Apples = Autumn to me. The signs are everywhere – the days are cooler, evening settles in sooner, and kids are back in school. It must be apple season.
One of the earliest cultivated fruits, the apple has come a long way from its crabapple-like ancestors. Careful cultivation has transformed those original small, sour apples into large, sweet fruits. Grown in many parts of the globe, modern apples come in more than 7,500 varieties, representing a number of different shapes, colors and flavors.
Apples are probably the most consumed fruit in the western world, having found a home in both sweet and savory dishes. And on their own, unpeeled, they are the original ‘fast food’, containing a good amount of vitamins A and C and fiber.
Besides their ancient history, excellent shelf life and health benefits, apples are one of the most versatile of all fruits when it comes to cooking. Apples shine in cakes, jams, pies, sauces and even meat dishes and stews and also play well with other foods and flavors. What’s your favorite apple dish?
My favorite way to eat apples is out-of-hand, with peanut butter slathered on slices, or with firm aged cheeses like manchego, sharp white cheddar, or parmigiano reggiano. But when the wonderful folks at Frieda’s Specialty Produce sent me four different varieties of heirloom apples to play with, I knew they were expecting more : ) I couldn’t tell them I ate all the Cox Pippin, King David, Roxbury and Ashmead apples just as they are. So when a friend of mine sent me a link to a Fig’s restaurant recipe from the L.A. Times that exuded autumn goodness and was healthy to boot, I wasted no time in giving one of the green Roxbury’s a chance to pair its crisp, bright tartness with earthy quinoa and sweet butternut squash.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term: “Heirloom” refers to varieties dating back to earlier periods in human history. There are hundreds of Heirloom Apple varieties and all of Frieda’s heirloom apples are organic. Please enjoy this satisfying and healthy autumn-inspired salad, full of good-for-you vegetables, fiber-rich quinoa and crisp apples tossed with an ambrosial orange vinaigrette, it’s gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, and vegan!
Autumn Apple, Quinoa & Butternut Squash Salad
A satisfying autumn-inspired salad of warm quinoa tossed with crisp, tart heirloom apples, luscious butternut squash and an orange ambrosial vinaigrette.
Total time: About 1 hour Servings: 4-6
Orange Ambrosia vinaigrette:
1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh squeezed
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
1/3 cup Chaparral Gardens Winter Ambrosia vinegar*
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Whisk together the orange juice and honey and then the vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed. This makes about 1 cup of dressing, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the dressing should keep for about 5 days, refrigerated.
*Chaparral Gardens Winter Ambrosia Fruit Vinegar starts with fresh hand picked apples and pears grown on their Central California organic farm. I am in love with it and it’s a true seasonal treat for the holidays. White balsamic may be substituted. Clover or orange blossom honey is ideal.
1 cup roasted butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups cooked Alter Eco Royal Black quinoa*
1 cup haricots vert, ends trimmed
1 large firm green apple*, peeled and cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup Swiss chard, ribs removed and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons Marcona almonds
Toasted sliced almonds, garnish
*Alter Eco’s Royal Black quinoa is organic with a wild, intense flavor and is the crunchiest of the quinoa varieties – red quinoa may be substituted. I used Roxbury Heirloom apples from Frieda’s Produce, Granny Smith’s are more readily available and can be substituted, but apples are in season so look around for an heirloom for a new taste experience!
To roast the squash and assemble the salad:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Most instructions tell you to peel the squash first – I have a difficult time with this for some reason and prefer to cut the flesh from the peel after it has been roasted. Place on a sprayed rimmed baking sheet, cut side down. Roast for 45 minutes or until squash is soft when pricked with a fork. Remove from oven, after it has cooled you can easily remove the cooked squash from the peel with large spoon or by running a knife between the flesh and skin. Then cut into cubes.
Alternately, some markets carry already peeled/seeded/cubed squash for your convenience. In a medium bowl, toss the squash cubes with 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes, tossing every 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then set the warm squash in a medium bowl.
2. While the squash is roasting, prepare the quinoa according to package directions*.
3. Blanch the haricots vert or green beans. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots vert and blanch quickly to bring out the color, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain the vegetables, then quickly shock in a bowl of ice water. Remove from the ice bath and set aside.
4. In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat. Add the beans, cubed apple and Swiss chard together with one-fourth teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Saute, tossing frequently, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, adding one-fourth cup vinaigrette toward the end to deglaze the pan. Add beans, apple and chard to the squash in the bowl.
5. Toss the warm quinoa and Marcona almonds in the bowl with the squash. Dress with additional vinaigrette as desired and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Cook’s Note: Since my husband is on a salt restriction, I added no salt to the salad or vinaigrette and leave it to individuals to add at the table.)
6. Mound the warm salad on 4 plates, drizzling over additional vinaigrette if desired. Garnish with the toasted almonds. Serve immediately.
*The ratio of liquid to quinoa is similar to rice – 1 cup quinoa to 1 ½ cup liquid. For some reason I have purchased brands that direct you to use 2+ cups liquid – this results in soggy quinoa. Yuck. So, to be clear: bring 1 ½ cup water or vegetable broth to a simmer over high heat, stir in 1 cup rinsed quinoa Lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.