Earlier this year, I called my mom to ask her what food she associates with autumn. She said, "Make something with dried cherries, those are good." She also mentioned butternut squash, pecans, and maple syrup. I let these things kick around in my head for awhile, and then, it came out on the other side.
While I enjoy mixing sweet elements into savory dishes, I didn't want to use maple syrup in this dish. I thought dates would offer a similar sweetness, but would also bring something to the texture. And I positively love how the sautéed pecans and dates work together. The dates crisp up and get a bit caramelized in the butter. It's a texture that is slightly chewy and bit crisped. It works really well with the pecans, which end up tasting like they've been candied. And then, the flavor interplay that happens with the acid from the lemon and the pinch of salt is WOW. I also like the sour/sweet flavor of dried cherries, and how they mingle with the roasted butternut squash and the wheat berries. Those dried cherries bring this dish together! The most important thing is to serve this dish immediately. If you wait too long, the dates can lose some of their crispiness.
This makes a terrific side for the holiday season. To take this from a side to main entree, add some pan-fried Gardein Sweet & Sour Porkless Bites (throw out the sauce packet that comes with it!), and mix into the grains before serving. It's a nice variation :)
Butternut Squash with Dried Cherries and Wheat Berries
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
Olive oil, to drizzle butternut squash + 2 Tbsp
½ small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ inch ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp non-dairy butter
⅓ cup raw pecans, medium chopped
5 Medjool dates, pitted and medium chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice (+ more to taste)
2 cups cooked winter wheat berries
⅓ cup dried pitted cherries
1 cup fresh spinach, torn
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spread cubed butternut squash, onion, garlic, and fresh ginger over it. Drizzle the butternut squash with olive oil, and move them around, so everything is evenly coated. Sprinkle with cardamom, and salt (to taste). Bake for 25-30 minutes until just tender and slightly golden. Turn everything over at the halfway mark (~12-15 min into baking). Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
2. In a skillet, melt non-dairy butter over medium heat. Add dates and pecans. Sauté for 3-5 minutes or until the dates are a bit crisped and the pecans are toasted. At the end of sautéing, drizzle with 1 Tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Toss around, and remove from heat.
3. Combine wheat berries, spinach, dried cherries, 2 Tbsp olive oil and lemon juice (to taste) in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and black pepper. Gingerly add the butternut squash mixture, and then, top with the dates and pecans. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately, if you wait too long, the dates will lose their crispness!