Acorn Squash and Kale Salad with Lavender, Walnut Caramelized Onions

Enjoyed cold or warm, this salad combines autumn colors and fragrant flavors. It is easy to prepare the ingredients individually ahead of time and assemble them at the last minute for a Thanksgiving dinner or other get together. You can also add a few dried cranberries if you wish to make it a bit more festive.

20131122-053413.jpgIf you do not have lavender leaves, you can substitute for sage. A different flavor but one that also harmonizes well with the acorn squash.

20131122-053548.jpgIngredients:
1 1/2-1 3/4 lbs acorn squash
1/2 lb kale
1.5 lbs white onions
2 oz walnuts
6 Tbsp olive oil for vinaigrette + 2 Tbsp for caramelized onions and acorn squash
3 tsps balsamic vinegar for vinaigrette
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar for caramelized onions
1/8 oz lavender
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven 400F.

20131122-053804.jpgWash and cut the acorn squash in half. Remove the seeds with a large spoon.

20131122-053950.jpgBrush a little olive oil on the cut sides.

20131122-054133.jpgPlace the acorn squash cut side down in a baking pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes. The squash is cooked when it is slightly soft to the touch, but still somewhat firm.  You do not want to fully cook the squash as if you were making soup as the flesh will not hold well for the purpose of the salad and rather it would become pureed.

20131122-054323.jpgPeel the onions, cut in half and slice thinly.

20131122-054424.jpgHeat olive oil on medium high heat in a heavy cast iron pan and pour in the onions.  Reduce the heat to low. Mix well to coat them with the olive oil thoroughly. Simmer for about an hour, tossing periodically.

20131122-054531.jpgSeparate the stems from the lavender leaves.

20131122-070232.jpgChop the lavender leaves finely. Set aside.

20131122-131132.jpgChop the walnuts medium-coarse. Set aside.

20131122-131802.jpgRinse the kale carefully.  Gather the leaves together, with the stems on one end.  Cut off and discard the hard part of the stems and chop the leaves very finely.  Set aside.

20131122-132537.jpgMake a balsamic vinaigrette in a bowl large enough to contain the chopped kale. Whisk together the vinegar, salt and pepper.

20131122-150822.jpgAdd the olive oil in a stream slowly and continue whisking vigorously to transform the mixture into a well homogenized sauce. Set aside.

20131122-203927.jpgWhen the acorn squash is cooked, turn each half upside down to release the steam and let cool for handling.

20131122-204023.jpgPlacing each half of the acorn squash cut side down onto a cutting board, cut through the skin using a serrated knife into thick slices.

20131122-204158.jpgPeel each slice carefully.  Set aside.

20131122-204314.jpgBy now, the onions should have mostly caramelized. Add the walnuts to the pan and keep on low heat for a few minutes longer.

20131122-204413.jpgAdd the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and turn off the heat.

20131122-204512.jpgPlace a few slices of acorn squash on each plate and brush a little bit of the vinaigrette on the top of each slice.

20131122-204601.jpgToss the sliced kale in the large bowl with the vinaigrette and display the kale around each acorn squash slice for presentation.

20131122-204943.jpgSprinkle with the caramelized onions and walnut mixture. Add the fresh lavender.  Enjoy!

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Red Snapper with Fennel, Tomatoes and Tapenade

Baking a whole fish is an easy way to enjoy a healthy, fat-free and delicious main dish.  As much as I am a proponent of olive oil in almost all my recipes (even in baking at times), I do not use any oil to bake this fish.  Rather, the flavors of the vegetables, olives, herbs and garlic mix in the covered fish pan and infuse the flesh.

20131116-141318.jpgHere, I used a red snapper, but feel free to use other similar fish that you might find at your local fish market.  This is a great dish to serve with some roasted sweet potatoes.

The baking time depends on the weight of the fish. For a 2.5 lbs. fish, I baked it for about 45-50 minutes at a high temperature (425F).  You can prepare the recipe all the way to the point where you would normally put it in the oven but refrigerate it instead for a few hours until you are ready to bake it.

20131116-141417.jpgIngredients:

2.5 lb red snapper
1 fennel bulb
1 large red onion
1.5 lb. tomatoes
1 cup black olives, pitted
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, peeled, halved, center removed
6 rosemary springs
1 lemon, sliced, for presentation.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

20131116-141600.jpgPlace the water and vinegar at the bottom of the fish baking pan.

20131116-141651.jpgWash and trim the fennel.  Slice it lengthwise. Peel and slice the onion.

20131116-141736.jpgLayer the onion slices and fennel slices on the rack sitting above the vinegar water.  Add 3 springs of rosemary.

20131116-141843.jpgCut the tomatoes in half or quarters depending on size. Reserve.

20131116-141925.jpgPlace black olives, the leaves of 3 rosemary springs and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

20131116-142007.jpgProcess until the mixture is smooth to obtain a tapenade.

20131116-142059.jpgAfter scaling the fish and cleaning the inside, make three deep incisions on either side, all the way down to the bone.

20131116-142156.jpgFill the inside and each incision with the tapenade.

20131116-142243.jpgPlace the fish on top of the bed of vegetables.  Add a little sea salt and ground pepper.

20131116-142340.jpgAdd the tomatoes and grind a little sea salt on the tomatoes. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes.

20131116-142441.jpgTo serve, lift the rack out of the fish pan and transfer the fish onto a presentation platter.  Surround it by the vegetables, decorate with a few slices of lemon and some of the fennel leaves. Enjoy!