Salad with roasted squash and lemon-rosewater dressing

Rosewater adds a fresh, fragrant hint to this salad, and it turns out to be a lovely complement for roasted squash, too. Who would have known?

The Moroccans, apparently. Chef Kamal Albaz at Al Maghreb makes a lovely salad of thin slivers of cucumber seasoned with rosewater. The menu simply lists it as “cucumber salad,” so I almost turned it down — who needs to go to a restaurant for that? Fortunately I didn’t, because it’s the best salad they serve and the flavor haunted me.

I’d been planning to make my own version for a while but never got around to it, until one day I decided to toss some rosewater into a regular green, leafy salad. Potentially weird, right? But it worked — in fact, the floral fragrance complemented every ingredient. No weird clashes.

And I just happened to have this orange kuri squash sitting on the counter. That beast cost me a pretty penny — 15 shekels or so — so I wasn’t letting it go to waste. In general, you can see squash trends at the markets around here — I don’t recall seeing these summer (nee winter) squashes to this extent last year, but this year, not only is the market full of them, many of the organic CSAs are including them in their baskets, too. Most likely the work of seed suppliers.

The one complication with this dressing is that rosewater can vary in strength. When using a bottle of standard industrial rosewater, I needed 3 tablespoons to get the aroma I wanted, but when I used the homemade rosewater I bought in Morocco, I needed only 1 tablespoon, and (surprise, surprise) the taste was better, too — less artificial and more reminiscent of a garden.

If you’re not sure how strong your rosewater is, it’s always safest to start with less and add more, until the salad takes on a fragrant essence.

For a big bowl of salad — serves several as an appetizer, or 1 as a meal (if you’re me):

  • 150 grams orange squash (about 1 1/2 cups — about a quarter of the squash I bought)
  • brown sugar for roasting the squash
  • 250 grams greens (I used a mix of romaine, arugula, purslane and very delicate Turkish spinach — that’s what’s fresh and in season)
  • 100 grams mild, white, unsalty cheese (about 1 cup; I used tsfatit, as always)
  • 60 grams cucumbers (2 small ones)
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon lemon
  • 1 tablespoon good rosewater, 3 tablespoons industrial stuff, or somewhere in between
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to its highest setting — mine gets up to 290 degrees Celsius on broil. Cut the squash into manageable cubes of about 5 centimeters (2 inches) square, arrange peel-side down on a baking tray and put a small amount of brown sugar — about 1/4 teaspoon — onto each piece of squash. If the seeds look nice, you can rinse them and arrange them on the tray alongside the squash.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is soft enough you’d want to eat it. The seeds may need more time to become properly crispy — as much as 30 or 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse all the greens. Remove tough stems and chop into bite-sized pieces. Slice the cucumber and cheese into small cubes, and slice the onion into slivers.

Make the dressing by mixing the rosewater, lemon, sugar and salt. (I like adding the olive oil separately later; it won’t mix with these liquids, anyway.)

Once the squash is baked, slice two or three pieces into little cubes, so that you have 1 1/2 cups (the peel didn’t bother me).

Toss all the salad ingredients with the dressing and the olive oil.

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