Make-Ahead Roasted Squash and Kale Salad With Spiced Nuts, Cranberries, and Maple Vinaigrette Recipe

A Thanksgiving (or anytime) salad that reduces your holiday stress level.

A finished bowl of roasted vegetable salad with squash, kale, spiced pecans, and a maple vinaigrette.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why It Works

  • Roasted vegetables are tender but don't turn soggy as they sit overnight in the fridge, making them ideal for a make-ahead salad.
  • Roasting kale helps it develop a sweet, nutty flavor.

You want a good strategy for staying calm on Thanksgiving, beyond heavily self-medicating with bourbon? Here's my advice: Do as much of the cooking ahead of time as humanly possible. Have your vegetables prepped, your sauces made, your ingredients portioned, your casseroles assembled, and your pies baked. Planning a menu that allows you to do this is the real key to a stress-free holiday, and this salad is a good head start in that department.

It combines sweet roasted butternut squash with roasted kale in a vinaigrette flavored with maple syrup and sherry vinegar, along with some spiced pecans for crunch and dried cranberries for a nice chewy texture. It's a delightful salad when it's made fresh, but the flavors and textures actually get even better as it sits in the fridge overnight.

To make it, I start by cutting up butternut squash into 1/2-inch disks and tossing them in olive oil before roasting in a moderately hot oven.

Just roasted butternut squash pieces with well-browned edges.

Serious Eats /  J. Kenji López-Alt

The trick here is to roast them even longer than you think you should—a little black around the edges is totally fine—and to not fiddle with them as they roast or even right after they come out of the oven. Hot squash is very tender and, because it exudes sticky juices while it cooks, will most likely be stuck to the foil on the bottom of the pan. Let the squash rest on the pan until it cools and firms up and it'll be much easier to remove without mangling it.

Next I toss some kale leaves (I'm using lacinato kale in this photo, but curly kale will do fine) in olive oil and roast them just until they're wilted and starting to crisp in spots. Roasting kale provides not just a textural change, but also gives it a sweet nutty flavor.

Now the pecans get their turn in the oven. I first toss them with a spice blend made with cinnamon, smoked paprika, and a few other dried spices, along with olive oil and brown sugar. You'll want to make extras of these; otherwise, you won't have enough for the salad by the time you stop grazing on them.

Making the vinaigrette is simple: Whisk together minced shallots with whole grain mustard, maple syrup, and sherry vinegar, then slowly drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil until the vinaigrette is smooth and emulsified. Some vinaigrettes can be difficult to emulsify properly. This one is simple. The viscous maple syrup really helps the vinaigrette come together nice and tight. Think of it as emulsification training wheels.

Make sure to toss the salad extra-gently once you get the vinaigrette in there. Being too rough with it will break up the squash pieces. This is a case where you want to forget the tongs and make sure you get in there with your hands, gently scooping up the salad and letting it cascade over itself until everything is well-coated.

A finished roasted vegetable salad alongside bread and a handful of dried cranberries, ready to serve.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Stored in the fridge, the salad will improve over the course of a few days. To serve it, just leave it out and let it come to room temperature, or if you like it a little warmer, just zap it in the microwave for a minute until it's as hot as you want.

November 2015

Recipe Facts

4.7

(6)

Active: 45 mins
Total: 105 mins
Serves: 6 servings

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds (1kg, about 1 large or 2 medium) butternut squashpeeled, seeded, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 large bunch (about 8 ounces; 250g) lacinato or curly kale

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • Pinch ground cloves

  • Pinch cayenne pepper

  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups (about 8 ounces; 250g) pecans

  • 1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons; 20g)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) maple syrup

  • 1 tablespoon (10g) whole grain mustard

  • 1 tablespoon (15mlsherry vinegar

  • 1 cup (about 6 ounces; 200g) dried cranberries or cherries

Directions

  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Toss squash pieces with 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until squash is tender throughout and well-browned around the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before attempting to remove from foil. Carefully remove squash from foil using a thin metal spatula and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

    A collage of peeling squash and cutting it into thin pieces, coating the pieces with olive oil and arranging them on a baking sheet lined with foil.
  2. Meanwhile, pick leaves off of kale stems into a large bowl and roughly tear with hands; discard stems. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and massage until well-coated in oil. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until wilted and crisp in some spots, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to bowl with squash.

    A collage of picking kale leaves, coating them with olive oil and roasting in a baking sheet lined with foil until wilted.
  3. Combine cinnamon, paprika, nutmeg, cloves, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add nuts and 1 tablespoon olive oil (15 ml), season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, then add to bowl with squash and kale.

    Transferring pecans that have been tossed in a spice mix to toast in a baking sheet.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together shallot, maple syrup, mustard, and vinegar. Whisking constantly, drizzle in remaining 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Drizzling olive oil in a mixing bowl containing vinaigrette for the salad.
  5. Add cranberries to bowl with squash, kale, and nuts. Toss with half of dressing, taste, and add more dressing as desired. The dressed salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Let it come to room temperature or briefly microwave until warm before serving.

    A hand tossing all of the ingredients for the salad in a mixing bowl, including roasted kale and squash, dried cranberries and pecans.
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
664 Calories
49g Fat
61g Carbs
6g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 664
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 49g 63%
Saturated Fat 5g 26%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 363mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 61g 22%
Dietary Fiber 13g 45%
Total Sugars 36g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 44mg 221%
Calcium 147mg 11%
Iron 3mg 16%
Potassium 817mg 17%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)