Wild rice salad with tahini-roasted butternut squash and creamy pomegranate dressing

 

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Like so many of my favorite meals, this hearty winter salad started with a chance pantry encounter — I accidentally knocked a half-full bag of Rancho Gordo wild rice off the top shelf while trying to reach a can of coconut milk (luckily the attempt ended with neither the rice nor the coconut milk bouncing off my head). Rather than lug over the step-stool to reposition said bag of rice in a more favorable spot, I tossed it (minus the bag) into a small pot of salted boiling water to cook for a while, assuming that a plan for what to do with it would come to me later. Because since when is having a batch of cooked whole grains in the fridge a bad idea?

A little later the idea of a simple, warm salad arrived, and going with what was in the pantry and refrigerator I decided to pair the chewy, nutty wild rice with earthy and tender tahini-roasted squash, crisp sprouted pumpkin seeds, rich and resiny toasted pine nuts, sweet currants, briny salt-cured capers, verdant fresh parsley, and juicy pomegranate jewels. A fantastic combination of flavors and textures to wake up those winter-dulled taste buds!

Drizzled with a bright dressing featuring tangy pomegranate molasses, tahini, and grainy mustard, this is an entree-worthy salad I’m going to be returning to again and again. It makes a delicious plant-based meal on its own, and would also be a perfect side with the protein of your choice. And while you’re in the kitchen it might be a good idea to make a double batch of that dressing — it keeps in the fridge for several days and is wonderful on salads of all kinds.

Wild rice salad with tahini-roasted butternut squash and creamy pomegranate dressing

Dairy-free, gluten-free, Vegan

Serves 2 as an entree, 4 as a side

1 cup wild rice, rinsed

1 small butternut squash, seeded, peeled and diced into 3/4-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons unsalted tahini

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon gomasio (or 1 tablespoon sesame seeds + 1/4 teaspoon salt)

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons dried currants

1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped

1/2 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup pomegranate arils

pomegranate dressing (see below)

salt and black pepper, as needed

—–

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a saucepan combine wild rice, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is tender but not mushy, 45 to 50 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a bowl combine squash, tahini, olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and gomasio (or sesame seeds + salt). Transfer to baking sheet, spreading out into a single layer. Bake until tender, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

In a large bowl combine rice, squash, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, currants, capers, parsley, and half of the pomegranate arils. Drizzle about half of the dressing (recipe below) over the mixture and toss gently to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature drizzled with remaining dressing and sprinkled with remaining pomegranate arils.

Creamy Pomegranate Tahini Dressing

1 tablespoon tahini

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon grainy mustard

salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small jar, secure lid and shake until smooth and creamy. Add  1 to 2 teaspoons water if needed to achieve a pourable consistency. Season with salt to taste. Store tightly covered and chilled and use within 5 days.

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