Red and White Rice Salad, with Butternut Squash and Pomegranate

I quite often find myself with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. Despite having approaching 850 cookery books, and my own notebooks containing close to a thousand tried, trusted and delicious recipes, I still scratch my head some mornings. When faced with such a conundrum, I will often turn to what is lurking in the fridge or the pantry and use what I already have as a starting point.

I picked up a beautiful pomegranate the other day. I had no idea what I would do with it but it was such a perfect fruit I couldn’t leave it there. I spotted it in our fruit bowl, and from there it was easy: pomegranate means salad, the developing summer leads me to middle-eastern flavours, and from there I just hit the books until I spotted this wonderful, hearty salad courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes’.

It is studded with interesting textures and flavours, and the combination of sharp vinegar, sweet orange and honey, together with warming cinnamon makes for a knockout fragrance. It is perfect as an accompaniment to falafels (which is how I served it), and I think it would also be perfect alongside grilled fish or shredded cooked chicken, with some pitta bread on the side. It is hearty enough to act as a vegetarian main course all by itself as well.

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RECIPE serves 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite-size cubes

olive oil

2 tbsp cumin seeds

75g basmati rice

75g red Camargue rice

100g dried cranberries OR barberries

50g toasted flaked almonds

50g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 medium red onion, very finely diced

finely grated zest and juice of a large orange

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp clear honey

extra-virgin olive oil

the seeds of a pomegranate

150g crumbled feta (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 200 C fan/ Gas 7.

Place the cubed butternut squash on a prepared baking tray and drizzle generously with olive oil. Scatter over the cumin seeds and season generously with salt and pepper. Using your hands, ensure everything is properly combined, spread out to ensure there is plenty of space for the squash cubes to roast properly, and cook in the middle of the oven for around 450 minutes until the squash is meltingly soft and just charring around the edges. If your honey is of the set kind, drizzle it over the hot squash now to melt and combine. Set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, cook the rice per packet instructions – in a separate pan for each type – until cooked but still slightly firm in the centre of the grain. This will take as little as five minutes for the basmati, and around 30 minutes for the red rice so keep an eye on things. Once cooked, rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water until completely cool, drain and set aside.

Put the cranberries (or barberries) almonds, parsley, onion and rice into a large serving bowl and mix well. Add the orange zest and juice, cinnamon, a generous glug (around 2 tbsp) of your best extra-virgin olive oil, the vinegar, the honey (if you didn’t use it earlier) and some salt and pepper. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Season carefully, adding more salt until the flavours are punchy – you may need more salt than you would expect.

A word on adding those liquids: the orange juice, vinegar and oil. Normally I would combine them in a small bowl and whisk together, then add the mixture as a whole. Adding them to the salad singly, as described above, somehow results in a less uniform distribution, no matter how well you mix the salad together. It means that every mouthful is different, sometimes startlingly so. It’s a new trick for me, one that I will think about whenever create a dressing in future.

Now add the butternut squash and pomegranate seeds and gently fold in, keeping the squash cubes intact. If you like, and depending on what you are having alongside this salad, you can crumble feta across the top as well for fresh, salty bursts of flavour.

Leave this covered, on the side at room temperature, until ready to serve.

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