Warm Lentil Salad with Butternut Squash and Brown Butter Vinaigrette
As I shared a few weeks back, I took on an elimination eating plan a few months ago. One of the things I found most difficult about the diet was the elimination of olives, which also meant olive oil. Yikes! – a mainstay of my California style cooking, not to mention my almost every day go-to salad dressing oil.
Coming up with interesting sauces and dressings for salads was a real challenge and required thinking outside my box. Fortunately, canola and grapeseed oils were acceptable, if not too exciting. I experimented with various premium nut oils, like hazelnut and walnut – okay, mostly to be consumed in small quantities, and also not an option I particularly loved. And a tahini dressing was on the table occasionally. One of the most surprisingly pleasant dressings I experimented with, though, was a brown butter vinaigrette (fortunately, dairy was only mildly restricted). It may not be the most suitable for light lettuce salads, but I found it quite a yummy option for other kinds of salads.
I came up with this legume and vegetable salad for a neighborhood Christmas potluck, and found myself devouring the leftovers in the days afterwards. Besides lentils, a main ingredient in the salad is roasted butternut squash, an item I fell in love with while on this eating plan – and okay, it didn’t hurt that the salad is studded with crispy cubes of pancetta, either. But one has to splurge a bit on luxurious ingredients when there are so many to avoid. Thankfully, one of New Orleans’ most long time and famed Italian groceries, Central Grocery, has wonderfully meaty pancetta.
A bonus tip- lentils are the Italian equivalent of Southerners’ black-eyed peas, eaten at the New Year for luck and prosperity. So enjoy this lucky out of the box salad soon!
If you really feel a salad needs greens, a few arugula leaves tossed into this salad works great, too.
- @ 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 ounces meaty pancetta, medium dice
- 1 medium to large butternut squash, medium dice
- 1 pound cooked lentils,
- 1/2 large red onion, medium dice
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/2 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Toss the butternut squash cubes in about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and roast in the oven at 375 degrees, until tender about 10 minutes.
- Heat the remaining oil in a medium saute pan, then add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat until it's lightly browned and crisp. Remove from the pan leaving the fat.
- Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and add the red onions, cooking slowly until slightly caramelized. Then remove the pan from the heat.
- Add the butter to a small sauce pan and cook until it begins to bubble and turn a medium nutty brown. Watch it carefully, as it can burn in a few seconds after it gets to its perfect nutty brown state.
- Add the vinegar and mustard to a large mixing bowl, then slowly whisk in the browned butter.
- Toss the lentils, butternut squash, red onions, thyme and sage in the brown butter vinaigrette. Gently stir in or top with the pancetta. Serve while still warm.