This colourful salad is loaded with all the flavours you associate with the autumn and winter season. The maple roasted butternut squash with its caramelised crispy bits is the star of this salad. Oven roasted cherry tomatoes with oregano add another little flavour bomb. Toss in a handful of seasonal toppings like pecans, dried cranberries and pepitas. A special place on this plate is reserved for the orange filled olives, these will take your dish to the next level. Finish it off with a drizzle of zingy homemade mandarin orange dressing that will blow you away. This nourishing vegan winter salad will have you coming back for more!
This salad is perfect for lunch or a light main dish. It’s also an excellent side dish for your Thanksgiving or Christmas menu. It’s easy to prepare and can be made ahead of time, making it perfect to avoid that holiday madness. This salad is so good that it might just steal the spotlight and become the star of your holiday dinner table.
Butternut squash or pumpkin?
That’s a good question! The answer is very simple; use whatever you’ve got and like. I’ve used butternut squash this time, but I’ve made this salad before using small orange Hokkaido pumpkins. I’ll be honest, I don’t really taste the difference.
The flavour of butternut squash and pumpkins is very similar. Both veggie varieties are orange on the inside (some pumpkin varieties are green, white or even blueish-grey on the outside!). They are also both very popular in the autumn and winter season. So it’s easy to see why many people, me included, use both types interchangeably.
There are some nutritional differences between pumpkin and squash varieties, but these are minimal. On top of that butternut squash are usually available year-round, whereas pumpkins can be more difficult to get a hold of when they’re not in season.
Roasting your squash and tomatoes
Maple Glazed Butternut Squash
Roasting your veggies helps to bring out their sweet flavours. Roasted squash or pumpkin gets those amazing caramelised crispy bits. Simply roasting them with some oil in the oven is my favourite way to prepare them. Add some salt and herbs and you’ve got an excellent side dish for any meal! Sage, garlic and salt are my all time favourites to combine with pumpkins, but for this salad, I went with just some thyme (fresh or dried) and garlic salt flakes instead. You could also use regular salt.
I wanted to enhance that sweet caramel flavour by adding some maple syrup at the end of the roasting process. This brings out the sweetness of the pumpkin and the maple syrup pairs beautifully with this salad’s autumn flavours. If you can’t get a hold of maple syrup you could also use honey. I actually used to make this salad with honey but I wanted to create a recipe that was completely vegan. Both honey and maple syrup give that extra depth of sweetness.
Oven roasted tomatoes with oregano
If you’ve ever roasted tomatoes you know that they will transform into delectable morsels of joy. I went for grape tomatoes this time, but cherry tomatoes or even small vine tomatoes would work just fine.
Cut your tomatoes in half to prevent them from bursting open. If you’ve ever tried to cut open a hot tomato you know they turn into mini grenades filled with a liquid that’s hotter than lava. Add your halved tomatoes to an oven dish and sprinkle with some olive oil, oregano and garlic salt flakes (or regular salt).
The tomatoes have a shorter cooking time than the pumpkin so don’t put them in the oven at the same time. Just add the tomatoes to the oven after about 10 - 15 minutes so the pumpkin gets a head start and both finish at the same time.
Create a zingy homemade mandarin dressing
This fresh zingy dressing will brighten up your salad and take it to the next level. It takes less than 5 minutes to make and will also work great on other salads. You can make the dressing ahead of time and store it in the fridge until you want to use it. Make sure you mix it again right before you pour it on the salad.
Mandarin oranges are like sweet mini oranges. I love using their juice as a base for this salad. You could also use tangerines, clementines or regular oranges. Cut them in half and squeeze the juice out into a small jug or bowl.
Add Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil and mandarin vinegar to complete the dressing. Mix it all through so there are no mustard lumps. I don’t add any salt or pepper because I already add these to other parts of the salad. If you want to use this dressing for another salad you could add a pinch of both and mix it right in.
Dijon mustard has a sharp strong tangy flavour that packs a punch. It’s often used in dressings to provide some spice and bind the other ingredients.
Choose a good quality extra virgin olive oil for the dressing. Extra virgin olive oil has the most flavour and nutritional value. You can use this high-quality oil for salad dressings, dipping bread and for a finishing drizzle.
Mandarin vinegar is a sweet fruity vinegar. It doesn’t have the pungent aroma regular vinegars have. In fact, you can even use it for sweet dishes and drinks. I love using it in salads that have a fruity element to enhance that sweet flavour.
If you can’t find mandarin vinegar try using a good quality white wine vinegar or perhaps champagne vinegar. You want a vinegar that’s sweet and a little fruity.
Fall favourite toppings for the ultimate autumn salad
Orange stuffed olives
I’ve used Manzanilla olives that are stuffed with pieces of orange peel. This mixes wonderfully well with the citrus flavours in the mandarin dressing. The olives themselves add a bright, vibrant flavour to the salad. I like to cut them in half before adding them. You can also use lemon stuffed olives or regular olives if you can’t find this variety.
If you can get your hands on the orange stuffed Manzanilla olives you’ll probably be delighted by their flavour. They’re also great to snack on or to add to a cheeseboard.
Pecans are such a versatile and healthy nut that I always have a bag of them in my pantry. They are perfect for autumnal dishes where they add a rich and buttery flavour. Sprinkle a small handful of pecans over each plate to add some crunch to your salad.
You can use them plain, or quickly roast them in a pan or oven to bring out more of their nutty flavour. If you decide to roast them keep a close eye on them because they are quick to burn. You can replace them with walnuts.
These ruby red jewels add a vibrant sweet and tart pop of flavour to the salad. Cranberries are super popular in autumn and winter recipes. They always remind me of Christmas. Add a small handful to each plate. You can swap them for dried goji berries, cherries or even raisins.
Pepitas are a type of pumpkin seed you can find readily available in most supermarkets. These small green almond-shaped seeds are packed with nutrients. Adding a handful to your salad will add some crunch and a load of antioxidants to keep your body healthy and strong.
Baby spinach is the base of this salad. I love using this leafy green as a base because it has more nutrients than simple lettuce. Baby spinach is the smaller, younger leaves of the spinach plant. They are better for eating raw, while regular spinach is better for cooking. You can substitute the baby spinach for rocket (arugula) or mixed salad.
How to assemble this autumn salad
Divide the baby spinach over two plates. This is your base. Before you add the toppings first drizzle your zingy mandarin dressing on top and mix through.
Add your maple caramelised pumpkin or squash on top, followed by your oven-roasted tomatoes. Since these come hot out of the oven your salad will be slightly warm. If you’ve prepared them beforehand you can decide for yourself if you want to reheat these elements or use them cold. Both ways the salad will be delicious!
Now that the base of your salad is done, you can sprinkle on the toppings. Add a handful of the olives, pecans, cranberries and pepitas. Finish it off with some freshly ground black pepper and some more garlic salt flakes.
Tips & Alternatives
- Change your base: Swap the baby spinach for other leafy greens like rocket (arugula) or a mixed salad.
- Choose your seeds: Swap your pepitas for hemp seeds, chia seeds or even sunflower seeds.
- Orange stuffed Manzanilla olives give a unique addition to this salad, but you can swap them for regular olives or lemon filled olives.
- Citrus selection: The juice of mandarin oranges is sweet and rich in vitamin C. You can swap them for oranges, tangerines or clementines. These all have a similar flavour profile.
- Vinegar variety: The mandarin vinegar complements the mandarin juice and orange filled olives perfectly. Another option can be a good quality white wine vinegar or perhaps a champagne vinegar. You want a vinegar that’s sweet and a little fruity.
- Maple syrup can be easily swapped for honey. Note that by using honey the salad is no longer vegan.
- Tomatoes: You want to use small tomatoes. Grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes or even small vine tomatoes will all work just fine.
- Berries: The dried cranberries add a sweet and tangy zing to the salad. They can be swapped for dried goji berries, cherries or even raisins.
- Prep ahead: If you’ve assembled the salad completely then it should be eaten the same day. The salad can get soggy if you leave it waiting for too long. Alternatively, you could prepare the dressing ahead of time and roast the pumpkin and tomatoes beforehand as well. You can keep these in the fridge for a couple of days. Then combine everything when you want to eat the salad. The pumpkin and tomatoes can also be added cold.
Here is some more recipe inspiration for you:
Try these other pumpkin dishes:
- This gorgeous Golden Glow Pumpkin Soup with warming ginger and turmeric, sweet roasted pumpkin and creamy coconut is full of health-boosting ingredients. It’s the perfect soup to boost your immune system for the colder months.
- Make this quick and easy Homemade Pumpkin Puree from scratch for all your seasonal fall dishes.
Or try one of these autumn-inspired recipes:
- Start your day off right with this healthy and delicious Apple Pie Oatmeal with maple syrup, baked apples and pecans.
- These Apple Rose Puff Pastries are the prettiest individual apple pies you'll ever see. They look like elegant roses and are perfect for a special occasion.
- If you love creamy comforting Italian dishes then you’ll love this Classic Homemade Lasagne. It’s filled with a rich bolognese sauce and is covered in a velvety smooth béchamel sauce.
- For more cheesy deliciousness check out these Extra Cheesy Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Pasta Shells for the ultimate hearty, comforting and crowd-pleasing veggie dinner.