Friday, September 21, 2012

38 Power Foods, Week 15 -- Winter Squash -- Israeli Couscous-Butternut Squash Salad with Fall Fruit, Cheese and Orange Vinaigrette

Israeli (Pearl) Couscous, butternut squash, apples, pears, figs, cranberries, cheese, and pecans with an orange vinaigrette--cornucopia salad.

How are new salads born at my house?    Like this......

I've had some Israeli couscous (actually a blend) in my cabinet for a few months.  Waiting.
Typically I throw some leeks, garlic, and asparagus in a sauté pan come spring and throw those lovely things into a bowl of couscous or orzo with a handful of grated Parmesan and lots of black pepper.

When I realized this was the week to blog winter squash, a different group of ingredients started to percolate.  Despite the summer tomatoes still coming on (albeit slowly) and the basil crying for that last bowl of pesto to be made, I kept thinking fall food once the squash got in my head.  Cranberries, apples, pears, sharp cheese, nuts.

Fall..I adore I've just poached them slowly in port with some orange peel and cinnamon sticks.
Thursday I had a big pot of turkey chili on the stove and called some friends to run over and help eat it.  This salad, which began in my head days before it ended up in our stomachs,  started the meal.  I cooked the couscous and started chopping fruit and toasting nuts.  It came together that easily; it's fairly fast, too.  I did think I might have liked walnut oil for the vinaigrette, but the only can I had was in the frig at our Colorado house where it'll stay a bit fresher over the time we're not there.

Could it be a whole meal?  Definitely.  Since it has oranges to keep the fresh fruit from turning brown, I think it'll keep a day or so...but no more.  It might be a filling and happy side for a quick Thanksgiving meal:  roast a turkey breast, make this salad, and cook some of those green beans you've been freezing.  Anyway, here's how:

Follow the photo-easy recipe:

Cook 8 ounces of  Israeli Couscous*  according to package directions. Use chicken broth in place of water. You can add a few leaves of fresh sage if you have them (remove before making salad).  When couscous is tender, add 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil while still hot.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper.  Optional:  Stir in 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Cool to room temperature.

Toast 1/4 cup pecans in a dry small skillet and chop, reserving a few whole nuts for garnish.

Dice (medium) 1 pear, 1 apple, 1 orange (peeled),  6 dried figs (or fresh), 1 small cooked butternut squash (see below for my microwave directions).  Dice (small):  2 oz. each sharp cheddar and Swiss cheese like Jarlsberg or Emmental or even Gruyere.

Mix fruit, squash,  cheese, 1/4 cup dried cranberries, and pecans with cooled couscous.  Add the juice of another orange and 1 teaspoon honey.  Stir well, taste and adjust seasonings and/or dressing.  Serve in a bowl lined with fresh spinach leaves and garnish with reserved whole pecans.

 6 servings

We liked this salad with coffee cup pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins.

*I used Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe's (available on as well), which is a "savory blend of Israeli Couscous, Orzo, Baby Garbanzo beans, and Red Quinoa."  Regular Israeli or pearl couscous is fine and orzo or even farro would be easily workable substitutes. 

Ingredients list:  8oz Israeli couscous or blend, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper (optional), fresh sage leaves (optional), 1 3/4 cups chicken broth (used 1 15 oz. can plus a little water), 1 1/2 tablespoons each canola and extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup pecans,  1 small butternut squash, 1 pear, 1 apple, 2 oranges (1 in salad, 1 juiced), 6 figs (fresh or dried), 1/4 cup dried cranberries, 2 ounces each sharp cheddar  and Swiss cheeses, 1 teaspoon honey, 2 cups fresh spinach leaves



   Place squash in a large microwave-safe dish and, using a sharp thin knife, poke a few holes in the largest section for escaping steam.  Microwave on high 3-5 minutes (depending on size of the squash--a 1.5lb squash might take 5 minutes, for example) and remove the squash to a cutting board.   Using a large chef's knife, carefully cut the squash in half horizontally and  with a large spoon, scoop out seeds and strings.   Place the two halves back in the baking dish with a little (2 tablespoons or so) water and put the dish back in the microwave.  Cook another five minutes on high or so (depending on the size of the squash) until tender. Covering the squash with plastic wrap or a microwave-safe cover will decrease the cooking time.   I have also filled the center section with butter and a little brown sugar and served it just like that. (I often do this with acorn squash for a quick hot lunch.)  Otherwise, you can let the squash cool, and then peel and chop or mash it according to your needs.  This is much easier than peeling (or cutting) raw butternut squash, which is, at best, difficult.

I cook winter squash frequently and my reasons are many.  Here are a few:

1.  It's delicious; it's good for your body.
2.  It's easy to prepare in several ways: Stick in oven, saute, braise, boil, or microwave.
3.  It's useful as a vegetable or side, but is also hearty enough for a main dish. (Stuff with cumin rice, jack cheese and scrambled eggs for breakfast!)
4.  It's an excellent addition to soups and stews.
5.  It's a good substitute for potatoes with pot roast or roasted chicken.
6.  It's inexpensive and easy to find nearly year round, but particularly now.
7.  It keeps on the counter for a long time--easily 2 months. (That's about the limit for acorn; the others can keep much longer.)

Be brave and try whatever beautiful squash you find at the market.  Whatever you do with acorn squash, you can easily do with most of the others.  Even spaghetti squash is quickly cooked in the microwave.  Shred it with a fork, add a little butter (salt/pepper) and you have a beautiful meal.  And, yes, you can add marinara and stay on South Beach, phase 2!!

Don't want to deal with the peel?  You can buy peeled and cubed butternut squash or pumpkin at some markets, but you will pay a premium price.

Nutrition Profile for Butternut Squash

Each cup of cubed butternut squash provides approximately 60 calories, 16 g of carbohydrates and 3 g of fiber. It also supplies almost 300 percent of your daily value of vitamin A, 50 percent of vitamin C, 7 percent of calcium and 5 percent of iron.

 Want more info on winter squash, including nutrition and recipes?  Visit the Snap-Ed (USDA) site here.


If you liked this, you might also like this recipe from my Dinner Place blog. 

rosemary chicken thighs with butternut squash, onions, and fennel

Throw it all together with olive oil; slip it into the oven on a big rimmed baking sheet.  Dinner emerges in about 35 minutes!
  or you might like this:

roasted orange chicken and butternut squash (meal in a pan)

or my butternut and other squash soup

This is a lovely soup for someone who is not well or can't chew, but is luscious as well for a first course at Thanksiving.


I blog with a great group of food writers on Fridays as we cook our way through the list of foods from Whole Living Magazine's Power Foods:  150 Delicious Recipes with the 38 Healthiest Ingredients:    Read more about beautiful winter squash this week at these sites:

Alanna -
Ansh –  
Minnie Gupta from
Sarah - Everything in the Kitchen Sink
Join us:

If you're interested in joining the gang writing each week, get in touch with Mireya from My Healthy Eating Habits:

Sing a new song and cook a new squash,


  1. Great recipes!!! Loved all of them :) Feels great to join you guys.

  2. Love the wonderful combination of fall flavors in this salad, Alyce. What a great step-by-step photo tutorial! Butternut squash is a favorite of mine too.

  3. What a flavorful cous cous. You're such a genius to come up with such an interesting combination of flavors. The muffins in a cup are a great idea too!

  4. @Mireya I have really enjoyed single-serving breads and desserts since I began the dinnerplace blog--all about cooking for one person. Also--I gave away my large muffin pans and now just use oven-safe mugs or ramekins! (Thanks for the genius comment--Wow!)

  5. wow!! That must be such a party of flavors!! What an incredible recipe. I love the Autumn season as well. everything is just so beautiful.

  6. @Ansh Cool that you love the salad! Thanks! Happy fall cooking
    in Denver!

  7. This sounds like the perfect Fall salad and I love the tip about microwaving the squash - never tried that before, but great for when you're in a rush.

  8. @Jeanette: Thanks! Try microwaving the squash. It's not exactly like oven-roasting it, of course, but for some recipes it works very well.


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