Here’s a new way of serving a side salad that may raise a few eyebrows. Butternut squash salad cups showcase vibrant colors, contrasting textures and tons of crunch. And yes, they’re delicious too.
I just love the colors. And such a nice change from the same old salad without a lot of extra effort.
The star of the show is the butternut squash. Season it up and get it into a hot oven to roast and caramelize. In the meantime, roast some chopped nuts, dice an English cucumber and prepare the romaine lettuce to host the salad ingredients. Assemble, drizzle with balsamic glaze (or a salad dressing you love) and voila – gorgeous butternut squash salad.
The variations for these lettuce cups are endless. I’ve listed several below. Keep in mind that the recipe is a guideline. Exact measures of ingredients are not required.
The crunch factor of these lettuce cups from the romaine lettuce, the nuts and cucumber is great. I add a bit of sweet-tang with balsamic reduction to finish them off. Really good. My only other tip is to assemble these little beauties close to the time of serving to avoid wilting lettuce.
If you prefer a more traditional salad with roasted butternut squash, try our Red Quinoa Salad with Roasted Carrots, Squash and Beets or Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cinnamon Dressing.
How to serve and eat the lettuce cups
- Serve as a side salad on individual plates or a large platter for guests to help themselves. I served them the other night to my family with Vegetarian Bolognese. Two thumbs up. You can also serve them as appetizers or starters. Or, bump up the fillings to make a main meal with a side of bread and soup.
- Eat them like any lettuce cup. Pinch the two long sides together, pick up the cup in your hands and starting eating from one end to the other.
Tailor To Your Taste
Try one or more of these variations, feel free to make substitutions, or scrounge around your fridge to find other alternatives. Here are some ideas:
- Add a finely chopped apple (no need to peel it). This can replace the cucumber
- Try some freshly roasted or jarred red peppers.
- Crumble on a cheese such as ricotta or goat cheese.
- To make the lettuce cups more substantial, add chopped cooked chicken or crispy baked tofu.
- Try garnishing with pomegranate seeds, chopped seedless grapes, chives or crispy fried onions.
- Nuts: Use any roasted nuts you like. Pecans, walnuts, macadamia and cashews are all good choices.
- Glaze/dressing: Instead of balsamic glaze, try a spicy peanut sauce or any vinaigrette salad dressing. Citrus would be great.
- Lettuce: Boston/Bibb or iceberg lettuce will also work.
- Buy pre-washed and dried romaine lettuce leaves.
- Buy pre-cut butternut squash. Then all you have to do is cut the larger cubes in half if needed.
- Use nuts that are already roasted.
- Instead of making a balsamic drizzle, buy a bottled reduction.
Make Ahead Butternut Squash Salad Cups
- The preparation of each component – roasting the squash, cutting the cucumber, roasting the nuts, preparing the lettuce – can all be done ahead of time. Assemble closer to serving time and add the balsamic drizzle just before serving.
Butternut Squash Salad Cups
- 2 lbs butternut squash, diced into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon Optional
- 1/2 large English cucumber, diced 1/4 inch (if using regular cucumber, remove seeds)
- 1/2 cup chopped roasted nuts Note 1
- Balsamic drizzle Note 2 (or use your favorite vinaigrette instead)
- 1 romaine lettuce, about 10-12 leaves, chilled (Bibb, Boston or Iceberg lettuce can be substituted)
Additional fillings (optional)
- crumbled goat or ricotta cheese, chopped apple, pomegranate seeds, chopped seedless grapes, chives, crispy fried onions,
- HEAT OVEN TO 450F. Line large pan with parchment or foil sprayed with oil.
- ROAST BUTTERNUT SQUASH CUBES: Toss butternut squash cubes with oil, maple syrup, salt, pepper and cinnamon (if using). Place on pan in single layer. Roast for 15 minutes. Stir/flip and roast for another 10-15 minutes until soft with browned, caramelized edges. Can be set aside to cool. It does not have to be served warm.
- ASSEMBLE CLOSE TO SERVING TIME: Lay out 10 lettuce leaves on a platter or individual plates. Distribute roasted butternut squash and cucumber among leaves. Add other other fillings you like. Sprinkle on nuts. Just before serving, drizzle on balsamic reduction (or a salad dressing if you prefer).
- Nuts: I use walnuts or pecans. Cashews, macadamia or other nuts are ok too. To roast, place in preheated 350F oven for 5-7 minutes until fragrant. Cool. You can also put them in the oven while squash is roasting for about 3-4 minutes. Watch carefully so they don't burn.
- To make your own Balsamic Glaze/Reduction. I usually buy it, but it's easy to make your own if you prefer. Bring to boil a half cup of balsamic vinegar and two tablespoons honey or brown sugar. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for about 15 minutes until it reduces by half to a syrup consistency (thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). You will likely not need it all.
- Make Ahead: The preparation of each component - roasting the squash, cutting the cucumber, roasting the nuts, preparing the lettuce - can all be done ahead of time. Assemble closer to serving time and add the balsamic drizzle just before serving.