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Fall Harvest Salad {with Roasted Butternut Squash & Quinoa}

The holidays are fast approaching, along with parties and family get-togethers. This fall harvest salad complements any meal with its sweet and smoky flavors. There are such wonderful colors and produce this time of year, so I love having a go-to fall harvest chicken salad recipe up my sleeve for any event.

This recipe is perfect for a fancy luncheon, a hearty dinner or to serve as a healthy option during the holidays.

For more autumn salad recipes, try my Wild Rice Harvest Salad with apples, pecans, and pomegranate arils for a tasty side dish. Another crowd-pleaser is this Sweet Maple Apple Pecan recipe—you’re going to love the subtle flavors of maple blending beautifully with tart, seasonal apples. 

Fall Harvest Chicken Salad on a pretty plate with feta cheese, butternut squash, chicken, apples and nuts.

When I’m asked to bring a side dish, my go-to recipe is this autumn salad. I love the crisp apples, brightly colored roasted butternut squash and combination of pumpkin seeds and pecans. And feta cheese is my kryptonite – give me more!

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and high in protein, making this harvest chicken salad hearty enough for a full meal. Check out my Greek Quinoa Bowls with Romesco Sauce for another easy, filling meal that includes feta and avocados. 

Primary Ingredients 

As always, the full ingredient list, instructions and details are in the printable recipe card at the end of this post.

Ingredient shot for Fall Harvest Salad with grilled chicken and butternut squash, quinoa, feta cheese, spring lettuce and arugula, apples, pecans, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds and pecans.
  • Chicken |  I used boneless, skinless breasts, but you can substitute thighs if you prefer dark meat.
  • EVOO | Extra Virgin Olive Oil is best in this dish, you will use it in the vinaigrette as well as to coat the butternut squash.
  • Butternut Squash | The orange flesh is so beautiful in this dish. You can also use acorn squash as an alternative.
  • Quinoa | Any variety will work for this fall harvest salad. Cook it in vegetable stock or chicken broth for extra flavor!
  • Greens | You can use any combination of arugula, a baby spring mix, or chopped kale. I love spring mix and arugula.
  • Dried Cranberries | Dried fruit brings a punch of flavor to any dish. You can use other dried fruit like cherries or golden raisins too!
  • Pecans | Roasted nuts are a favorite of mine. I also love walnuts and sliced almonds into an autumn salad.
  • Cheese | Crumbly goat or feta cheese adds a creamy, rich flavor when sprinkled on top. 
  • Apples | I adore Honeycrisp for their natural sweetness. Fuji and Pink Lady are just as delicious.
  • Pumpkin Seeds | Toasting these makes them irresistible.
  • Dressing | Use a combination of apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and orange juice as the base for the dressing. And be sure to sweeten with pure maple syrup – it’s flavor is incomparable!

Instructions

Step 1 | Make the Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Add to a mason jar the following ingredients; olive oil, maple syrup (optional), apple cider vinegar, orange juice, Dijon and salt. Cover and shake vigorously to combine, this a thin, light and very flavorful dressing.

TFC TIP | If marinating your chicken in the apple cider vinaigrette then be sure to make double the dressing.

Step 2 | Marinate Chicken

Place between 1-3 chicken breasts in a baggie or airtight container, pour about half of apple cider vinaigrette over the chicken. Marinate the chicken breasts for a minimum of 60 minutes, up to overnight.

Next, grill the chicken; I grill my chicken over medium heat for 6 minutes each side, remove and cover with foil allowing to sit for 5 minutes or longer; refrigerate once cool.

Step 3 | Roast Butternut Squash

Meanwhile, peel, seed and chop a small-medium butternut squash (about 4-6 cups). Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and ground pepper. Roast the butternut squash on a parchment lined baking sheet until fork tender and starting to caramelize.

Cool and if not using right away, place in airtight container and refrigerate roasted butternut squash.

TFC TIP | See this post for Autumn Squash Soup for easy step by step visual pictures for peeling, cutting and seeding butternut squash.

Step 3 | Cook Quinoa

Rinse quinoa using strainer, then add to small saucepan with chicken broth, vegetable broth or water, add salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for about 25-30 minutes (or use instructions on the package).

Most of the time, mine does not absorb all of the liquid, as long as you see the little curly q tails on the quinoa, that means it is cooked. For some reason I think red quinoa tastes better, but I am not sure there is much of a difference.

HINT | I marinate my chicken, make the salad dressing, roast the butternut squash and make the quinoa the day ahead of time for a quick and easy assembly.

Step 4 | Assemble Fall Harvest Salad

Plate each salad individually or in large salad bowl. Start with greens, then, add the quinoa, apples, dried fruit, roasted butternut squash, pecans, cheese, and pumpkin seeds. If desired, sprinkle with fresh pomegranate arils for a bright pop of color and bursts of sunshine!

Top with the sliced chicken and drizzle your harvest chicken salad with the apple cider dressing to serve.

Salad may be assembled up to an hour ahead of time, kept covered in the fridge, add dressing just before serving.

TFC PRO TIP | The first time I served this salad, one of my friends who is allergic to dairy and gluten and is sensitive to some nuts; so I placed those items in small serving bowls and passed them for each person to add what they wanted; individualizing each salad.

Substitutions

The Fresh Cooky is all about making it yours! So let’s get creative!

  • Store Bought Dressing | Some good ones might be Panera’s Lemon Vinaigrette or Fuji Apple. A simple balsamic vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing would also be delicious. Browse through the dressings in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
  • Meat | Marinate flank steak, chicken thighs or even scallops or shrimp in the vinaigrette!
  • Grain | This autumn salad would be delicious with wheat berries or farro as well! Just cook according to package directions — still cooking in broth for a more flavorful salad.
  • Squash | Replace the squash with roasted acorn squash or even roasted sweet potatoes!

Variations

  • Pears are the perfect substitute for apples in this fall harvest salad. You could also use asian pears, which are a cross between an apple and pear. They have a wonderfully crisp texture and a tangy, sweet flavor. 
  • If using kale in this autumn salad, be sure to chop fine, then place in bowl, drizzling with about 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil. Massage the kale with oil using your hands, kind of scrunching it, this will soften the kale and lighten the color
  • I also love adding pomegranate arils. And if you’re a fan of dried cherries, they give a burst of sweetness that complements the other flavors well.
  • Replace the feta cheese for creamy goat cheese or even blue cheese!
  • Sunflower seeds or other nuts are an easy way to add extra crunch to this autumn salad.
Fall harvest chicken salad on table with bread, toppings and dressing.

TFC Pro Tips

  • Pro Tip 1 | Roast the butternut squash, cook the quinoa, and marinate your chicken the day before putting the harvest chicken salad together.
  • Pro Tip 2 | Grilling the chicken will add another layer of flavor. Or, you can broil it with similar results.
  • Pro Tip 3 | Rinsing quinoa helps remove the saponin, which has an unpleasant, bitter flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

How and why should you massage kale?

Kale is so good for us, but the leaves are tough! Massaging breaks up the fibers, making them easier to chew.

After discarding the stems, rub some EVOO on the kale leaves to soften them without needing to cook them first. They’re ready once they start to wilt, soften and lighten in color.

How do you make quinoa fluffy?

The trick is to use double the amount of water or broth as the quinoa. It cooks a lot like rice, but absorbs quite a bit more liquid. 
Once the water is absorbed, leave it covered to steam for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

What’s the best way to cook butternut squash?

For recipes like this harvest chicken salad, I prefer to cube and roast it. It ensures that it’s cooked evenly and has a great flavor. 

If you want to eat it alone, the fastest method is in the microwave. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and place it on a heat-safe plate, flesh side up. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then turn each half over and cook again for a few minutes. 

Check it often to see if it needs additional time. Once you can easily insert a fork into the center, it’s done!

Can I make this Fall Harvest Salad Vegan?

Yes! In the dressing make sure the Dijon mustard is vegan. Omit the meat or replace with your favorite plant-based substitute, omit the cheese or sub with your favorite plant-based cheese.

Harvest fall chicken salad on a plate with roasted butternut squash and quinoa, feta cheese and nuts.

What to Serve with Autumn Salad

Autumn salad with roasted butternut squash, mixed greens, feta cheese, pomegranate arils, pumpkin seeds tossed in a apple cider vinaigrette.

FINAL TFC TIP | This harvest chicken salad might seem like a lot of work, but I assure you it is actually very easy, it just takes a bit of planning. You will amaze your friends and family with this brightly colored, beautiful, hearty, filling and protein-packed quinoa butternut squash salad!

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Fall Harvest Chicken Salad on a pretty plate with feta cheese, butternut squash, chicken, apples and nuts.
Yield: 6-8 servings

Fall Harvest Chicken Salad

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

This fall harvest salad complements any meal with its sweet and smoky flavors. There are such wonderful colors and produce this time of year, so I love having a go-to fall harvest chicken salad recipe up my sleeve for any event. This recipe is perfect for a fancy luncheon, a hearty dinner or to serve as a healthy option during the holidays.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (marinated in half apple cider vinaigrette for 60 minutes up to overnight) Optional
  • 1 small or medium butternut squash (about 6 cups), peeled, seeded and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup quinoa (uncooked) regular, red or other varieties)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock, chicken broth and/or water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups favorite greens, try Arugula, Baby Spring Mix or Chopped Kale (I used arugula and baby spring mix)
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans, roasted
  • ⅓ cup goat cheese or feta cheese crumbled
  • 2 Honeycrisp or similar apples, washed and sliced into chunks or thin slices Or pears
  • 6-8 tablespoons pumpkin seeds toasted

Apple Cider Dressing & Marinade (double if marinading)

  • ¼ apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400-425 degrees F, in a large bowl, toss the cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper for easy clean up. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden and tender. Allow to cool, store in fridge if making ahead. 
  2. Rinse quinoa and drain, combine quinoa, kosher salt, water and/or broth in small saucepan, bring to boil uncovered, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is light and fluffy. Set aside to cool, may be refrigerated overnight if making ahead. 

Make Apple Cider Vinaigrette and Marinade

  1. Mix all dressing ingredients in glass jar with lid and shake well until combined, or place in blender for a minute until emulsified. Refrigerate until ready to use. 

Grill Apple Cider Chicken

  1. Place chicken breasts in plastic baggie or glass dish and pour half the marinade/dressing, return to fridge to marinate for at least 60 minutesI found it easiest to grill the chicken ahead of time, use a grill pan or outdoor grill, grilling marinated chicken (discard marinade) for 6 minutes on medium heat per side. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Can be made ahead, refrigerate once cooled. 

Assemble the salad:

  1. If using kale, be sure to rub with ½-1 tablespoon of EVOO until the leaves soften and the colors change slightly, this is called massaging. 
  2. Place approximately 1 cup of greens on plate or bowl, then arrange quinoa, apples, cranberries, pecans, cheese and pumpkin seeds, thinly slice chicken and lay on top, then drizzle with dressing and serve, or serve in a large salad bowl.

Notes

Substitutions

  • Store Bought Dressing | Some good ones might be Panera's Lemon Vinaigrette or Fuji Apple. A simple balsamic vinaigrette or poppy seed dressing would also be delicious. Browse through the dressings in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
  • Meat | Marinate flank steak, chicken thighs or even scallops or shrimp in the vinaigrette!
  • Grain | This autumn salad would be delicious with wheat berries or farro as well! Just cook according to package directions -- still cooking in broth for a more flavorful salad.
  • Squash | Replace the squash with roasted acorn squash or even roasted sweet potatoes!

  • Variations

  • Pears are the perfect substitute for apples in this fall harvest salad. You could also use asian pears, which are a cross between an apple and pear. They have a wonderfully crisp texture and a tangy, sweet flavor. 
  • If using kale in this autumn salad, be sure to chop fine, then place in bowl, drizzling with about 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil. Massage the kale with oil using your hands, kind of scrunching it, this will soften the kale and lighten the color
  • I also love adding pomegranate arils. And if you’re a fan of dried cherries, they give a burst of sweetness that complements the other flavors well.
  • Replace the feta cheese for creamy goat cheese or even blue cheese!
  • Sunflower seeds or other nuts are an easy way to add extra crunch to this autumn salad.
  • Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    8

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 235Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 693mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 7gSugar: 14gProtein: 5g

    The nutritional information is estimated and may not be entirely accurate, at times it pulls information for suggestions and options which may increase calories, etc. Nutritional information will change based on used ingredients, quantities used, etc.

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    Tasia ~ two sugar bugs

    Monday 8th of November 2021

    I'm loving the flavors and textures in this salad! The pumpkin seeds, with apples, pomegranate and cranberry, not to mention the apple cider dressing ~ I definitely need this one in my fall menus.

    Kathleen Pope

    Wednesday 10th of November 2021

    Thank you Tasia, the flavors and texture are out of this world and usher you directly into fall!

    Michaela Kenkel

    Sunday 7th of November 2021

    That would not only be tasty but it's so pretty it could almost be a centerpiece on a fall table!

    Kathleen Pope

    Monday 8th of November 2021

    Absolutely, love that idea!! :-) An edible centerpiece!

    Nikki Lee

    Wednesday 3rd of November 2021

    Such a wonderful fall salad recipe full of flavor and texture! The chicken makes it a filling and satisfying main course.

    Kathleen Pope

    Thursday 4th of November 2021

    Thank you!

    Erin

    Monday 1st of November 2021

    This is simply the BEST salad for the fall! We love the combination of chicken with butternut squash and apples and the addition of cranberries is brilliant. We'll be keeping this in the rotation for the coming weeks for sure!

    Kathleen Pope

    Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

    All the fall feels in this salad! Thanks so much Erin!

    Julie Menghini

    Sunday 31st of October 2021

    This is my kind of salad! I just love all of the flavors and textures. That chicken is cooked to perfection and makes a complete meal.

    Kathleen Pope

    Tuesday 2nd of November 2021

    It is a hearty, healthy and vibrant meal for sure! Thank you Julie!

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