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Okay. I’m back home in Stockholm now, again feeling like I’m catching my breath after a crazy whirlwind week in Vancouver. It was a great, busy, beautiful, sad, and happy week, and I’m so glad I went, but that’s all for another post. I arrived home to Stockholm on Wednesday evening feeling both very at home and very homesick. It’s a strange feeling, one that I’m sure anyone who has lived as an expat at some point has experienced. A couple of days back at work and in my regular routine and the homesick feelings are fading to the background; settled feelings are taking the forefront again.

This spicy squash and lentil salad is something I’ve been making a lot lately. It’s a Bon Appetit recipe that Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted an adaptation of a while back. This version is an adaptation of her adaptation. A little while ago I made it for dinner for one of the families I work for. Then they asked me to make it again. And then they had a dinner party and asked if I could make it. And then they had another party and asked if I could make it again. And then they asked for it again. You get the picture.

I’ve made this enough times now that the recipe is committed to memory – my version anyways. And I’ve made it enough times that I’ve figured out some do’s and don’ts. Don’t cut the squash into teeny, pretty cubes. They’ll turn into mush. Do cut the squash into one inch cubes like the recipe suggests. They’ll turn out pretty much perfect. If your oven has a convection setting, do call it into action. You’ll get a spicy crust on the outside of your squash cubes and a tender middle. Do make the extra effort to roast the seeds from the squash and toss them in the salad. You won’t regret it.

Spicy Squash and Lentil Salad Recipe:

A few quick words about substitutions: if you can’t find butternut squash, another winter squash could easily stand in it’s place. If you don’t have time to scoop out and roast the seeds from your squash or if your squash didn’t yield very many seeds then you could sub in roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. You want to use a sturdy lentil here. I used small green lentils, but I would have happily used beluga or du puy in their place. Don’t use brown or red lentils; they won’t hold their shape. Please give the instructions a read through before you start; many things are happening simultaneously.

Serves 4 as a main, more as a side.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Bon Appetit

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1 butternut squash (mine was 900g before I opened it up)

1 cup small green lentils, picked over and rinsed

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp salt

200g feta cheese, cubed

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup roasted seeds from your squash

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Preheat your oven to 200C / 400F. If your oven has a convection setting, use it.

Peel the squash and split it in half, scooping the seeds out and reserving them for roasting. Cut the squash into 1 inch cubes, and spread them out on a baking sheet in an individual layer. Drizzle olive oil over the squash and add the cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne, and salt. Use your hands to mix everything together so the squash is well coated. Set in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove, turn the squash over, and then roast for another 15 minutes. The outside of the cubes should be crispy and the inside tender. Set aside to cool slightly.

If you are roasting the seeds from your squash, separate them from the stringy bits and give them a bit of a rinse. Pat dry with paper towels, then spread out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set in the oven with the roasting squash. Keep a close eye on them, stirring frequently. Pull them out of the oven when they’re fragrant and have a bit of a crunch to them – about 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt it generously, then add the lentils. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes. At this stage start checking the lentils often. They should be just al dente, not mushy when they’re finished. Drain and rinse well with cold water.

In a large bowl combine well-drained lentils with the squash, scraping any remaining oil and spice off of the sheet the squash was roasting on into the bowl. Add the cubed feta and roasted seeds, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Toss everything gently, then taste and decide if you want to add extra vinegar or salt; I often do.

Serve this salad on it’s own, or over a bed of leafy greens.

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Know what you’re eating: what’s good about this? Winter squash are rich in carotenoids, a precursor to vitamin A, and are a good source of vitamin C. It is also a very good source of dietary fiber. The seeds, when consumed in moderation, are a great source of healthy oils including linoleic acid (polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (the same monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil). Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. They are a great source of dietary fiber,manganese, iron, and protein. Feta cheese is a source of calcium and protein, but it also brings along a fair share of fat and salt, from the brine. Enjoy it in moderation.

All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2012

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