Perfect Winter Salad
Think salads are only meant to be enjoyed in spring and summer? Guess again! This winter salad includes roasted squash, creamy goat cheese and toasted pecans. These soul warming ingredients make this the perfect healthy salad option on a cold, dreary day.
It’s also loaded with micronutrients and topped with my zesty lemon poppyseed dressing for a bit of pep! You can prepare this vegetarian salad as a standalone lunch, or as an appetizer or side to your main entrée. Just be warned- it may try to steal the limelight!
I’ve been on a pretty serious salad kick the last few weeks, and this one came together almost by accident. With it being winter, there is almost always at least one variety of squash in the house. I usually keep things simple by roasting them and serving as a side to a piece of protein. It’s kind of my version of meat and potatoes. But, this time around, I wanted to change things up.
So, I developed a recipe that would satisfy my chronic salad cravings, use up my soon-to-expire squash, and brighten even the darkest of winter evenings!
But, first things first, no salad would be complete without an equally tasty and healthy salad dressing to top it off. And, today, you’re in luck! Because today I’m also sharing my favourite homemade salad dressing with you! And, I think you’ll agree, it perfectly complements this winter salad recipe.
Why homemade dressings are better than store bought
Store bought salad dressings are typically high in sugar and/or ingredients you can’t pronounce. As someone with several food sensitivities, I much prefer to make my own dressing rather than risk having a reaction to a store-bought version.
I highly recommend having a few homemade dressings on hand in your fridge as well. Not only are they much tastier, but you’ll know exactly what ingredients they contain and can tailor them entirely to your preferences and needs.
Plus, homemade dressings store easily in a mason jar and last for a few weeks in the fridge. This makes them an amazingly convenient option no matter how last minute your salad planning is!
How to make my lemon poppyseed dressing
To make this lemon poppyseed dressing, you only need about two minutes of time and a few simple ingredients. And I’m willing to bet you already have them in your fridge or pantry.
Simply measure your olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, mayonnaise and poppyseeds according to the recipe card below, add the ingredients into a mason jar (or any other container) and shake vigorously until well combined. Give it a little taste test and season with salt and pepper as needed.
That’s it! Now that the dressing is done, let’s prepare the salad!
How to make a winter salad
One of the reasons I love this salad so much is because it really doesn’t require a lot of preparation nor much of a time investment. In fact, the only thing you really need to cook in order to make this recipe is the squash.
Preparing the squash
I chose to use an acorn squash for this salad because it’s one of my favourites and just happened to be what I had on hand. But, you can definitely substitute another variety if you prefer!
To begin, cut your squash in half and scoop out all of the seeds and guts using a spoon. Next, slice the squash into pieces that are about 1/4 of an inch thick, as shown in the photos below. I leave the skins on for extra fibre!
Place your slices on a baking sheet so that there is a bit of space around each piece. As I explained in the tips and tricks section of my Parmesan Roasted Broccoli post, when vegetables are overcrowded on a baking sheet, the amount of moisture that can escape as they cook becomes quite limited. This means the vegetables end up steaming rather than baking and can become way too mushy.
Once you have your slices arranged on the tray properly, drizzle them with olive oil. Be sure to cover each side well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and put those bad boys in the oven to bake! Flip the pieces halfway through your baking time for maximum crispiness.
Toasting the pecans
While the squash is roasting in the oven, you can toast your pecans quickly in a pan on the stovetop. I love to slightly toast any nut I’m using in a salad because the taste is super rich and the texture adds such a satisfying crunch to the dish. As an added bonus, toasted nuts make your kitchen smell incredibly inviting and just generally ah-maze-ing!
The key when toasting any nut is to be sure you don’t burn them! It can happen really quickly, so be sure to keep your eye on the pan. Pro tip: melt a bit of butter in the pan before adding your nuts to really bring out that oily glisten-y goodness! Guys, just LOOK at these beauties!
I kept things fairly simple and seasoned my toasted pecans with just a hint of salt. You could omit the seasoning altogether or add anything else your heart desires!
Rosemary is actually my favourite thing to season nuts with. If you’ve ever tried the combo, you know exactly what I’m talking about. But, for this winter salad, I think rosemary would actually overpower the flavour of the vegetables. So, I opted for something more subtle.
Assembling the rest of the ingredients
Now that you have your perfectly roasted squash and toasted pecans, it’s time to assemble the winter salad and bring it all together! This recipe is meant to make two generous sized salads that can stand alone as a lunch or as a large appetizer before dinner. If you prefer to serve it as a smaller side, though, simply halve the recipe.
Either way, divide your arugula evenly between two bowls. Add a few pieces of the roasted squash to the top of each salad so that they are spaced out as shown in the pictures below. Divide your goat cheese in half and place some between the pieces of squash. Next, split your toasted pecans between the two salads and fill the remaining spaces. Finally, sprinkle some pomegranate seeds on each salad for a beautiful pop of colour and drizzle your desired amount of lemon poppyseed dressing on top!
And just like that you have an incredibly healthy, super tasty, downright gorgeous salad prepared to keep you warm all through winter!
Modifications to my winter salad
As I mentioned, I chose to use an acorn squash for this recipe because it is one of my absolute favourites. It has a vibrant colour, perfect texture, and a taste that is neither too sweet nor too savoury.
If you have another variety of squash you prefer, go ahead and substitute it in for the acorn squash. Cooking times may vary depending on what squash you go for.
Similarly, I used pecans here because I think they go perfectly well with goat cheese. There’s also just something about pecans that reminds me of cozying up in the dead of winter. I think I probably owe that association to my mother’s pecan Christmas cookies she made each year.
Anyways! If you prefer another type of nut, go ahead and use it instead! I think walnuts would also work really well with this salad and would toast just as easily as pecans in a pan on the stove.
Finally, I know some people don’t love arugula. I will never understand this but, hey, no judgment! If you find the taste of arugula a bit too sharp, feel free to use a more mild green in its place like spinach.
If you’re looking for other ideas for dressing, try some of my favourites from other bloggers:
- Sunshine Salad Dressing by Cookie and Kate
- 5 Ingredient Cilantro Vinaigrette by Pinch of Yum
- Balsamic Almond Butter Dressing by Fit Mitten Kitchen
I would love to hear what you think of this winter salad and whether you’ve found any modifications that worked well for you! Share your comments and questions below, rate this recipe, and be sure to snap a photo of your creation and tag @thebespokebites on instagram for a chance to be featured in my stories!
Recipe Card powered by
Perfect Winter Salad
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Juice from one lemon; about 2–3 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon poppyseeds
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium sized Acorn squash (or your favourite alternative!)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup whole pecans
- 4 cups arugula
- 50g goat cheese
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds (arils)
- Preheat oven to 425.
- Cut the squash in half and remove all of the seeds from the centre. I leave the skins on, but feel free to peel the squash if you prefer. Slice squash into pieces that are about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the pieces evenly across a baking sheet so that some space remains between each. Cover each piece with olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove and flip each slice of squash. Return the tray to the oven for another 10-12 minutes, or until pieces are nicely browned around the edges.
- Melt butter in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add pecans to the pan and salt to taste. Toast the pecans in pan for 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously. Be careful not to burn them!
- Divide arugula between two bowls. Divide squash, pecans, goat cheese, and pomegranate seeds evenly between the two bowls. Top with lemon poppyseed dressing (instructions below) and enjoy!
For the dressing:
- Pour olive oil into a mason jar. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, poppyseeds, salt and pepper.
- Shake vigorously until ingredients are very well combined. Taste dressing and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- The lemon poppyseed dressing recipe will yield enough for two salads with a lot leftover! Place straight in the fridge in the mason jar you made it in.