I had the pleasure of spending last weekend at home with my family. From the moment I stepped of the plane in Chicago, it was evident that Fall had finally arrived in the Midwest. In stark contrast to the 82 degree weather of Washington, DC, the air was crisp and carried my breath in a thin cloud of smoke. But even though I was freezing and completely underdressed, it didn’t take long to get my Chicago skin back.
That night, my mom prepared a dinner inspired by the impending Fall and Winter weather. Rather than our usual equation of Protein (aka fish or chicken) + Vegetable + Salad = Dinner, she ventured out of her comfort zone and made a feast even I found visually stunning. So with a fire blazing in the fireplace, wine pouring, and my best friends (i.e., parents and sisters) seated at the table, we dug into a plate of Lemon-Pepper Salmon and and Harvest Salad.
Though the salad was our side dish, it could easily have been made into a main course by adding diced grilled chicken or turkey on top. You instantly have to your vegetable salad, an edible carbohydrate pumpkin bowl, and protein all in one dish. But truly, this salad and its earthy presentation was made to entertain. Next time you have dinner guests or even just a girls night in, serve this salad to impress even the pickiest of eaters.
3 small pumpkins (make sure they are edible pumpkins!)
3 strips turkey bacon
1/3 cup nuts – you can use sliced almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pecans, walnuts, etc.
4 cups baby arugula or mixed greens
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1 red pear, diced
1 avocado, diced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 375. Cut pumpkins in half crosswise, and scoop out seeds using a large spoon. Discard the seeds and excess pulp, leaving a clean center in the pumpkin where the salad will be placed. Place pumpkins cut-side down on a large baking sheet and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake until pumpkin meat is soft (al dente), approximately 20 minutes. Do not overcook or your pumpkin bowls will be flimsy. When the pumpkin is cooked, remove from the oven, let cool completely, then flip so cut side is up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
While the pumpkin bakes, cook the turkey bacon on the stove using a medium skillet and a drop or two of olive oil. Remove to a paper towel to drain excess fat while the bacon cools. Once cooled, break bacon into small bite sized pieces and set aside. Using the same pan, toast nuts until slightly golden and aromatic. Remove, let cool and set aside.
Place arugula inside the pumpkin bowl and begin to build your salad by adding: bacon, blue cheese, toasted nut, pear, dried cranberries, red onion, and avocado. We did not use dressing, as the salad was flavorful enough as is. But if you prefer to dress the salad, I would suggest something light like a red wine or balsamic vinaigrette.