The perfect fall recipe, this roast pumpkin salad is bursting with fresh ingredients and warm flavors you’ll adore. A hearty meal, roasted pumpkin, crunchy pecans, wild rice, and warm spices are tossed with a maple balsamic vinaigrette for the best kale pumpkin and feta salad you’ll ever taste. Serve it on its own or as a savory side dish!
There are so many ways to incorporate pumpkin into all your favorite recipes. From pumpkin cheesecake brownies, to almond flour pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bagels, and more, I love them all! However, my favorite way to use pumpkin is in a savory pumpkin and feta salad.
Not only is it quick to make, but it’s also absolutely bursting with fresh fall produce. Even better, it contains the best combination of sweet and savory flavors for a healthy meal that leaves you feeling full and satisfied. It’s hearty enough to enjoy on its own but also pairs perfectly with all your favorite proteins and main dishes.
Of course, it’s also great topped off with a vegan mug brownie or gluten free donut, too. After all, life’s about balance, right? No matter how you serve it, you won’t want to miss out on this roast pumpkin salad recipe!
- Dietary features - gluten free, vegetarian, nut and dairy free-friendly
- Quick to make
- Full of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber
- Great to make ahead of time
What kind of pumpkin is best for salad?
Sugar pumpkins, aka pie pumpkins, are what you’re looking for on top of a salad. These pumpkins are slightly sweet with lots of “meat” on the inside making them great for roasting.
You can also use a fall squash to make this salad if you can’t find a sugar pumpkin. Butternut squash will be the closest in taste and look, but acorn squash is also a great alternative.
Ingredients and Substitutions
For the salad:
- Pumpkin - Sugar pumpkins work best for roasting. Or, swap it out with butternut or acorn squash instead.
- Pecans - Provide a nice crunch and a rich, buttery flavor.
- Olive oil - Helps caramelize the pumpkin and pecans while also adding a boost of healthy fats.
- Maple syrup - Adds a subtle sweetness without the need for refined sugars.
- Spices - Cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt combine to enhance the natural sweetness of the dish.
- Wild rice - Used to bulk up the salad, providing a chewy texture and extra carbs to keep you full.
- Kale - A nutrient powerhouse that forms the base of the salad.
- Apple - For a pop of color, a bit of extra sweetness, and added crunch!
- Feta - Crumbled feta tops off the pumpkin salad with a creamy texture and savory, salty taste. Feel free to swap it out with goat cheese, bleu cheese, a dairy free cheese, or any other cheese you prefer.
For the maple balsamic vinaigrette:
- Olive oil - Creates the base of the dressing. Use avocado oil, if preferred.
- Balsamic vinegar - Be sure to use a high-quality balsamic vinegar with few added ingredients.
- Maple syrup - Just a dash creates the perfect balance of sweetness incorporating the dressing with the salad ingredients. Honey or agave could be used in its place.
- Herbs and spices - Cinnamon, thyme, and sea salt, add extra depth to the recipe and can easily be adjusted to fit your preferences.
How to Make a Pumpkin Salad
Before you begin to assemble your pumpkin and feta salad, you’ll want to slice and roast your pumpkin on a baking sheet. Then, all you’ll need is a big mixing bowl and utensils to toss your salad with, and it’s ready in minutes!
Step 1: Cut the pumpkin. For step-by-step instructions on how to cut a pumpkin, keep reading here. Otherwise, cut and peel it into rounded strips, and spread them in an even layer on a baking sheet along with the pecans.
Step 2: Roast the pumpkin and pecans. Whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, and spices in a small bowl. Then, drizzle them over the pumpkin and pecans, and toss to coat. Place the baking sheet in the oven until the pumpkin is fork-tender, and set it aside to cool.
Step 3: Prepare the rice. While the pumpkin and pecans are roasting, prepare the rice according to the package instructions, and let it cool completely.
Step 4: Make the dressing. In a glass or bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing until they are smooth and well combined.
Step 5: Assemble the salad. Place the kale in a large bowl, pour the dressing on top, and use your hands to massage it into the kale until the leaves are well coated.
Add the diced apples, feta, and wild rice to the bowl, and toss to combine. To finish, add the roasted pumpkin and pecans, and gently mix to incorporate the ingredients before serving.
- Toss the pumpkin and pecans well in the olive oil and maple mixture. This not only adds flavor as they roast but also helps to soften the pumpkin and prevent it from burning.
- Chop your kale! I have found this to be one of the keys to a great kale salad. Even if you buy a bag of kale from the store, chop it up a little before adding it to the salad bowl. Having little pieces of kale, about the size of a quarter, is much easier to chew than big hunks of kale.
- The second key to a kale salad is to massage the dressing into the leaves. Kale can be tough and rigid which makes it difficult to chew and digest. Literally, work the dressing into the leaves to help soften them.
- Make sure your ingredients have cooled completely before assembling the salad. This includes the wild rice, pumpkin, and pecans. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes to cool down. Tossing warm ingredients with kale leaves and feta can create wilted cheesy leaves that aren’t super appetizing.
This is one of the few leafy salads that actually stores well! If you expect to have leftover salad, store it in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 days. The kale will get softer as it sits which is actually a good thing and helps infuse the dressing into the ingredients making this roast pumpkin salad even tastier.
Check out these recipes for more savory options:
PS : If you make this recipe, be sure to leave a star review and comment below! Also be sure to follow along with me on Instagram and Pinterest to stay up to date on all tasty recipes here at The Fit Peach!
For the salad:
- 1 small sugar pumpkin - or butternut squash, approx 3 cups
- 1 cup pecans
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup wild rice - cooked
- 1 head kale - approx 4 cups, chopped
- 1 large apple - diced
- ⅔ cup feta - crumbled
For the maple balsamic dressing:
- ¼ cup olive oil - or avocado oil
- 1 ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoon maple syrup - or honey or agave
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut and peel your pumpkin into rounded strips. Spread the pumpkin strips on a baking sheet along with the pecans in one even layer.
- In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sea salt. Drizzle over the pumpkin and pecans and gently toss to coat. Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Let cool.
- While the pumpkin and pecans are roasting, make the wild rice according to package directions. Let the rice cool completely.
- Prepare the dressing by mixing together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon, thyme, and sea salt in a glass. This can be done with a spoon or if you have a jar with a lid simply shake it well to incorporate the ingredients.
- Add the chopped kale to a large salad bowl and drizzle the dressing over top. Use your hands to massage the dressing into the kale until the leaves are well coated. This helps make sure the kale is soft and easier to digest.
- Add the diced apples, feta, and wild rice to the bowl and toss well to distribute.
- Finally, add the roasted pumpkin and pecans to the bowl and gently toss to mix before serving.