This has become my favorite salad as of late, and the timing couldn’t be better. The pearly white ribs and veins against the purple-red leaves of the radicchio, laced with green arugula—it certainly fits the color scheme of the season. This only gets accentuated by the scattering of pomegranate seeds, like little ruby red ornaments hung with my best attempt at care. And for me, I can’t really contemplate a fall or winter, let alone a holiday season, without acorn squash.
Although most “winter” squashes are available year round, there’s something about earthen sweetness that makes them so seasonably appropriate. I can’t remember a Christmas or Thanksgiving without roasted acorn squash at the table. My aunt, and my grandmother before, would split the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast them cut-side down until they were mostly tender, before turning them over, and filling their basin with butter, brown sugar and salt. It’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday meal. Here, the sweetness of the squash helps to tame the boisterous bitterness of the radicchio. Don’t get me wrong, the bitterness is still present—and rightfully so—but it’s softened to a palatable plateau.
And of course, with the sweet you have to have a little heat or saltiness. Because I feel like halloumi cheese is under-rated and, no matter how much I use it, under utilized, I chose salt. It has a salty bite to it, and deeply savory while still having a bit of a creaminess about it. If you ask me, it’s real charm is in cooking it; you cut the cheese into slices and sear them in a hot (non-stick) pan until they’re tanned. It mellows the saltiness a bit, and the inside goes from a rubbery, ultra-dense feta-like texture, to a soft and supple center that’s creamy without being melting and oozy. The cheese doesn’t melt—it keeps its shape perfectly—and the novelty of this never wears off for me. Its tan might normally be uncharacteristic for this time of year but, given that here we are nearly a week out from Christmas and much of the country still in the 60’s, maybe a tan isn’t out of the question this year.
(Halloumi is usually made from sheep’s milk and known not only as a great “grilling cheese” but also for its squeakiness when you bite into it. There really is no substitute!)
I really think this works for the holidays. It may not be typical holiday fare, however, I think that because most of our holiday menus are fairly heavy, this is a fresher and—I hate to even say the word—lighter option. Hear me out, though—now is not the time of year to be concerned with “light” foods. I don’t mean “light” as in a “healthy option for the fun-suckers at the table”; I mean something brighter and livelier in flavor, something that will make all of the rich and decadent dishes taste even richer and more decadent. Isn’t that the point?
This is incredibly simple to make. In fact, if you buy the pomegranate seeds pre-packaged from the grocery store it’s even easier. That said, getting those little aerials out of the ornament-shaped fruit isn’t hard, or even time consuming. I just lop off the very top, score a segment of the skin as if you were going to quarter fruit (so, imagine you were going to cut the fruit, top to bottom, in four quarters—rather than cutting through the whole fruit just score the skin), peel the skin off the scored section and, holding the pomegranate over a bowl of water, pull the fruit apart, letting the seeds fall into the bowl. You’ll have to break up some of the clusters of seeds that want to stick together but the beauty of this method is that the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and any bits of that white pithy membrane float to the top.
To make the salad, I peel the skin off the protruding ridges of the squash, leaving the skin in the crevasses between the ridges on—this helps the squash maintain its shape once it’s cooked. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and slice it into ½” thick half-moons. Toss them with a little olive oil and salt and roast until they’re browned and soft.
Meanwhile, I make a quick-pickled shallot that ultimately turns into the dressing by whisking some red wine vinegar, salt, sugar and thinly sliced shallots together. Really, this just needs to sit while the squash roasts.
Once the squash is nearing the end of its roasting—or even after its come out of the oven, as it’s just as good at room temp or warm as it is hot—heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. DO NOT oil the pan. Once it’s hot, griddle the slices of halloumi for just a few minutes per side, until they’re golden on the outside and have a soft give within (just poke one to make sure it’s not still firm as it was out of the fridge).
Arrange the roasted squash and blistered halloumi onto plates that you’ve created a bed of radicchio on. Whisk a little extra virgin olive oil into the pickled shallots and drizzle it over the salads before adorning with pomegranate jewels and serve it immediately.
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