This year's star vegetarian main dish will make the omnivores at the table casually ask if they can have some too. It's not just your average lentil salad — it's a lentil salad that's filled to the brim with fall flavors like caramelized roasted butternut squash and red onions, hearty kale, toasted pecans, and sweet golden raisins, all dressed up in a roasted garlic-sherry vinaigrette.
Served warm or at room temperature, it's a special dish that adds an extra touch of color to the Thanksgiving table and ensures those who aren't eating turkey have something delicious and wholesome to call their own.
A Lentil Salad That Goes Above and Beyond
You might not think a lentil salad is special enough to serve on Thanksgiving, but this one incorporates a few unique touches to make it shine. Roasting a couple of garlic cloves — or a whole head in case you'd like to add the rest to your mashed potatoes — on the sheet pan with the other vegetables turns them golden-brown and soft enough to be mashed for the base of the vinaigrette, which adds a mellow yet complex sweetness to it that will have your guests wondering just what is in it.
Tossing the lentils with the vinaigrette while they are still warm ensures they quickly begin to marinate in it and soak up all that rich flavor. Finally, a finishing touch of chopped fresh parsley, stirred in right before serving so that its brightness isn't lost, adds an element of freshness to the earthy salad before guests dig in.
Thanksgiving Lentil Salad
1 medium butternut squash (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups French green lentils
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small bunch flat-leaf kale (about 6 ounces), stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F.
Place the squash, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the oil, a big pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a large bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and spread into an even layer (reserve the bowl). Roast until the vegetables are tender and very caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the lentils and bay leaves in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the lentils by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and discard the bay leaves. Return the lentils to the pan and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Taste and season with more salt as needed.
Once the vegetables are roasted, remove the garlic cloves and set aside until they are cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Squeeze the roasted cloves out of their paper into the bowl used to toss the roasted vegetables and mash them with a fork. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons of oil, vinegar, mustard, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to the bowl and whisk to combine.
While the lentils are still warm, add them to the dressing. Add the kale and toss until well coated. Add the roasted vegetables, pecans, and raisins and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Just before serving, toss in the parsley. Transfer the salad to a large platter and serve warm or at room temperature.
- Make ahead: The salad can be assembled without the parsley up to 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring the salad to room temperature and mix in the parsley just before serving.
- Storage: Leftover salad will keep well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.