Autumn has arrived in the mountains, and the aspens in my yard have turned from green to gold, and soon they'll shed their leaves entirely. It's this time of year, late September, when Mother Nature simply can't decide what to do with herself as some days remain seem blisteringly hot, and others feel so crisp and cool that we go to bed with hot water bottles and a fire burning.
It's on these mishmashed days that I find myself craving the flavors of autumn: root vegetables and apples, sturdy kale and butternut squash. Yet, at the same time, the heat of these late September days leaves me abandoning the soup pot for fresh and light dishes. And, in that way, this Autumn Salad was born - a celebration of those new flavors of fall, but light enough for hot day.
My Favorite Autumn Salad
Here, I've combined apples with many of my other favorite fall flavors: fresh earthy beets, sweet butternut squash, dried fruit, and buttery pecans brightened by a sprinkling of fresh mint and drizzled with a sweet and sour vinaigrette made of kombucha tea, honey, and mustard. It's truly lovely, though I'm sure a sprinkling of crisp pastured bacon or a crumbling of fresh goat cheese might be a good addition for a more substantial meal.
Kale, Beets and Butternut Squash
In addition to fresh apples, I toss in fresh raw beets and butternut squash over the kale. Typically, my family eats all three vegetables cooked in some way: roasted, buttered, steamed, braised. But sometimes I simply crave them raw and fresh. Eaten raw, they're milder and softer in flavor, almost delicate.
All three are rich in nourishment, particularly antioxidants, which are best absorbed in concert with wholesome fats. In this way, olive oil is a natural pairing for vegetables.
Kombucha Tea and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kombucha tea, a naturally probiotic fermented tonic, offers a flavor similar to apple cider vinegar, only softer and rounder. If you don't make your own, you can find it at most health food stores. I favor using it as a replacement for vinegar in my salad dressings and vinaigrettes (like in this Roasted Beet and Walnut Salad).
It's rich in beneficial bacteria, and because of its soft notes of tea and vinegar, it pairs beautifully with the flavors of autumn: notably apples, beets and winter squash. In this dressing I blend it with honey, minced shallot, Dijon-style mustard and fruity extra virgin olive oil (that I get here).
I hope you love this autumn salad as much as I do.
For the Salad
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1 small butternut squash
- 2 bunches curly kale (torn into pieces)
- 3 apples (cored and thinly sliced)
- 3 beets (chopped into ¼-inch dice)
- ¼ cup dried unsweetened cranberries
- ¼ cup sultanas
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
- Place a cast iron pan over high heat on your stove. When it's blisteringly hot, toss in the pecans and toast them, stirring frequently, until they release their aroma. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a plate, and allow them to cool.
- Cut off the bulbous bottom of the squash, and reserve it for another use. Peel the top part of the squash, and chop it into ¼-inch dice
- Toss the kale into a mixing bowl, toss in the squash, apples, beets, cranberries, sultanas, mint and toasted pecans until well mixed. Then arrange on a serving platter.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the kombucha, honey, mustard and shallot. When uniformly mixed, whisk in the olive oil. Dress the salad with the kombucha vinaigrette and serve.