Here’s the epically long title I would like to give this recipe: Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Spinach, Cranberries, and Savory Nut Granola, with Warm Browned Butter Balsamic Dressing. A mouthful, but OH man. I am normally not a salad person AT ALL you guys, but this is a mic drop situation. It’s creamy and crunchy and bursting with fall holiday flavor. Make this salad for Thanksgiving or Christmas! You might not even need the turkey after this.
Table of Contents
- Honey roasted butternut squash salad
- Butternut squash salad ingredients
- How to make Butternut Squash Salad
- How do you cut a butternut squash for roasting?
- Make the dressing
- What to serve with roasted butternut squash salad
- How to store leftover salad with butternut squash
- Can you freeze it?
- Can you make it ahead of time?
- Frequently asked questions
- More amazing fall and holiday vegetable sides
- More salads that will knock your socks off
- Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Salad Recipe
I went to a new restaurant for dinner the other night. I was meeting my BFF Sarah, and we literally hadn’t seen each other in years, so we immediately dove deep into discussion of All The Things.
I honestly was not paying much attention to the food, but I was very hungry. So after our meal, when the waiter listed off their dessert items from memory and I heard “Lava Cake,” I ordered it, knowing it would be a safe choice. Chocolate? Check. Gooey? Check. Served with ice cream? Hopefully.
This restaurant though, it’s a little extra. My lava cake was delivered in record time with some chocolatey squishy things around the edge: a fancy garnish. I even pointed them out to Sarah with a chuckle, “These look like little turds.” Okay, I know, TMI, but it was 100% accurate.
I took a bite of the cake. A safe choice, as expected: it wasn’t amazingly well done but it was chocolate, for heaven’s sake. If you’re a woman at the end of a long day, you treat chocolate like cocaine, just snort and don’t ask questions about the quality.
I took a big bite of the weird garnish, let out a cry of dismay, and spit it out immediately. It had a terribly earthy flavor, spongey texture, and there was definitely no chocolate. We looked at the menu:
Rich Molten Lava Cake with Crispy Cocoa Rice and Shiitake Chutney.
Y’ALL THEY PUT MUSHROOMS ON MY LAVA CAKE
I thought I was safe!!! It’s lava cake!! What is even going on! gahh hahaha!!!
Well. I’m scarred for life now basically. There will be NO MUSHROOMS featured on the blog in the near future because of my trauma. 😂
For as anti-mushroom as I am feeling right now, I’m having the same level of passion (in the positive direction) for butternut squash. Tis the season right? Have piles of these hit your produce section at the market yet? I love this time of year. The time of year when I almost always toss a squash in my basket and a couple green apples so that I’m ready on any given weeknight to throw together this last minute Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. My favvvv.
Honey roasted butternut squash salad
But I’m branching out! I’ve always loved the gorgeous fall salads you see around this time of year and I wanted to create one of my own, with butternut and the nuts and the cheese and the green and all the goodies.
If I had to pick one favorite part of this salad, it would definitely be the dressing, because hello butter. Wait! No! It would have to be the savory granola. I basically proved it was my favorite thing by eating it for lunch today and nothing else (So snackable, guys. WHY is savory granola not more of a thing??) I’m obsessed, just look at this:
Or maybe my actual favorite part is the fresh sage and cranberries that garnish this salad. It’s Thanksgiving time my friends, and we are not messing around when it comes to garnishes. BRING ON THE FRESH!!
But I forgot to mention the salad’s namesake, honey roasted butternut. With the warmed cranberries? YOU GUYS!! It’s all just so good.
I’m not really much of a salad person. I only like salad when there are some amazing things that distract from all the lettuce. This recipe DELIVERS. Let’s review:
- honey roasted butternut squash
- brown butter balsamic dressing
- savory granola
- Dried AND fresh cranberries
- fresh sage
You usually don’t see butter in a salad dressing, and I’m just here to say, why the heck not?? I add butter to everything, even things that already taste good by themselves, so why wouldn’t I add it to my spinach? Seems like we’ve been missing out up til now 😂
This salad is your fall flavor dreams come true, all in one giant bowl! I’ve been eating it for lunch all week. It would be perfect for your Thanksgiving table, or for your November lunch meal preps.
Butternut squash salad ingredients
This looks like a long list but I PROMISE this salad is easier than it looks, especially if you make the granola ahead of time. Take a look at what you will need, but be sure to check out the recipe card for ingredient amounts and instructions.
- egg white
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- old fashioned oats
- shelled pistachios
- pine nuts
- butternut squash
- brown sugar
- balsamic vinegar
- dijon mustard
- baby spinach
- dried cranberries
- parmesan cheese
- fresh sage, to garnish
- fresh cranberries, to garnish
How to make Butternut Squash Salad
First we’re going to start with this insanely good savory granola! I have NO idea why this type of thing is not featured on salads more often. Nuts on salads, sure, but nuts stuck together in a spicy-sweet honey nectar and then roasty-toastied?? Yeah man.
You can use basically any nut combo you want. I used whole walnuts, pistachios, and pine nuts (pecans and pumpkin seeds would also be amazing). Don’t skip the oats, they bring it all together! There is also sage, cayenne, and salt. You can swap the sage for literally any herb you fancy.
Then add in an egg white (this is what makes it stick together), some honey, and oil. Stir it up!
Spread it on a pan and bake while you chop up your squash! (You can even make this granola up to 3 days ahead! Perfect for Thanksgiving! You can make the dressing ahead too, see notes in the recipe card.)
How do you cut a butternut squash for roasting?
Now let’s dig into this butternut! First we’re gonna skin him NEKED.
Feel free to play Justin Timberlake’s “Rock your Body” while you complete this task. We will have this butternut naked by the end of this song. ok ok sorry
Chop it in half and scoop out the guts. Use a canning jar lid for this! I can’t tell you how much time this will save you! The edges are a little sharp, and they cut the edge of the flesh SO much better than a spoon. (Also please ignore my glove. I have a very weird skin allergy to butternuts and pumpkins! Crazy right??)
Slice and dice. I like to make my pieces about 1 inch square, easy bite size.
I used a nearly-3-pound butternut squash and got about 7-8 cups. Seems like a lot, but remember, after roasting, it will be about half this volume.
Measure your oil before your honey, then the honey just slides right out, no scraping.
Spread it out on a sheet pan and roast it up until tender!
Make the dressing
I’m telling you, I don’t know why we don’t make more salad dressings with butter. It’s SO GOOD. Especially when it’s browned! Have you ever browned butter? It’s easy, so easy. The easiest way to get flavor that punches you in the mouth! In a good way.
You want to cook the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it foams, and then keep going. Once you see brown swirls coming up from the bottom (top picture) it’s brown. Take it off the heat. Once the foam has calmed down, you will be able to see the browned bits at the bottom.
Whir this goodness in a blender with some balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and a shallot. It’s super easy! Leave it in the blender until you are ready to serve, (to spin it one last time) and be prepared to reheat if necessary. This dressing solidifies at room temperature, and it must be served warm (not hot!) to be able to drizzle it over the salad.
Now it’s time to assemble! Add all the ingredients to a serving bowl and voila! Salad heaven.
What to serve with roasted butternut squash salad
This salad has a lot going on, so it works great on its own as a main course or as a side dish to any number of mains! Here are some ideas on what to pair this butternut squash salad recipe with.
- This salad would make an AMAZING side to bring to any holiday or fall get together – it would work especially well as a side for Thanksgiving or Christmas!
- Add some simple grilled/baked meat and you’ve got a well-balanced meal. You can try Simply Amazing Grilled Chicken, Lemon Tarragon Grilled Chicken, or some Easy Baked Pesto Chicken. If you prefer pork, try making Brown Sugar Balsamic Pork Tenderloin (Crock Pot)
- Serve alongside some simple ravioli or Easy Caramelized Gnocchi (just skip the topping) for a meatless but hearty dinner
- A good bread goes a long way to making a meal feel complete. Try serving up some Sweet and Moist Cornbread, Garlic and Rosemary Skillet Bread, or Jiffy Corn Casserole to round out a dinner with this salad
How to store leftover salad with butternut squash
This salad is best eaten right away after putting it all together. If you aren’t sure you’ll eat it all, I suggest only tossing together half of everything for serving. You can then save the rest, putting each part of the salad in its own sealed tupperware and storing them in the fridge. You can count on the ingredients staying fresh for another 2-3 days max. The exception to this is the granola, which can stay in its tupperware on the counter for 1-2 weeks. To serve, just combine all the different parts together, making sure to warm the dressing a bit in the microwave (it will solidify in the refrigerator). Whisk to recombine if needed.
Can you freeze it?
Heck to the no! Who freezes salad? You guys are weird. jk jk. BUT! you can freeze the butternut.
To freeze cooked butternut squash, flash freeze on a cookie sheet and then add the cubes to a freezer ziplock bag. It will last in the freezer 3-6 months, but chances are when it thaws the squash will be more mashed than in cubes. Roast them in a 400 degree oven til cooked to how hot/crispy you like them. You could also freeze the dressing in a freezer ziplock bag. Let it thaw in the fridge overnight or a few hours on the counter, then warm in microwave. You can also freeze the granola in a freezer ziplock bag. It will be ready to eat within a few hours of sitting out on the counter.
Can you make it ahead of time?
Yes totally! This is a great salad to prep before the holidays.
You can make the granola and dressing up to 3 days in advance. Store the granola sealed on the counter, keep the dressing in the fridge. You must reheat the dressing (microwave is fine) before serving.
You can also make the butternut squash ahead of time: Cook as directed, but leave the squash a little “al dente”. Store in the fridge for up to 2 days, then on the day you are serving, spread the squash on a pan and roast at 400 until warmed through, maybe 5-8 minutes.
Alternatively, you can peel and chop the raw squash up to 3 days ahead of time, storing it well sealed in the fridge. Then add honey and oil to roast on the day you serve, just as instructed. Assemble the salad as usual!
Frequently asked questions
Butternut squash is what’s known as a “winter squash”. It ripens and is more widely available in the fall and winter as opposed to summer squash like zucchini. When picking a butternut squash at the store, be sure to choose one that has hard skin and is a uniform tan or orange color. Avoid anything with any light or dark green spots or anything that is a creamy white (it will not be ripe) or a squash with any soft spots (it will be overripe or rotten).
You can actually cook butternut squash either way! When roasting small cubes like in this recipe, it’s definitely best to peel and chop the squash prior to cooking. You can also just cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the guts, roast the halves, and scoop out the flesh once fully cooked, like in this Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. Both peeling and not peeling the skin can work, it all just depends on what the recipe calls for!
Butternut squash has a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavor and matches perfectly with all the warm flavors of fall and winter. Think of spices like cumin, cinnamon, sage, nutmeg, bay leaf. It can be dressed up sweeter with some maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar. It’s great with pasta, rice, farro, or really any grain. Some good meats that pair well are chicken, pork, sausage, and particularly a good smoky bacon. Fall fruits like apples, pears, and pomegranates, and other produce like onion, garlic, carrots, corn, sweet potato, spinach, kale and more go beautifully with butternut squash. The Brown Butter Balsamic Dressing or any good vinaigrette all pair nicely, as well as Gruyere, sharp cheddar, or feta cheese.
There are so many more ways than three! Roast bite size pieces on a baking sheet and eat by itself as a side, or add the roasted squash to dishes like the salad in this recipe or Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Goat Cheese Crostini. You can add chopped squash to be cooked in a dish like Butternut Squash, Cranberry, and Lentil Stuffing or Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Risotto with Italian Sausage. You can puree cooked squash and add it to soups like Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, or add to a pasta or casserole sauce. You can even make “mashed butternut squash” with just some butter, salt and pepper. Please, whatever you choose to do, do NOT limit yourself to just three!!
You can eat it hot or cold, however you prefer! The key here is that no matter the temperature, it definitely needs to be cooked to eat it. I love to serve the squash in this salad warm(ish), the first time, but I ate all the leftovers cold and it was super tasty!
More amazing fall and holiday vegetable sides
This wonderful season has some of the BEST vegetable sides. So savory, so full of flavor! It’s really hard to choose what to make! Here are some ideas to get you going.
- Best Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Roasted Sweet Potatoes Recipe >> make ahead, and you are going to absolutely LOVE the flavors in this dish!
- Sautéed Carrots and Shallots with Thyme >> so unbelievably easy and that classic “holiday” flavor
- Roasted Red Potatoes in Oven >> Tender insides, crispy outsides, and irresistible flavor
- Strawberry Cucumber Salad with Honey Balsamic Dressing >> another light and bright salad that will freshen up and go well with just about any fall or holiday meal
- Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms from Ahead of Thyme
More salads that will knock your socks off
For me, salad is just a vehicle for all the yummy toppings. Check out these amazing
- Green Salad with Feta and Beets (The Fanciest No-Chop Salad Ever) >> so easy you could make it in your sleep, but FULL flavor
- Apple Gorgonzola Salad (Buca di Beppo Copycat) >> another great fall salad – apples, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and more!
- Raspberry Avocado Salad with Poppyseed Dressing >> a perfectly light salad that can go with just about any main dish
- Grilled Tomato, Basil & Mozzarella Salad (Caprese Salad Recipe) >> you won’t believe how delicious grilled tomatoes and ciabatta are in a salad!
- Pineapple Spinach Salad >> one of my favorites! Such a fun twist on the strawberry spinach standby
- Everyday Salad from Gimme Some Oven
Honey Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
For the savory granola:
- 1 large egg white
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sage
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
For the butternut squash:
- 1 (3 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Brown Butter Balsamic Dressing
- 3/4 cup butter, 1 and 1/2 sticks
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 small shallot
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, to taste
To assemble the salad
- 10 ounces baby spinach, or more to taste
- 1 cup dried cranberries, (warmed in the oven with the squash)
- 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
- fresh sage, to garnish
- fresh cranberries, to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Get out two large rimmed half baking sheets and spray with nonstick spray.
- Make the Savory Granola: (Note: you can make this granola up to 3 days ahead.) In a large bowl, add 1 large egg white and use a fork to beat it for about 30 seconds, until it is nice and foamy. Add the remaining wet ingredients and spices: 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon sage, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Stir it together again with the fork.
- Add the dry ingredients: 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup old fashioned oats, 1/2 shelled cup pistachios, and 1/2 cup pine nuts. Stir it all together with a rubber spatula, then pour it onto a greased half baking sheet. (Save the bowl, don't wash it!) Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the nuts are browning and the smell just about knocks you out.
- Make the Honey Roasted Butternut Squash: Meanwhile, peel and chop up your butternut squash. See photos in the post. I like to use a canning jar lid to scrape the seeds out, it's so much easier! Chop the butternut into about 1 inch pieces, or whatever size looks good to you for eating in a salad.
- In the same large bowl that you made the granola in (no need to clean it), add all the chopped butternut squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir it together, then add to the other prepared baking sheet, spreading into an even layer.
- Turn the heat on the oven up to 400 degrees F.* Bake the squash at 400 for about 15 minutes, then toss with a spatula to flip each squash. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until a fork inserted into a butternut slides through easily. The edges of the butternut should be getting golden brown. Total bake time is about 25 minutes or longer, depending on the size of your chop.
- About 5 minutes before your squash is done baking, add 1 cup dried cranberries to the pan and stir. (This makes them warm and soft for serving)
- Make the dressing: Add 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) salted butter to a small saucepan, and turn the heat to medium. Stir the butter as it melts, and keep stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. The butter will melt, then start to foam, then eventually turn brown, with little brown bits swirling at the bottom. It should smell nutty and fragrant (not burned or acrid.) Remove from the heat immediately once you see swirls of brown in the foam when you stir. Set aside to let cool for about 5 minutes.
- In a blender, add 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 small shallot (roughly chopped), 2 teaspoons dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Blend until mostly smooth. Then, with the blender on low speed, add the browned butter in a stream through the jar lid center cap. Adjust seasonings to taste, and thin with up to 2 tablespoons warm water, if desired.
- Leave the dressing in the blender to cool slightly until you are about to serve, whirring it one more time just before scraping it out into a serving dish.**
- Assemble the salad: In a large serving bowl, add about 10 ounces baby spinach. Add a few tablespoons of the warm dressing (not hot! you don't want it to wilt) and toss lightly.
- Add the roasted butternut squash and warmed cranberries. Add as much of the savory granola as you like (you don't need to use all of it), and toss. Top the salad with freshly shaved parmesan to taste, fresh sage leaves, and a handful or two of fresh cranberries.***
- Pass the warm dressing at the table for guests to serve themselves.
- Storage: This salad is best eaten right away! If you don't think you will eat it all, only toss the salad with the amounts of ingredients that you think you will eat right away. Store any leftover dressing in a tupperware, and microwave before using again (it will solidify). Store each salad component separately in a tupperware in the fridge. Except for the granola: Extra granola will keep on the counter, sealed well, for about 1-2 weeks.
- Make ahead instructions: You can make the granola and dressing up to 3 days in advance. Store the granola sealed on the counter, keep the dressing in the fridge. You must reheat the dressing (microwave is fine) before serving. You can also make the butternut squash ahead of time: Cook as directed, but leave the squash a little "al dente". Store in the fridge for up to 2 days, then on the day you are serving, spread the squash on a pan and roast at 400 until warmed through, maybe 5-8 minutes.Alternatively, you can peel and chop the raw squash up to 3 days ahead of time, storing it well sealed in the fridge. Then add honey and oil to roast on the day you serve, just as instructed. Assemble the salad as usual!