Spicy butternut squash and couscous salad
This Moroccan spiced salad pitches colourful butternut squash against rubbly couscous with feta and rocket. I’ve served it to girlfriends as a main dish, at barbecues as a side salad and it makes a great healthy lunch box, too. The caramelized squash is the perfect foil for the acidic feta with added crunch from the pine nuts and almonds. I have to admit, it’s a hybrid recipe: part Jamie Oliver’s spicy roasted squash, part Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s couscous with honey and cinnamon, plus a few of my own additions (namely the feta and pine nuts). Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients – you do have to fry an onion and roast the squash, but it’s more of an assembly job, really. For a final flourish, add a pop of colour with a scattering of jewel-like pomegranate seeds.
For the squash
- 1 medium/large butternut squash (1-11/2kg/2-3lb)
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 small dried chillies (or to taste)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium red onions
For the couscous
- 75g blanched almonds
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 300g couscous
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 600ml chicken stock
- Grated zest of 1/2 fresh lemon
- A good squeeze of lemon juice
For the salad
- 50g pine nuts
- A few handfuls of rocket
- 200g feta cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1-2 lemons
- A small bunch of coriander
- Firstly, prepare the squash. Wash and peel the squash, then cut it in half with a large, sharp knife (cut the squash on the flat edge to make the job safer and more straightforward). Remove the seeds from the squash with a large spoon. Cut the squash lengthways into quarters and then cut the quarters in half – you should have approximately 2.5cm/1in thick, long wedges of squash. Put them into a large bowl.
- Put all the dried herbs and spices into a pestle and mortar and pound them up with salt and pepper to make a fine powder. Add the garlic clove and grind it into the spices. Scrape out the contents into the bowl with the squash and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Toss the squash thoroughly in this herb and spice mixture, making sure that all the pieces are well coated.
- Cut the red onion into thick slices and place in a baking tray, followed by the squash pieces arranged in a line. Drizzle over some olive oil. Roast in the oven at 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 30 minutes, or until tender (ideally, the squash should still retain some ‘bite’) and lightly caramelized. When it is cooked, cut the squash into bite-size cubes and put to one side with the onion.
- Next, prepare the couscous. Put the almonds in a dry frying pan and toast over a medium heat for a few minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Leave to cool and chop roughly.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the onion, garlic and some salt and pepper and sweat gently for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the cinnamon, then take off the heat and stir in the couscous. Stir the honey into the stock until dissolved, then pour over the couscous (it should just cover it) and put a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Leave for 10 minutes, until the couscous has swollen up and absorbed all the liquid. Fluff it up with a fork, transfer to a large salad bowl and leave to cool.
- While the couscous is soaking, toast the pine nuts in a small dry frying pan over a gentle heat. They should be a light, golden shade. Keep turning them in the pan so that they colour all over and don’t catch. Put them in a bowl to cool.
- To assemble the salad: scatter a few handfuls of rocket leaves over the couscous, followed by the roasted squash, red onion, cubes of feta cheese and lastly the pine nuts.
- Drizzle over plenty of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice (to taste).
- Just before serving, chop up the coriander and scatter over the salad.