The sincere motivation behind my love of cooking is indeed creative and delish in nature. But if I’m being completely honest, it is also the sheer dabbling of it and the fact that everything doesn’t have to be so damn contiguous. You can blur lines and throw rules to the wind — while chucking ingredients in the pot! Opposite of its baking kin, this path leaves you listening to intuition with a few general guidelines along the way. I love that part of connecting with my inner chef. Her voice is big, bold, and quick to give permission for all sorts of culinary shenanigans.
In the midst of a short amount of time to whip up a plate for a neighborhood picnic, I mentally scanned the cabinets, fridge, and garden. My husband is of South Asian descent, so we had oh so many lentils, a good staple to build from and excellent source of protein. Butternut squash gives this meal a boost in aesthetic (both beauty and taste), rounded out by crunchy almonds and bright, peppery cilantro. Main dish or side dish, carnivore or vegetarian alike, fashioned hot or cold — this dish is a versatile option — here it was served as a cool side dish, a nice accompaniment to all that summer grilling.
Summer Salad Recipe
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small butternut squash
- 1 cup of uncooked lentils
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup of sliced almonds
- 1 lemon (juice from whole and zest from half)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground sea salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
Put 1 cup of dry lentils and 3 cups of water in a medium to large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Simmer the lentils for 25-30 minutes then drain any remaining liquid and set aside in a bowl in the fridge to cool. It is important to differentiate the type of lentils and make use of the kinds that retain their shape (for instance, red tend to get mushier). I used brown lentils for this dish, just be sure to keep an eye around the 20 minute mark to make sure your lentils aren’t getting too soft (you want them cooked, but still somewhat firm).
Peel and cube the butternut squash and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp cumin, and salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on a sheet and bake for 30 minutes (until soft). Refrigerate to cool.
Slice the onion in long, thin layers. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until caramelized. Refrigerate to cool.
Spread out the sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Juice and zest the lemon, separating these elements and putting them aside.
In a large bowl, combine the cooled lentils, butternut squash, onion, cilantro, almonds and the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, cumin, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (optional). Taste. Play around with the spices if you like. Add the lemon juice and zest and mix well.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, allowing the flavors to intermingle and manifest.
Serve alone or as a side dish.