We are well into the time of year when holiday cooking and baking is on everyone's radar. Last year around this time I became so caught up in planning our holiday menus that I started to lose inspiration for simple, everyday fall cooking, and I've vowed not to let that happen this season. The good thing about this warmly-spiced, nutritious grain salad is that it fills both roles: everyday side (or main) dish as well as truly beautiful contender for the holiday table.
The ingredients for this salad are relatively straight-forward, but maybe you have yet to try sorghum? Sorghum is one of my favorite grains to cook with right now.
Widely grown in Africa and parts of Asia, this gluten-free grain is becoming more and more popular thanks to its impressive nutritional profile, mild earthy flavor and great hearty texture — it's perfect for cooler-weather recipes. It absorbs flavors really well, so I tend to swap sorghum into grain dishes that have an interesting dressing or a sauce. Feel free to use sorghum whenever a hearty grain is called for, like farro, barley or wheat berries. Because it looks much like Israeli couscous, people often make that swap, too.
The only downside? Sorghum takes 55 to 60 minutes to cook, so plan ahead — or cook it off the day before.
Now that we've talked sorghum, I have discovered a trick to cooking butternut squash that will prove to be a big help here: It doesn't involve peeling or fussing. I know many of you are sophisticated cooks and it's possible you already do this — but in case you're like me and this is a new revelation, I'll share.
Many recipes ask that you peel the squash before cooking, which can be a bit arduous. Then they ask that you halve the squash and cube it which I find equally arduous. If on the other hand, you bake the halved squash first, the skin practically slides right off and it's much easier to slice and cube. This was a little bit of a fall game changer for me.
The last thing to note about this salad before getting in the kitchen and giving it a go: the timing. The sorghum takes about an hour and the squash will take 35 to 40 minutes. Since you want to serve the salad warm, work backwards from when you want to serve it. I usually put the sorghum on the stove and let it cook for about 25 minutes before starting the squash. You could also cook the sorghum well in advance and reheat it as the squash is coming out of the oven. I generally reheat it over low heat on the stovetop; you'll need to add a little water (3 tablespoons or so) to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
We eat this salad for an energizing lunch or as a side dish with chicken or pork. I think it'd be great with a mild fish, too — and I'm sure that it'd be a stunner on the holiday table. I look forward to hearing how you decide to serve it this season.
Spiced Butternut Squash and Sorghum Salad with Raisins & Pepitas
For the salad:
2 cups uncooked sorghum
4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 cups water
3/4 cup pepitas
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise and de-seeded
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup raisins
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
For the dressing: 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
To cook the sorghum, combine the sorghum, vegetable stock and water in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for 60 minutes, or until the grains are tender and have just begun to splay open. When finished cooking, drain away any remaining liquid.
While the sorghum cooks, roast the pepitas and the squash. Heat the oven to 350°F. Toast the pepitas for 5 to 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside 1/2 cup of pepitas for the salad, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup for the topping.
Increase the oven temperature to 375°F. Lay squash out onto one large baking sheets and drizzle with enough oil to fully coat the flesh. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then gently slice away the softened skin and cut each squash half into 1-inch cubes.
To assemble the salad, spoon the warm sorghum into a large serving bowl. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon and salt and stir until spices are fully integrated into the grain mixture. Spoon the squash, 1/2 cup of the pepitas, parsley and raisins over the sorghum and stir well to combine.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sherry vinegar, orange juice, honey, and shallot. Pour over the warm grain salad and toss well.
Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm, with the remaining 1/4 cup of pepitas scattered on top.
For this recipe, I cook the grains using part vegetable broth and part water. You could certainly use all broth or all water — I just like the little bit of extra flavor that partial broth imparts.
While the sorghum may seem tender enough at 50 minutes of cook time, the grains will actually absorb spices and dressing better if you cook them until they are slightly splayed open — about 60 minutes. If you pull them at 50 minutes, the dressing will just pool at the bottom of the bowl instead of soaking into the grains for flavor.