A hearty butternut squash chicken salad with candied nuts, feta cheese, and a zesty lemon poppyseed dressing
I’m really into the concept of food freedom and eating what I’m craving. I haven’t always been this way, though. There was definitely a time in my life (back in high school) when I thought a salad was the only thing I should order at a restaurant.
It’s been a process over the years of figuring out how to fuel my body in a way that makes me feel good and also honoring cravings when they hit. Now that I don’t restrict what I eat, I generally feel the freedom to eat what I’m craving, eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full.
Like earlier this week- it was my 22nd birthday (woohoo!) and I met my mom at the Cheesecake Factory that’s halfway between campus and my parent’s house to have lunch together. I got the dinner-sized portion of the four-cheese pasta for lunch, ate till I was full, and then boxed up the other half or so to take home. It definitely wasn’t the lowest calorie item on the menu, but it was awesome and I loved every bite. I do often crave salads and smoothies, but other times, all I want is a big bowl of cheesy pasta, you know? So, I order salads when I go out to eat sometimes, if that’s what I’m feeling and the restaurant has awesome loaded salads, but I also know it’s easy to make really good salads at home. Like this harvest butternut squash chicken salad right here. It was an awesome restaurant salad that I ordered once on a salad-craving day and then re-created at home to enjoy again AND share with you! The star of the salad is the sweet, almost caramelized roasted butternut squash.There’s a restaurant in Raleigh that’s become one of my favorite spots to go for special occasions with my family when we’re all in town since 1) it’s delicious and 2) it has something that fits everyone’s dietary needs.
I’ve ordered quite a few different things there now, from the quinoa stuffed eggplant to the Mediterranean pasta to this amazing fall harvest salad. The salad has candied nuts, sweet roasted butternut squash cubes, and feta cheese. It’d be a great appetizer on its own, but I especially loved adding grilled chicken to make it a meal. I used a spicy cajun seasoning for the chicken to contrast the sweetness of the squash and the dressing
If you try this fall harvest butternut squash chicken salad, I’d LOVE for you to let me know in a comment or take a picture and tag me @livbane on Instagram. Hope you enjoy!
- 8 cups romaine lettuce or spinach
- 2 cups roasted butternut squash cubes
- 3/4 cup pecans or walnuts
- 3/4 cup feta or goat cheese
- 4 chicken breasts, plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons cajun seasoning for marinade
- For the dressing
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 1 lemon)
- 1 teaspoon heaping lemon zest, optional
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon poppyseeds
- Wash and dry chicken breasts. Pound to an even 1/4 inch thickness, and then place in a medium bowl and top with olive oil, lemon juice, and cajun seasoning. Cover the bowl with a lid, place in refrigerator, and marinate for 3-4 hours.
- While chicken is marinating, peel and chop butternut squash. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with a tablespoon of cooking oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes until soft and beginning to caramelize.
- While squash is roasting, wash and dry lettuce or spinach. Mix salad dressing ingredients in a jar or shaker container. Cook chicken in skillet in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat, for 3-4 minutes each side.
- Place salad or lettuce in bowls, and then top with roasted squash cubes, nuts, cheese, and sliced chicken breasts. Serve immediately.
If you love candied nuts, try using these honey glazed pecans instead of the regular nuts!