I have three words for you. autumn. harvest. bowl.
Talk about clean eating. Yes, clean eating is delicious. This salad is cleaning eating; it’s seasonal eating. This salad is autumn in a bowl. It’s leaves changing colors, beginnings of crisp, cool mornings, and pulling out those gorgeous boots you got on clearance last spring and have been dying to rock all summer. It is teeming with creamy, slightly sweet butternut squash; caramelized red onions; tender yet crispy cauliflower; slightly tart dried cranberries; roasted pumpkin seeds; and firm, tangy seasonal apples. There is just so much happening here. The textures, the flavors, the yumminess. It’s almost too much to handle. ALMOST. And Homer J. Simpson, you DO make friends with salad. If it’s this autumn harvest salad.
Speaking of autumn, have you been apple picking yet? This year, like clockwork, we went apple picking. Apple picking is one of my favorite activities in the fall, next to pumpkin picking and I look forward to it all year. In fact, it’s become something of a tradition at our house to go as soon as humanly possible after Labor Day weekend. We come home with a giant loot that we munch on for days/weeks. And then it hits me- we have a whole bushel of apples and munching on them isn’t quite making a dent so then I start incorporating them into recipes. Sure, apple pie sounds great but seriously, with my sugar dragon roaring, I can’t risk eating an entire apple pie by myself because #sugarmakesmyworldgoround. ESPECIALLY with halloween and thanksgiving around the corner (seriously?! It’s OCTOBER already!)
My sugar dragon has been majorly out of control and ever since I got back from summer to fall life, I’ve been feelin’ it. And not in a good way. I’ve been looking for a way to detox and go back to CLEAN eating. Like real, actual clean eating I can be proud of. When I tell people I’m a food blogger, they expect gourmet, fab food but my reality has been either very semi-homemade or shortcut-based cereal eating for dinner. Total slacking happening here which is why you don’t see me post evidence of my slackmanship. So I’ve been experimenting these last few weeks with different ways of eating. I picked up a book at the library a couple of weeks ago, just as I was walking past the bestsellers and happened to pick it up. I’d heard of The Whole30 in passing before and have thought about doing some recipes. As I was reading, I realized that this might be my way out of my sugar addiction. Enter the whole30. It’s like bootcamp for taming my sugar dragon. Also, please note, I wish I was cool enough to have thought of the phrase sugar dragon but I lifted it from the pages of whole30.
The general premise? You eat whole, unprocessed foods for 30 days. Unprocessed meats (with nitrites), veggies, fruit, seafood, seeds and most nuts are supposed to be the foods that provide fuel for your body. What did I cut out of my diet? Grains of all kinds, soy, dairy, processed meats, legumes, gluten, and ALL refined sugar (natural and artificial). Yes, ALL S-U-G-A-R, including maple syrup and honey. Why would someone subject themselves to this horrible torture? Because you’re trying to break the cycle of sugar addiction, which by the way is in everything as I learned. Even sriracha! I now read the labels on every food item before buying it. It’s amazing how much sugar we are unknowingly consuming! It seems so, so, so difficult but it’s all tough love- and tough love is something I desperately need to get back to my real lyfe of self-care. And there are so many possibilities of so many things you CAN have. I haven’t repeated a single dinner, yet. All you have to do is spend some time prepping and then it’s smooth sailing.
I’ve been modifying my recipes to fit into whole30. Like this blast-from-the past italian chicken sausage. I subbed in nutritional yeast and arrowroot flour for the parmesan and breadcrumbs, and all of a sudden it’s whole30 compliant! I’m two weeks into it and I feel great (now). The first couple of days, I felt like I’d been hit by a garbage truck, filled with sugar, on its way out of my driveway, after having collected my lifetime supply of all things sugar. That first night, I was like a crazy person, talking to myself and trying to will myself to not crave sugar or carbs. I’ve noticed a definite change in my skin, as I’m no longer breaking out. Yes, starch and sugar have THAT much of an effect. I’m not exhausted by 5 which means I’m not secretly celebrating when it’s time for the kids to go to bed. Seriously, WHO IS THIS PERSON in my body?! I might even start believing that I’ve got IT together!
Chia seed pudding, minus the honey, has been a lifesaver when I just need a quick meal. The key is in the dates. But wonderful things like autumn harvest salad have made an appearance in my life and I’m not in a hurry to say goodbye. One of the best things about this bowl is that is so versatile to change and adaptable to different ingredients. It doesn’t have to be an exclusive whole30 kinda thang. But don’t skip the cauliflower, roasted squash and apples. Add but don’t take away. If you don’t have butternut squash, feel free to sub in sugar pumpkin, kuri or acorn squash, or even delecta. This is a fall friendly bowl so give it some autumn produce love. The creaminess from the squash is a great stand-in for creamy cheeses like goat or feta. The key to drawing out the natural sugars and perfect caramelization? High heat roasting.
Cauliflower is a very understated vegetable. It is deceptively delicious and a more nutritious sub for potatoes in roasted garlic cauliflower mash or can take on a whole new flavor profile in roasted red pepper and cauliflower spaghetti. In the autumn harvest bowl, cauliflower takes on the rightful role as as the ‘bulk’ food, especially after it hangs out in the oven with red onion and draws out the subtle sweetness.
Growing up, I DESPISED apples. I would eat other fruit but if you gave me an apple, I would cry. But now, apples > candy. When I had (adult) braces, I lamented biting into a whole apple instead of having to pre-plan and cut into slices. The first week I got my braces off, I ate a million apples. I was like a kid in a candy store, filled and abandoned. It was then that I discovered a world beyond red delicious. Tart and crisp galas, soft golden delicious, and ohmygosh honeycrisp, the apple every appleseed dreams of becoming. The apples in this bowl have impressive showmanship. They add a burst of natural flavor, crisp texture, and offset the sweet creaminess of the squash.
Then we build onto the bowl and this is where it gets fun and creative. Toasted pumpkin seeds add additional crunch to cut through the creamy goodness. Friends, you must toast the pumpkin seeds. You must, you must, you must- untoasted pumpkin seeds are criminal. Start telling yourself, it doesn’t take long and the payoff will make you feel like a baws. For whole30 compliant cranberries, make sure you get cranberries sweetened with apple juice, because dried cranberries, in the normal form, are little sugar bombs. I prefer the apple juice sweetened cranberries because they’re not so sugary sweet and have an unapologetic tang. Some juicy, plump golden raisins would be great as an alternative to the cranberries too!
Friends, the dressing is a very basic, four ingredient dressing I’ve been making for years. It’s foolproof but really brings the bowl together. At this point, if you’re looking for even more bulk, diced grilled chicken is a classic addition. I added grilled chicken to mine for leftovers and I didn’t even end up going back to seconds. That’s how filling it was. I think some citrusy shrimp would be great here too. So go ahead, personalize and make this the dish that makes you friends.
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled diced (4-5 cups)
- 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets (5 cups)
- 1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3-4 medium apples, cored and diced
- ⅓ dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice)
- ¼ cup olive oil + 2 tbsp divided
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- A handful of chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss butternut squash with 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper. Spread out on baking sheet in a single layer.
- Toss onions and cauliflower with ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and 1 tbsp olive oil. Spread out on baking sheet in a single layer.
- Roast vegetables in oven for 15-20 minutes, until squash becomes soft and cauliflower starts browning. Flip with spatula and roast for 5 more minutes.
- While the vegetables are roasting, place pumpkin seeds in a dry and toast over high heat, until the seeds become light golden brown. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine lemon juice and remaining salt and pepper. Whisk rigorously with a wire whisk and slowly drizzle in remaining olive oil. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine squash, onions, cauliflower, apples, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, and parsley. Drizzle in dressing and gently toss with a spoon until well coated.
- *Add grilled chicken if desired*