totally happy. I love them all- creamy potatoes, savory stuffing, tart cranberries, crispy brussels ... I could go on and on. It’s easy to overload on filling, creamy companion dishes on turkey day- that’s why I like to offer light and fresh options as well at my holiday buffet. This gorgeous, flavorful Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Salad is hearty and healthy. Slightly sweet, citrusy, and full of texture, it’s an unexpected but welcome breath of fresh air at the Thanksgiving table- and the perfect compliment to all of the traditional favorites. What makes this recipe even more appealing is that the whole thing can be made ahead of time. The rice, dressing, and squash can all be prepped up to 2 days in advance, and the whole thing can be assembled earlier in the day and allowed to sit at room temp while you busy yourself with the rest of your menu. Serve this tasty, Moroccan inspired grain salad on Thanksgiving or any day this Fall - I think you’ll be as “wild” about it as I am!
prep time: 10 min. cook time: ~1 hr. serves: 6
1 cup wild rice
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1” cubes
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped scallions, light green and white parts only
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1/2 of a small juicy orange)
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flake
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400° and lay the cubed squash out on a large sheet pan. Drizzle the cubes with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and season with 1 tsp salt and some ground black pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Lay the cubes in a flat even layer. Roast on an upper middle rack for 40-45 minutes, until the squash is tender and the edges have started to caramelize. *You will only need 1-1/2 cups of squash for this recipe, so enjoy those leftovers!
Meanwhile, cook the rice. Place the rice, 4 cups water, and a large pinch of salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer the rice until it is tender but still a little chewy (not mushy). This could take anywhere between 40-60 minutes. Check to see if the rice grains have started to split open revealing the white insides- this generally means they are done! Add more water to the pot if the rice is absorbing to much. When the rice is done, drain it in a fine mesh colander to remove any excess liquid. Set it aside.
In the bottom of a large bowl, make the vinaigrette: add the orange juice, vinegar, honey, cumin, shallot, salt, red pepper, and black pepper to the bottom of the bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Check for seasoning.
Add the warm rice, 1-1/2 cups of squash, pomegranate seeds, parsley, scallion, and toasted nuts to the bowl. Toss to mix. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Rice, squash, and vinaigrette can be made and stored separately up to 2 days ahead. Let the chilled ingredients come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe. For best results, add nuts and parsley right before serving.