Friday, October 16, 2015

Roasted Butternut Salad with Barley and Candied Bacon

You guys! I had to share this recipe RIGHT away because it is seriously one of the best things I have ever eaten. You probably aren't convinced (Graham wasn't at first either) but I'm not even kidding. You should have seen his face when he came home from work on Wednesday absolutely starved and I dropped the bomb that we were eating SALAD for dinner. I've gotta give it to him though. He pulled off an enthusiastic recovery, even if his initial reaction screamed disappointment. I listed off the ingredients: spinach, butternut squash and barley! Feta, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. He was less than convinced but I knew the candied bacon would win him over. (Spoiler alert: it did).

My extended family recently told me that I am known for my salads. Like people actually get excited to see my name next to the word "salad" when our potluck-style-big-family-party-meal-sign-up-emails start whizzing about. Classic, right? Of course the dietitian in the family would be the one in charge of the green stuff. But I have gladly accepted my role, even more so now that I know people actually seem to look forward to my "health foods." Just last week, we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (which is much like American Thanksgiving except we open by singing O Canada) with the extended Crozier family and I brought a popular one: my Purple Chopped Salad. It sat in all it's glory at the end of the buffet, causing a fair number of eaters to gripe that their plates were full before they got to it. I'm not one to brag but I'm pretty sure these eaters later returned to the buffet. For SALAD. Yesssssssssss, says the dietitian. Salad is meant to be enjoyed.

The lowly salad gets such a bad rap. So often it is given little forethought, a last minute filler food used "to try and get our veggies in." Not in my house! I LOVE me a good salad and am constantly finding new interesting combinations of ingredients to try. Often the salad is the star of our meals and my problem usually becomes trying to identify what I could serve as the main dish along with my salad creation. More recently, I've settled to just go with it and treat the salad as the main, tossing in whatever leftover cooked proteins I might have in the fridge. My husband is adjusting to this whole salad-as-dinner concept but when it's hearty enough like this one is, there is really no need to serve anything else (except for wine of course!!)

This is not only one of the best salads ever flavor-wise but it is also really seasonal right now. It just screams fall to me, boasting cubes of roasted butternut squash and juicy red pomegranate seeds. I prepped a lot of the salad ahead of time which made it a quick option to throw together on a work night. I boiled the barley and roasted the squash the night before and even cooked an extra big batch of bacon at breakfast one morning earlier in the week and reserved some for the salad. This meant I candied the bacon differently than the recipe instructs but it worked out great. I simply put 1/4 cup of brown sugar in a large skillet over medium-low heat and warmed it until it had almost turned to a liquid. Meanwhile, I chopped the bacon strips and then threw them in to the liquid brown sugar and stirred them for about a minute until they were well-coated. I removed them from heat immediately and poured them onto foil to cool. Once cooled, they turned into sort of a sugary bacon ball which I chopped again. Voila! Candied bacon! If you really want to make things easy, you could also toast the walnuts, make the dressing and seed the pomegranate ahead of time. Heck, just make the whole salad ahead of time if you want. I found the leftovers still tasted amazing!

Roasted Butternut Salad with Barley and Candied Bacon
(adapted from Chris Scheuer)

For the salad:
8 strips of bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into ½" cubes
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups dry pearl barley, cooked according to package directions
4 cups fresh baby spinach, sliced thinly into ribbons
2 cups crumbled Feta cheese
1 medium pomegranate, seeded

For maple Dijon vinaigrette:
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup canola oil
generous pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line 3 sheet pans with foil.

For candied bacon, place bacon strips on one of the prepared sheet pans. Sprinkle evenly with half of the brown sugar. Place in oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and flip bacon strips to opposite side. Sprinkle with the remaining half of the brown sugar. Return to oven and bake for another 8-12 minutes, or until deep golden brown (amount of time will depend on your oven and the thickness of the bacon). Watch bacon carefully during the last 5 minutes as it can easily go from golden to burned. Remove bacon to a sheet of foil or parchment paper and allow to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, slice bacon, width-wise, into ¼" slices. Set aside.

Place diced butternut squash on the second sheet pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in oven for about 15 minutes or until tender, but not mushy. Gently stir halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and set aside.
Place walnuts on 3rd sheet pan and place in oven for about 8 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a medium size jar. Cover with lid and shake vigorously.

Arrange candied bacon, barley, Feta, spinach, butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and walnuts in rows on salad plates or shallow bowls. Drizzle with dressing. Alternatively, you can also toss all salad ingredients in a large bowl along with the dressing and serve.

Serves 6

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posted by kelsie