In writing about Thanksgiving side dishes, it occurred to me that I should share one of my favorite grain salad recipes, which I have made for Thanksgivings past and regularly serve at any fall/winter brunch. Here’s the story behind this holiday-worth salad. Several years ago Bouchon Bakery had a fall salad that knocked my socks off. It was a farro-based grain salad, with balsamic roasted butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts and creamy goat cheese. It had the perfect combo of textures (chewy, crunchy, creamy) and flavor (sweet and salty). When they took the dreamy fall salad off the menu, I went in search of a similar recipe to recreate the dish at home. Luckily, one of my favorite food bloggers, Heidi Swanson over at 101 Cookbooks, came up with a similar recipe, trading the hazelnuts for walnuts (which are actually much easier to prepare – no skins to contend with). I’ve adapted it a bit, and this grain salad has become an absolute staple in my repertoire. I like to serve it with brunch or even as a side for Thanksgiving – particularly good for any vegetarians at the table because it’s so hearty. Every time I serve it to rave reviews (and secretly hope for leftovers for lunch). This is one of those recipes that people always ask for.
I roast the squash and toast the nuts a few days in advance so the salad comes together quickly when I go to serve it. The recipe has evolved over the years and I now serve it using brown rice instead of farro because it’s easier to find and gluten-free, but you can also use barley (pearled) in this salad with good results. Don’t overcook the rice – its important for the grains to be intact.
Brown Rice Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese
2 cups brown rice
4 cups water (or stock)
3 cups butternut squash, cut into ½” pieces
1 large shallot cut into quarters
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup walnuts, deeply toasted
3 tablespoons toasted walnut oil (or more olive oil)
¼ cup goat cheese, crumbled
1. Preheat oven to 375. Combine brown rice and water in large saucepan or rice cooker; cook according to package directions. Cool slightly and set aside.
2. While the rice is cooking, toss squash, shallot and thyme with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a couple big pinches of salt on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Arrange in a single layer and place in oven for about 20 minutes, tossing the squash and shallots every 5-7 minutes to get browning on multiple sides. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and mince cooked shallots (reserve a few slices for garnishing, if you would like).
3. In a large bowl gently toss everything other than the goat cheese (except the goat cheese) with toasted walnut oil (or olive oil). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish and top with crumbled goat cheese and reserved slices of shallot (if using).
Serves 8 as a side (4 as an entrée).