Spiced pumpkin, lentil, and goat cheese salad (3 servings)

Today was one of the first days that really felt like autumn. The afternoon air was crisp, and while the sun was warm, I felt cold in the shade. Bryan and I took a short walk and kicked around in the leaves for a bit. It's not quite cool enough for soup yet, but it's time to welcome in the flavors of fall, for sure. This recipe comes from the always-fabulous Epicurious.com.

You will need:

  • Scant 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 3 cups 1-inch pieces of butternut squash (from a one-pound whole squash)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 cups baby arugula or baby spinach (or combination thereof)
  • 1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/8 cup thinly sliced mint leaves (I left it out)
  • 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Steps:

  1. Boil lentils for 25-30 minutes, or until they're tender but firm. Drain and rinse under cold water and set aside. (You can do this a few hours or even a day ahead of time. You can always use leftover plain lentils, too.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the squash cubes in a small bowl and toss them with 1 Tbsp of the oil, the cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir to coat. (Rinse the bowl and save it for a little later.) Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast 20 minutes. Stir and toast another 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.
  3. While you're waiting, arrange the arugula/spinach on three plates and top with the lentils. When the squash is cool (or even still a little warm), place it in a bowl along with any oil saved from the roasting pan, plus half the goat cheese, the mint, vinegar, and the remaining 1/2 Tbsp oil. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide among plates and top with remaining goat cheese.

When I first saw this recipe, I was intrigued by the combination of flavors, and I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out. I was also interested to see how Bryan, who thinks he doesn't like any kind of squash, would react to it. I worried a bit about finding some of the ingredients; luckily, the Herb Shop stand at Central Market sells hot smoked Spanish paprika, and the other stands at market were able to provide me with the other ingredients. Gotta love Market.

It turned out the mixture of flavors was a good one. The squash was sweet and mellow, while the paprika and cumin provided a smoky, spicy background. The peppery arugula was perfect, and the lentils added nice texture. Next time I might add some pecans for crunch; the only unfortunate part about this recipe was that my squash got too mushy in the oven. The goat cheese brought everything together, both as a physical binder and a flavor complement. I wish I had had some mint, but I stupidly cut back my mint plants yesterday and didn't keep any of the leaves. I'm sure it would add another intriguing flavor layer!

Going back to the goat cheese for a minute, if you still haven't tried it, you really need to. And if you're one of those people who thinks that milk from a goat is somehow weirder than milk from a cow, it's time to get past your preconceptions. Goat cheese is one of my favorite things on the planet, and it's incredible versatile. Now, if you live in Lancaster and already appreciate goat cheese, you must check out Linden Dale Farms at Central Market. I've never had anything like it. The lady who runs the stand can tell you exactly when the cheese was made and probably even the name of the goat it came from. Incredible stuff.

I served this with Smitten Kitchen's incredible jalapeno-cheddar scones. Deb continues to impress me with her recipes, and her site has now become my very favorite food blog.