Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad featuring roasted butternut squash, peppery arugula, quinoa (or other grain of your choosing), crunchy toasted hazelnuts and a creamy apple tahini dressing to bring it all together. This side dish is naturally gluten-free, fresh, filling and full of fall flavors!
This delicious fall-inspired Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad has all the autumn-y feels. It's got sweet, soft butternut squash, quinoa (or any other grain of choice), peppery arugula, a tumble of crunchy toasted hazelnuts and a delicious, tangy tahini apple dressing to bring it all together in a very happy way.
It's loaded with flavor and interesting textures and like my Quinoa Cranberry Salad, it's a great way to keep enjoying fresh salads into the fall season and beyond.
Ingredient notes & substitutions
Here's what you will be needing to make Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad:
- Butternut squash - Cubed and roasted, but not for too long. We need it to stay in cubes and not get too soft. You could use any other type of squash or even sweet potato or yam.
- Arugula - For its peppery flavour. Baby spinach, baby kale or curly kale (massage it with a little of the dressing to make it more tender) would also work well.
- Hazelnuts - For their delicious flavour and their amazing crunch. Walnuts or pecans would make a great alternative.
- Quinoa - My grain of choice because it adds a delicate bite and lots of plant-protein for a well balanced meal. Feel free to switch it up with any other hearty grain. You can start with uncooked quinoa and follow my cooking instructions for the stovetop or Instant Pot, or use up already cooked quinoa. If it's already cooked you will need 3 cups quinoa.
And for the dressing:
- Tahini - For its rich, earthy flavour and creaminess. Almond butter makes a great sub as does cashew butter.
- Applesauce - To continue the fall theme. It must be unsweetened. If you don't have applesauce use a fresh apple instead but you will need to blend the dressing if you do. Instructions are in the recipe.
- Extra virgin olive oil - For richness and coat-ability. Omit to make the dressing oil-free.
- Apple cider vinegar - For that essential acidity in a salad dressing and to continue the apple theme.
- Garlic, cinnamon, sea salt, black pepper - Flavor!
- Maple syrup - In non vegan salads you usually see honey used to sweeten but as this is a vegan butternut squash salad, and because it works so well with the other fall flavors, we are using maple syrup for balance. It might not be necessary depending on the applesauce you use so it's a case of taste and see.
The good thing about this vegan squash salad, and other salads that include a seed like quinoa or grains, is that they are super flexible. Most grains will work. It's up to you to go with what you have in your pantry and what you are going for in terms of texture. I used quinoa here but others that would work really well are:
- bulgar wheat
- wheat berries
- brown rice
How to make Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad
Here's how this delicious vegan squash salad comes together:
- Cook then cool your grain of choice. This can even be done 2 or 3 days ahead. I find my Instant Pot invaluable when it comes to cooking grains. You can just set it and forget. There are no worries about anything boiling over or drying up and if you forget about it, like I almost always do despite the beep to tell me it's ready, whatever is in it is still fine for ages after.
- Spread cubed butternut squash on a baking sheet and roast.
- Mix up the dressing.
- Toast some hazelnuts.
- Combine everything in a large bowl.
How to peel and cube butternut squash
A really sharp chef’s knife is important when preparing butternut squash because they are very hard. A sharp knife will ensure your blade doesn’t slip and cause you an injury.
Cut about half an inch off each end of the squash so both ends are flat. Then either use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel off the skin, or stand the squash on a wooden board, and cut vertical slices down and all around the edge until the skin is removed.
Once the squash is peeled, cut it in half lengthways and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and most of the stringy bits.
To cube it, lay the squash flat side down on your board and cut lengthways into strips, then each strip into chunks of the desired size.
Once cut, you can use the squash immediately, or refrigerate it in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days.
There are some optional add-ins that work really well in this salad. They include:
- vegan croutons
- apple or pear chunks
- vegan feta cheese crumbles or vegan ricotta
- pomegranate arils
- red onion
- almonds, pecans or pumpkin seeds
- dried fruit like cranberries and dates
Making ahead & storing leftovers
All of the components of this Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad can be prepared in advance. The dressing will keep for up to 3 days, the roasted squash and the quinoa for up to 3 days and the toasted nuts for a week or two. Just store them all (except the nuts) in the fridge before combining them.
Once made the salad will hold up for a few hours after dressing. If you wish to store it for a longer amount of time I recommend storing the salad, and the dressing, and the toasted nuts in separate containers. The salad and the dressing should be kept in the fridge and the nuts are ok at room temperature but should be in an airtight container so they stay crispy. Dress the salad right before serving.
Switch the hazelnuts for toasted seeds of choice and be sure to use tahini and not nut butter to make the dressing. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or pine nuts (which are technically seeds despite their name) would all work well.
Yes that's fine. You will need approximately 3 cups of cooked quinoa.
Use lemon juice in the dressing instead of the vinegar.
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Quinoa Butternut Squash SaladAuthor:
For the salad
- 1 medium butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil , optional
- ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
- 1 cup (170 grams) quinoa , will equal about 3 cups of cooked quinoa
- 2 cups (480 mls) water
- 4 cups (85 grams/ 3 oz) arugula , some more or a bit less is fine though!
- ¾ cup (115 grams) hazelnuts , see recipe notes for nut-free option
For the dressing
- 3 tablespoons tahini , or almond, hazelnut or cashew butter
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce , or ¼ of a medium apple
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar , or white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon minced/crushed garlic
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt , plus more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 to 4 tablespoons water
- Preheat oven to 400°F (200 °C). While you are waiting peel, deseed and cut the butternut squash into small cubes about ½ inch across.
- Peel, deseed and chop the butternut squash. Cut into small cubes about ½ inch across. Spread out on a large baking tray, toss with the optional olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes or until just fork tender.
- Cook the quinoa while the squash is roasting. Rinse it thoroughly in a sieve, then place in a saucepan with the water. Stir, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes then turn off the heat and leave it to sit without removing the lid for at least 10 minutes. Longer is fine. Then fluff with a fork before using. Or cook it in an Instant Pot. Rinse in a sieve, add to the Instant Pot with just 1 cup of water. Place the lid on, seal the vent and cook on manual for 2 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally then fluff with a fork.
- Make the dressing. Simply add all of the dressing ingredients to a jar and whisk them together or shake it up. Start with just a little of the water and no maple syrup, then check the texture and sweetness. Add maple syrup to get the right sweetness for you, and enough water to get the texture you prefer. I like it with a bit of a tang and quite creamy. If you only have fresh apple you will need to blend everything in a blender.
- Warm a small shallow pan over a medium heat and when hot add the hazelnuts. Roll them around in the pan for several minutes to toast them. They will start smelling toasty and nutty when done. Don't leave them alone as they will burn easily. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
- Now it's time to assemble. Add the quinoa to a large bowl, then the arugula, butternut squash and hazelnuts. Let any juice from the butternut squash tray trickle in too. Drizzle over the dressing and toss well to combine.
This recipe was originally published on November 7th, 2018. I've since tweaked the recipe very slightly, rewritten the post to include more helpful information and now I am republishing it for you. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for following A Virtual Vegan!
Carolyn P says
Just what I was looking for. Really tasty and filling and perfect for fall.
Sally Pearson says
Super delicious! Love the combo of the crunchy nuts with the squash.
I'm not sure what kind of recipe is this supposed to be....neither sweet not savory. Neither I nor my husband liked it...a total miss...:(
Melané Fahner-Botha says
This looks delish and instead off using my leftover pumpkin for breakfast cookies I am going to make this for lunch today! By the way, I roasted the pumpkin without oil yesterday in a layer of vegan broth. The result was divine and had even my picky husband going back for seconds!
A Virtual Vegan says
Thank you! You really can't beat roasted pumpkin. Enjoy the salad!