Every December 31st, for the past five years, I have made a habit of blocking a few hours in the morning for myself. I usually like to find a quiet place where I have space to think and reflect on the year that has passed and to plan and dream of what is to come in the New Year. It has become a tradition that I quite enjoy, and over the years, I have invited some close friends and family to join me in this tradition of reflection, optimism and hope.
I never used to be this way, I was very much the kind of person that went with the flow and allowed the wind to carry me in any direction it chose. I thought I was being easy going but now realize I didn’t know what I wanted. I think there was a stage in my life when there was so much structure that came from school and work – I was busy for the sake of being busy and never took time to reflect and pursue things that I wanted. Things changed when I had kids, suddenly time became a luxury. The days and years seemed to have passed uneventfully, and I just fell in a slump. I went from being an ambitious fresh graduate eager to pursue a corporate career to becoming a stay-at-home mom of three boys and lost.
In life, we get lucky and cross paths with people who inspire, motivate, and guide us to make positive change. My source of inspiration came from my dear friend Helen; I remember calling her one day and asking her for help. I had been following her personal journey over the years, and I was impressed by her ability to jump over hurdles and make the impossible seem possible. I wanted to learn to have the same growth mindset and believe that I could also jump over my own set of hurdles. My meeting with Helen was the catalyst that led to the pivotal turn in how I began to lead my life. First and most importantly, I learned to understand my own self-worth and to allow myself to dream, believe, and achieve what I wanted. The key focus is to DREAM!!!
When I sit to plan my year ahead, I make a point to focus on all aspects of my life, including personal, finance, health, family, adventure, career, legacy, inner-self and circle of trust. When we set our intentions, I believe we will inevitably find ourselves on the right path. I think the most exciting part is to feel accountable and responsible for our own path – the idea that I am living proactively rather than reactively is very gratifying. I also apply this knowledge to my daily life, especially my food. I have always believed that food is my artistry, my therapy, and my way of connecting with people. And with the new year, I like to start with a healthy and positive state of mind.
As I get ready to welcome the New Year, I am excited to share his wonderful roasted pumpkin, kale and freekeh salad is hearty and a truly feel good recipe that I love to make. I toss my salad in a wonderful lemon & mustard vinaigrette and garnish with pumpkin seeds, pecans and dried cranberries. For an extra kick I like to add some white cheese but you can skip this ingredient for a vegan option perfect for Vegan January.
With that, I wish you Happy New Year filled with lots of hopes, dreams and aspirations that get realized!!
Basic Ingredients for Roasted Pumpkin, Freekah and Kale Salad
Pumpkin: Pumpkin is a staple in autumnal dishes, renowned for its sweet, earthy flavour and vibrant colour. Roasting pumpkin enhances its natural sweetness and creates a delightful contrast with the other elements of the salad.
Fresh Ground Pepper & Sea Salt: These seasoning staples are essential in any kitchen. Fresh ground pepper adds a slight heat and piquancy, enhancing the other flavours in the dish. Sea salt is preferred for its ability to bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients without the harshness sometimes found in regular table salt.
Olive Oil: A cornerstone of Mediterranean cooking, olive oil is used for its rich, fruity flavour that complements both the roasting of the pumpkin and the dressing for the salad.
Red Onion: Red onions, when cooked, offer a balance of sweet and sharp flavours that bring depth to the dish. They also add a slight crunch and a burst of colour.
Ginger: Ginger brings a warm, spicy kick to the dish, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the pumpkin and cranberries.
Garlic : Garlic’s pungent and aromatic qualities make it a fundamental flavour enhancer in many cuisines.
Freekah: An ancient grain, freekah has a nutty flavour and a chewy texture, making it an ideal base for salads.
Cinnamon Stick: The inclusion of a cinnamon stick introduces a sweet, woody aroma to the freekah.
Chicken Stock: Chicken stock is used instead of water to cook the freekeh, infusing it with a rich, savoury depth and enhancing the overall flavour profile of the dish.
Kale : Kale brings a slightly bitter taste and a hearty, crunchy texture.
Cranberries: Dried cranberries add a tart, sweet flavour and chewy texture.
Pecans: Pecans contribute a buttery flavour and a delightful crunch. They are a good source of healthy fats and vitamins, particularly vitamin E, which is beneficial for skin health.
Pumpkin Seeds: Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds add a nutty flavour and crunchy texture.
Roasted Vegetables: Instead of pumpkin, you can use other roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or beets. These options will add their unique sweetness and textures to the salad.
Grains: If you don’t have freekah, you can substitute it with other whole grains like quinoa, bulgur, farro, or brown rice. Each grain will bring its distinct nuttiness and chewiness to the salad.
Leafy Greens: Instead of kale, you can use other leafy greens like spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, or even mixed greens. Each green has its own flavour profile and texture, which can provide a different twist to the salad.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, or pine nuts can all work well in place of pecans and pumpkin seeds.
Dried Fruits: Substitute cranberries with other dried fruits like raisins, dried figs or apricots.
Proteins: To turn this salad into a heartier meal, consider adding some protein sources such as grilled chicken, chickpeas, tofu, or feta cheese. These additions will provide extra sustenance and flavor.
Dressing Variations: Experiment with different dressings like balsamic vinaigrette, tahini-based dressings, or a citrusy yoghurt dressing to change the overall taste of the salad.
Fresh Herbs: Enhance the freshness and aroma of the salad by adding fresh herbs like parsley, mint, or cilantro. They can complement the Middle Eastern flavours beautifully.
Preparation Tips for Roasted Pumpkin, Freekah and Kale Salad
- Roasting Pumpkin: Ensure pumpkin cubes are evenly coated with oil and seasoning for consistent flavour and texture.
- Cooking Freekah: Toasting freekah before adding stock enhances its nutty flavor.
- Massage Kale: Massaging kale softens its texture and makes it more palatable.
Serving Tips for Roasted Pumpkin, Freekah and Kale Salad
- Serve Warm or Cold: This salad can be served warm or at room temperature.
- Garnishing: Top with additional nuts or seeds for extra crunch.
- Pairing: This goes well with grilled meats or as a standalone meal.
Refrigerate Separately: Store dressing and salad components separately in the fridge.
Shelf Life: Lasts up to 3 days when stored properly.
Revitalising Leftovers: If the salad becomes a bit dry, a quick drizzle of olive oil or lemon juice can refresh it before serving again.
Roasted Pumpkin, Freekah and Kale Salad
- 500 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes
- fresh ground pepper
- fresh ground sea salt
- olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp ginger, finely minced
- 1 tsp garlic, finely minced
- 1 cup freekeh, soaked and drained
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 125 g kale, trimmed and chopped
- ⅓ cup cranberries
- ¼ cup pecans, toasted
- ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 2 tbsp honey
- fresh ground sea salt
- fresh ground pepper
- In a bowl, add the pumpkin cubes, coat with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in air fryer 120°C for 20-25 minutes
- In a large pot, on high heat, sauté onions and cinnamon stick with some olive oil and fry until the onion has a translucent colour. Add fresh ginger, garlic and freekeh; mix all ingredients together and continue to stir until the freekeh is fragrant and toasted. Add the chicken stock over the freekeh; bring to a boil, lower the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until fully cooked and all the excess liquid has evaporated.
- To prepare the dressing, whisk all the ingredients until they have emulsified.
- In a large bowl add the chopped kale and season with salt and pepper. Massage the kale until it has softened. Add the freekeh, roasted pumpkins, cranberries and the salad dressing; toss the salad together. Serve the salad on a serving platter and top with toasted pecans and sunflower seeds.