salad in a white enamel mixing bowl

You know what they say about hubris, right? “Oh, I’ve got it all sorted out,” I thought. “I have a plan for Christmas and it’s going to be great.” Ha.

I woke this morning with my uterus tying itself in knots. It’s been so well-behaved lately that I haven’t even bothered to pay attention to the time of month, knowing that it would alert me with a mild twinge or two when the time came, and then be easily quieted with a couple of ibuprofen. Ha.

If I’d had people here for Christmas, it would have been fine. If I’d even had anyone else here to jolly me along and give me a lift to the station, I probably would have been okay. But the idea of getting up, getting organised, making food, walking 2km to the station with bags, taking a crowded train, dealing with crowds of people, and all the rest, was just too much. Especially as I was shivering-cold and nauseous, sure signs of a bad bout.

But I’m not here to talk about my uterus. This is all just preamble to the fact that I didn’t make it to Friendsmas in Melbourne today :(

I volunteered to bring some kind of “hearty salad”, which is my usual party contribution at any time of year. As someone who doesn’t eat much meat and doesn’t cope very well with masses of sugar, I find it good to know that there’ll be something filling, nutritious, and tasty, and that’ll provide a good buffer layer of whole grains and protein before I dive into the cake and drink too much wine.

So, this is the salad I originally made for my Melbourne friends’ Christmas lunch, but ended up eating by myself here in Ballarat, sitting at my outdoor picnic table under a striped umbrella. It felt a little sad and lonely, to be honest, but any other day this salad would have been a highlight, so I’m going to run with that.

salad in a white enamel bowl

New world salad for a summer Christmas

Serves 4 as a main meal (eg. a light lunch), or lots as a party salad. The quantities given are double what I made for myself at home.

First, roast the squash:

  • 4 cups pumpkin/squash (butternut, kabocha/jap, or any kind with firm, orange flesh), in 2.5cm/1″ cubes
  • 1 tsp cumin-chili mix
  • pinch or two of salt
  • drizzle of grapeseed oil

I keep a tin of cumin and hot red pepper flakes, mixed about 50:50 and roughly ground in the spice grinder (a coffee grinder dedicated to the purpose), and use them for this and all sorts of other purpose. I used about a teaspoon of the mix, a couple of pinches of salt, and a light drizzle of oil. Roast the pumpkin at 250C for about 40 minutes, turning/flipping once, or until it’s starting to get some brown patches and a fork goes into it easily.

Then, prepare:

  • 2-3 cups red rice, cooked
  • 2 cans black beans, or equivalent cooked from dry, strained and rinsed.

I like to cook my black beans with a spoonful of cumin and chili (as above) and some oregano. Right at the end I add salt.

Make the dressing:

  • 2 tblsp chipotle sauce
  • 4 tblsp lime juice
  • 4 tblsp grapeseed oil

Put them in a jar and shake them well.

This is the chipotle sauce I use, by the way. If you can’t find chipotle sauce, you could substitute ground chipotle powder, or a little chipotle in adobo, if you chopped it and then put the dressing in the blender. You’re aiming for “medium spicy”, not mouth-burning.

bottle of "Amazon" brand chipotle sauce

Now, assemble the salad.

Mix the rice, beans, and half the salad dressing. Stir them well to make sure the grains and beans are well flavoured — taste and adjust if necessary.

Then add the roasted pumpkin/squash, along with:

  • 1 red capsicum/bell pepper, quartered and cut into strips
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves, loosely packed (can substitute rocket/arugula or similar if you like)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds/pepitas

Toss gently, add half the remaining dressing, and toss again. Taste and add more dressing if you like.

Make ahead: you can cook the rice, pumpkin, and beans, and mix the dressing ahead of time. The rest of the assembly only takes a couple of minutes.