Butternut Chickpea Tahini Salad

After literally tripping over piles of butternut squash in my mother’s garden, I found myself in the happy position of “inheriting” an abundance of squash. I mean there is a heap of squash in my kitchen. Getting free squash is like getting a Costco-sized jar of gummy vitamins. Delicious and good for you, and lasts forever. Who can complain?

Once, as a joke, I called it “squarsh” in passing. My boyfriend, who doesn’t eat squash, finds this very funny. It has officially been renamed “squarsh” in our household.

“Whatcha eating?” he once said when he came home from work. “Squarsh?”

Mismanagement of the English language aside, I have naturally been wondering what to do with my first butternut of the season. (Cheers to many more. And there likely will be many more as I am up to my ears in gourds.)

Squash and I are old friends, though I tend towards the same two methods of preparing it: either roasting it in cubes with root vegetables and tubers in olive oil and herbs or blending it into a soup. Not that there’s anything wrong with these methods. I’ve just fallen out of the “honeymoon” phase of our relationship, and was looking for a little something to spice things up.

After some internet digging, I found a recipe that ticked a lot of boxes for me–healthy fats, inclusion of protein, simplicity of ingredients, sweet/savory interplay–and, squash gets to be the main player. Plus, for those of you who are interested, this recipe also happens to be vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free.

I riffed on Orangette’s recipe and added my own twists here and there–but why fix it if it ain’t broke?

If you’ve got tahini in your fridge or cupboard and also find yourself in the serendipitous position of having an abundance of squash, you’ve really got no excuse not to make this recipe. (I say that lovingly, of course.) I bought a small jar of tahini just to make this recipe, and am newly obsessed. That bitter, off-putting flavor right up front opens up into a world of nutty, complex, savory deliciousness, if you can get past the hurdle of the first impression. What a fantastic ingredient! And I’ve heard tahini cookies are a thing, so….that will definitely be happening in my future.

Ever gotten curious about tahini? I hadn’t either, until recently. “Tahini” is a Greek word derived from the root verb “tahana” which means “to grind.” And yes, they DO grind the sesame to make a paste (duh!) but first they soak the seeds in salt water which separates the bran from the kernel. The bran sinks in the brine, and the rest is skimmed from the top, washed (dare I say “warshed”?), sometimes toasted, and ground into a precious, flavorful elixir.

Speaking of Greek, my dictionary.com word of the day is “pantophagous,” a Greek-derived word meaning “eating all kinds or a wide variety of foods!” Ain’t life a trip?

But back to the squarsh.

First, I gathered the ingredients…

featured is my beloved mandolin–just buy one already!

I used dried chickpeas, so soaked them 3 parts water to 1 part beans in a big jar the night before. Some people add baking soda (1 tsp per cup of beans) to the soaking water in order to remove the skins. The skins don’t bother me, though some people think they give you gas (whoops) so it’s really a matter of how much work you want to put in/how much you want to subject your friends and family to if you are sensitive to fiber.

I rinsed the beans in fresh water and put them in a pot with 2-3 inches covering them. I placed this over a low simmer with a bay leaf as I prepared the squash. (Alternatively, you can use a can of cooked chickpeas and skip this step entirely.)

dismembered gourd

I crushed up a giant clove of garlic with the side of my knife to release the juices and tossed this along with squash, spices, salt, and olive oil in a large bowl. As this mixture set, I swirled it around with my hands over the next 15 minutes to continue to incorporate that garlic flavor into the oil and “share the love.”

As this set, I preheated the oven, chopped my parsley, and macerated my peppers and red onion in lemon juice to soften them and remove some of their “bite.” I can’t do raw, untreated red onions, as much as I’d love to–I find them overpowering and it’s hard for me to enjoy the rest of the dish. They’re gorgeous though. Definitely the Miss America of onions, if you ask me. (Sorry Walla Walla Sweets–second place again!)

macerating onions and peppers rest at least 15 minutes! I let mine rest, turning intermittently and massaging, for about an hour.

Spread the squash on a medium to large baking sheet with garlic and roast for 30-45 minutes. This is all about you, though: pull the squash when it’s tender–but if you want gushy squash, turn the heat down to 350 and roast a while longer, say 15-30 minutes. If you want crispy edges on your squash like I did, roast at 425 for the full 45 or even a touch longer. (Note: if you want your squash to break down and incorporate into the dressing, roast low and slow. If you want distinct squash pieces coated in dressing, roast higher and faster. Choose your own adventure!)

While squash is roasting, the chickpeas should finish cooking. You want them bite-tender, but still holding their shape. Drain in a colander and rest. Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing…

A little goes a long way with tahini. If you want more subtle flavor, add more oil and/or water.
the dressing loosens up when you toss it in the hot veggies

Pull your squash from the oven, scrape into a large bowl and combine with chickpeas, drained onions and peppers, and most of the parsley, starting with 3 Tbs of the dressing and adding to taste.

Oh yes I think I will, please and thank you.

Gently mix everything together and serve. Keeps well in the fridge and is delicious cold. Can reheat in the microwave using a damp towel to cover, or on the stovetop in a small pot with a splash of water in the bottom (no more than 1/4 cup), stirring constantly. When the water is incorporated/has mostly evaporated, the salad should be warmed through.

yeah, I’m eating this for breakfast.

Tahini Butternut and Chickpeas (vegan, GF, DF, nut-free)

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s blog, “Orangette”

Vegetable Salad

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, smooshed with the flat edge of a knive
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2-3 Tbs olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, left overnight in a jar full of water (or, 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
  • ½ medium red onion, finely sliced with a knife or mandolin
  • 1 ½-2 serrano peppers, finely sliced with a knife or mandolin (if less heat is desired, scrape out the seeds and discard)
  • 3 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

Dressing

  • 1 medium garlic clove, pressed, minced, or pounded to a pulp in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (4 Tbs)
  • 3 Tbs stirred tahini
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 2 Tbs water
  • 3 Tbs olive oil

If using dried chickpeas, place in a jar with space for plenty of water and for the chickpeas to expand. If you want to remove the skins from the chickpeas, place 2 tsp baking soda in the jar and let sit at room temperature overnight. When ready to cook your chickpeas, drain and rinse, then roll them in between your hands to loosen the skins and slough them off. (Alternatively you can heat them with baking soda using this method.) Place the cleaned chickpeas in a large pot with 2-3 inches of water covering them. If desired, add a bay leaf and 3-4 generous pinches of salt. Bring mixture to a gentle boil over high heat then immediately lower to medium-low, simmering between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, or until beans are al dente. You want beans that are tender to bite through but still maintain their shape.

While beans are cooking, preheat oven to 425° F. As oven preheats, peel, seed, and cut your squash. Place squash chunks in a large bowl with the smashed garlic, spices, olive oil, and around 1 tsp of salt, or several three-fingered pinches. Mix with your hands until the spices are evenly distributed over the squash. Let sit at room temperature at least 10 minutes, occasionally stirring mixture with your hands or a wooden spoon in order to move the garlic flavor around the bowl.

While squash is “resting” in its seasonings, macerate the onions and peppers to take some of the bite out of their flavor: place both in a small bowl with 3 Tbs of lemon juice, gently massaging the juice into the slices. Let sit at least 15 minutes. (Note: this is most effective when veggie slices are quite thin.)

While the onions and peppers are soaking, assemble squash into a single layer on a medium baking sheet and bake between 30-45 minutes. I like a little caramelization on my squash so I bake longer for crispy edges. When squash is cooked to your liking, pull squash and allow to cool.

During this time, the chickpeas should finish cooking. Drain in a colander over the sink and let rest until you are ready to assemble the salad.

To make the tahini sauce, whisk garlic, lemon juice, and honey in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl. Add tahini and whisk. The mixture will thicken considerably. Add water and olive oil until desired texture and taste is reached. 

To assemble the salad: combine squash, chickpeas, macerated veggies (drain off the juice first!) and ¾ of the parsley, saving some for a garnish. Mix with your hands, or a wooden spoon if the mixture is too hot. (I like whole chunks of squash to remain intact, but if you’d like to mush a few pieces for texture, feel free!) Dollop in about 3 Tbs of the tahini dressing and stir to combine. Add more until desired consistency/taste is reached. 

This salad makes a very filling dinner, and beautiful lunches. I like to reheat mine with a damp paper towel over the bowl in the microwave, or by adding leftovers to a small pot with a splash of water over low heat on the stove. When the water has been incorporated into the sauce/has evaporated, the mixture should be warm and ready to eat. This salad is great as is but would be wonderful with fresh spinach or another robust green.

***

Please enjoy these photos of Apollo chewing on a raw butternut squash he found in the garden:

<3

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