“What do you eat first – your chicken or your salad?” This was a question I posed to my grandma when I was about eight or nine. Normally my philosophy was to eat the salad, or vegetables first, get them out of the way and then enjoy the good part of the meal, in this case, the chicken. Never one to over dramatize a situation, my main concern with this approach was the fear I might die before I got to my chicken. If that might happen I would be much better eating the best bit of the meal first. My concern deepened when my grandmother replied that she ate her chicken first because once, when she was a small child, a waiter thought she had finished and removed her plate with two sausages still left on it. Think of it! The only solution was chicken first, but that left me wading through the bad stuff with no incentive to finish the meal.
There is no bad stuff in this salad, no decisions to be made and my eight year old self would have been very happy. Instead there is roast chicken, hot and juicy with crispy skin. Butternut squash which is bright orange and sweet with lovely brown edges from the roasting tin. A few fresh spinach leaves, which give their lovely colour. The feta is salty, cool and creamy. The walnuts (which are optional) coated in honey, turmeric and chilli flakes are little surprises every time you crunch one. The dressing is a Dijon mustard and honey – an old favourite of mine – and its sweet sharpness brings the whole salad together. It’s a great mid week supper with a jacket potato, but with the nuts it becomes a smart weekend lunch salad with some crusty bread and chilled white wine. This salad has gone down really well with my tasting crew, it was described by one as ‘magnificent’. I hope similar thoughts will pop into your head when you enjoy it.
4 chicken thighs
1 small butternut squash weighing about 900 g / 2 lbs
1 ½ tbsp oil
150 g / 5 oz fresh spinach
200 g / 7 oz feta cheese
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
100 g / 3½ oz walnuts
2 tbsp honey
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
Total carbohydrate per portion – 28 g
1. Preheat the oven to 200 C / 180 C fan / 395 F / Gas mark 6.
2. Turn the thighs onto the side with less skin on. With a sharp knife remove any excess skin. Turn the thighs, so the skin is side up and cut two deep slits through the skin and meat, almost to the bone.
3. Put the chicken in a roasting dish so that there is a good amount of space around each thigh. Drizzle over ½ tbsp of oil and sprinkle with salt. Put in the oven. The chicken will take about 55 minutes to cook, the skin needs to be crispy.
4. Top and tail the butternut squash and scope the seeds out and discard. Chop up into 2½ cm / 1” cubes. Put into a baking dish, drizzle over 1 tbsp of oil and mix to coat the squash in oil, put in the oven. The squash will take about 45 minutes to cook, the squash should be lightly brown in places when it is finished.
5. Put all the dressing ingredients in a small jug and mix well to combine.
6. Mix the honey, turmeric and chilli flakes together in a small bowl or mug.
7. In a non stick frying pan, dry roast the walnuts until they are lightly toasted, about 6 minutes. Pour over the honey mixture and remove from the heat, mix well until all the nuts are coated with the honey. The residue heat will cook the spices.
8. A few minutes before the chicken and squash are ready, divide the spinach between four plates. Roughly chop up the feta and add to the spinach.
9. When the chicken is ready, using a fork and sharp knife remove the thigh bone and chop the chicken up roughly. Distribute the chicken and butternut squash between the four plates. Top with the dressing and mix well so that all the salad is coated with the dressing.
10. Scatter over the nuts and serve.
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