Dark orange pie pumpkins, bright yellow and deep-golden acorn squash, juicy red and green apples, garnet yams… My kitchen is beginning to look like a fall cornucopia! I’ve always loved this time of year, and writing this blog and sharing my recipes has made me appreciate the harvest season’s produce even more. Everywhere I go, my senses are delighted by the rich colors, smells, and tastes of autumn. It’s the time of year for hot spiced apple cider, buttery oven-roasted squash, and freshly baked everything! I’m talking about warm pumpkin pie topped with cool, creamy, coconut whip and a generous dusting of nutmeg, fluffy cinnamon-spiced muffins, stacks of homemade ginger-molasses cookies, and loaves of fresh-from-the-oven bread. Oh, and gorgeous, bright, rainbow-hued salads with fresh, seasonal ingredients!
Wait, what? Salads, in the fall? With seasonal ingredients? Yes, indeedy! Just because we’ve said farewell to summer, along with its garden-fresh cucumbers, juicy ripe tomatoes, and crunchy lettuce, doesn’t mean we have to say adieu to tasty salads! By embracing some of this season’s specialties, like sweet potatoes, apples, and crunchy nuts and seeds, you can build a flavorful salad so good you won’t even miss those summer veggies. Even that hearty little green sweetheart, kale, grows well in the fall and can withstand temps as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. My recipe today combines all kinds of fall produce yumminess with warm smoky spices and a crunchy sweet seed/nut topping.
I first discovered this delicious salad about a year ago. I had invited some friends over and was looking for light lunch ideas to serve. A warm salad with red wine vinaigrette seemed like just the thing, and I served it over red quinoa. My pals absolutely loved it, saying things like “this is so good” and “why don’t I ever make salads like this?” It is the perfect healthy meal to share with friends or family before diving into that tray of warm ginger-molasses cookies.
I’ve made this salad quite a few times over the last year, making several changes to the original recipe to include some of my favorite flavors and ingredients. I really love the addition of apples in this salad, they add a nice, sweet, crispy crunch to offset the smoky spices. The cooked sweet potatoes and warmed vinaigrette soften the kale just enough to make it bright and tender. The tart dried cranberries and maple flavored crunchy nut and seed topping is a must! It adds another layer to this multi-dimensional, bursting with flavor, quintessential fall salad.
Of course, it’s full of healthy ingredients to fortify skin and hair. If you read my last post, you know all about the beautifying benefits of apples. Kale and sweet potatoes supply a hefty dose of vitamins A, C, E, K, and minerals like manganese and copper, all excellent for radiant skin. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of minerals like zinc, which is important for clear skin, and they contain L-tryptophan which can improve your mood and help you relax. Walnuts are another known beauty food, high in omega-3 fatty acids, copper, and manganese. Even the red onions provide additional lovely benefits. Onions are an excellent source of biotin, important for growing strong, healthy hair. They’re also high in sulfur, which is important for the development of connective tissue and helping skin retain its structural integrity (i.e. preventing slack, saggy skin). This salad is also a great source of plant-derived calcium and iron.
If you’re looking for a great salad to serve this fall, look no further! Try serving it atop red or rainbow quinoa for a heartier lunch. Or add a protein boost with some marinated tempeh or chickpeas and serve it for dinner. I hope you enjoy this autumn salad as much as we have!
Warm Smoky-Maple Kale Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Adapted from this recipe
Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a large entrée
4-5 cups washed and chopped kale (I used curly kale, but any variety would work)
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups of chopped apples (I used Gala)
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp pink Himalayan salt or sea salt
pinch of garlic powder
dash of cinnamon
dash of cayenne
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup raw pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (or almonds, pecans, etc.)
1/2 tsp maple syrup
1/8 tsp smoked paprika
pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup + 1 tsp olive oil divided
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce (use tamari for gluten-free, coconut aminos for soy-free)
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Dried sweetened cranberries
1. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. Add the chopped sweet potatoes and season with the smoked paprika, salt, garlic, cinnamon, and cayenne. Saute until just fork tender but not too soft, about 10-15 minutes depending on the size of your potato chunks. Lower the heat if they seem to be browning too quickly.
2. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the topping. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the walnuts, pepitas, smoked paprika, and salt. Stir, toasting the nuts and seeds just until golden. Remove from heat and stir in the maple syrup. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. As the topping cools, it will become crunchy.
3. To prepare the dressing, heat a teaspoon of oil in a separate skillet (or I just add it to the same pan that I used for the topping). Add the onions and saute for just a few minutes. Remove from heat and add in the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, and maple syrup. Whisk ingredients together for a moment, allowing the dressing to warm from the pan. Season with pepper if desired.
3. Add the chopped apples to the sweet potato mixture and stir just until warm, about a minute. Remove from heat.
4. Place the chopped kale in a large serving bowl and add the cooked sweet potato/apple mixture and the warm dressing and toss. Add the crunchy nut/seed topping and cranberries and quickly toss again to combine. Enjoy!