Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

There ought to be a place on the internet where parents can go to brag about the common and mostly harmless, but also spectacularly sudden and disgusting illnesses of childhood. Without going into detail (this is a FOOD blog, after all), instead of sleeping, we spent Saturday night showering, taking baths, doing laundry, and scrubbing carpets. No bueno.

Anyhoo, does your sleep schedule affect your diet? I’ve learned in my old age that getting less sleep leads me to terrible food choices. So obviously, I ate horribly this weekend and am feeling it today. But this salad is getting me back on track.

Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes
Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes
Delicata Squash is easy to prepare because it doesn’t require peeling. #meandthemoose #delicatasquash #healthycaesar #salad #fallsalad #thanksgivingsalad #thanksgivingrecipes

Delicata squash is one of the stars of this show. It requires less prep since the peel is edible. Just split it in half, scoop out the seeds, and slice. After roasting, the squash is sweet and creamy and the peel gets slightly crunchy, so it’s also a nice textural balance if your littles aren’t into “slimy” foods.

The dressing is my favorite dairy-free Caesar that’s been lightened up by swapping out tahini for the oil. The garlic, anchovies, and lemon taste even brighter and the sesame adds a nutty note that complements the rest of the salad’s flavors.

We also have crispy crunchy gluten-free croutons that are made with a store-bought polenta log. I accidentally discovered that putting a pizza stone in the oven while roasting the polenta SIGNIFICANTLY reduced the cooking time. Huzzah!

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

The spiced, roasted nuts add even more crunch, which pairs nicely with the creaminess of the roasted squash. Toss on a few sweetened, dried cranberries and you have a harvest salad that hits all of the right salty and sweet notes. (A nutty cheese on top is entirely optional.)

I daresay this hearty pescatarian salad would be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving table too.

A couple of notes:

  • I don’t salt the polenta before roasting. Most commercially made polenta has a fair amount of sodium in it already and you’ll be adding salt to the dressing and the squash.

  • While there are multiple steps to this salad, most of them can be completed simultaneously. You can also double the dressing recipe and it will keep well in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

  • Also, unlike dressed lettuce, which wilts quickly, kale only softens slightly and gets less bitter when left to sit with the dressing on, so make this salad ahead (or double the recipe) and eat it throughout the week.

  • A note about the size of this recipe: This recipe yields a main course for two adults and one child with either crusty bread or another protein on the side. If making this to last for the week or for a holiday meal, I would double or triple the recipe. All of its elements last on their own and are easy to toss into other meals.

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad


2 small bundles of Lacinto (Tuscan) kale (about 6 cups)
Tahini Caesar dressing (recipe below)
Roasted almonds (recipe below)
1 log pre-made polenta, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium Delicata squash, halved, seeds scooped out, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Dried cranberries, to taste
Nutty cheese, such as gruyere, gouda, or parmesan, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425.

Tear or chop the kale into small bites.

Make your dressing (see recipe below). Add about 1/2 of the dressing to the torn kale and mix well. Add more to taste or reserve the rest for serving later. Set aside.

Make the roasted almonds (see recipe below). Set aside.

Chop the polenta and toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Spread onto your roasting pan and cook for 20 minutes. Flip and toss the pieces with a spatula, return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes.

Clean and prepare the Delicata squash. Toss with the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil. Spread on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the squash is soft.

  • I like to add the squash to the same oven as the polenta for the polenta’s last 20 minutes or so.

Add the squash, polenta, almonds, and cranberries to the salad. Feel free to use all or just some of the salad add-ins and reserve the leftovers for something else. Top with a few shavings of nutty cheese, if desired.

Yield: about 2 adult main-course salads and 1 child main-course salad; 4 side salads

Roasted almonds
½ cup raw almonds
½ tsp olive oil
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp rosemary
¼ tsp Aleppo pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder

Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the almonds with olive oil. Mix the spices together and add to the almonds. Mix well. Spread on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes, until you can smell the spices and the nuts are crunchy. Check often to avoid burning.

Tahini Caesar dressing
2 Tbsp Primal Kitchen avocado mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2-3 whole anchovy fillets
2 medium cloves garlic
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup water (added 1 Tbsp at a time)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, anchovies, garlic, tahini, and 2 Tbsp of water in a food processor and blend well. Add more water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  • Remember that the anchovies are salty, so taste before you add more!

Squash, polenta, and kale Caesar salad | Me & The Moose. Adults and kids alike love this healthy and hearty salad. It combines roasted squash, crispy polenta croutons, roasted spiced almonds, dried cranberries, and a tahini Caesar dressing for a regular weeknight dinner or a special holiday occasion. #meandthemoose #thanksgivingsalad #salad #healthycaesar #delicatasquash #polentacroutons #glutenfree #dairyfree

Whole 30: Done and done...? (And a Caesar dressing!)

Kale Caesar salad is delicious and incidentally Whole 30. #Caesar #salad #dressing #meandthemoose

So, my 30 days of clean eating are over and nary a crumb or drop of wheat, grain, dairy, soy, legume, alcohol, or added sugar crossed these lips the entire time. It was, by far, my most successful run of disciplined eating. And I lost 10 lbs.

But then I went back to "real" eating. For the first few days, I felt scared of anything that wasn't Whole 30-approved. Like, eating a grain of quinoa was going to wreak havoc. So I kept up the regimen. Then I had some wine and remembered how much I loooooove wine. So, I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers (guys, Oprah eats bread on Weight Watchers EVERY DAY). But, then I quit Weight Watchers. Then I tried eating Whole 30-approved foods while also recording everything on My Fitness Pal, which then turned into: Eating Whole 30-approved foods but adding back just grains and beans. Then I convinced myself that I should just work out daily to keep the weight off while eating everything in moderation. And then I had a meltdown and ate an entire chocolate babka. Bear in mind that my Whole 30 ended just two short weeks ago. That's a lot of dieting in 14 days. And a lot of babka.

During the Whole 30 I abstained from some of my FAVORITE things without much difficulty and really did feel great. I mentioned in an earlier post that one upside to the plan's rigidity was that I stopped obsessing about my food choices. Welp, that came back full force once I didn't have to follow the Whole 30 rules. I also feel much more obsessed with weight loss than I did before and more discouraged about my ability to stick to a regimen even though I JUST DID IT.

Also, this article came out.

There is hella conflicting information about health and nutrition out there, which I already knew, but is maddening nonetheless. Do I worry more about the content of my food or the volume? Is exercise or eating more central to wellness and weight loss? If I do manage to lose weight, am I one of the teeny percentage of people who can actually keep it off? So, I've been toying with the radical notion of just stopping. Just shutting down the voice in my head that says my worth is inversely proportional to my size. Or that my worth is bound to how I look at all. Or that there's something wrong with how I look. Or that "healthy" has a rigid and universal definition. And just when I think I'm good with that, I feel a clenching in my chest imagining the weigh-in at my next doctor's appointment...

No matter how frustrated with food I might feel, this Caesar dressing is Whole 30, delicious, and will remain in the repertoire. 

Kale Caesar ingredients: Mayo, lemon, dijon, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. Easy peasy. #Caesar #salad #dressing #meandthemoose

Kale Caesar salad

2 Tbsp Primal Kitchen avocado mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2-3 anchovy filets (look for ones packed in olive oil)*
2 cloves garlic (medium)
3-4 dashes Cholula hot sauce
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups raw kale

*I've recently realized that some anchovies, particularly the ones that come in a can with a peel-back lid, are what I would call a half filet. If your anchovies aren't double sided or look like they've been butterflied, then double the amount to 4-6 of these half filets.

Combine first six ingredients in a food processor and pulse to chop. Set the food processor to puree and slowly add olive oil in a stream. Add salt and pepper to taste and puree until all ingredients are combined. Remove tough stems from kale, clean, and chop. Toss dressing and greens together and serve.

Caesar dressing. #Caesar #salad #dressing #meandthemoose
Greens. #Caesar #salad #dressing #meandthemoose