Autumn Arugula Salad

Not to brag, but I’m an officer of the coolest medical student organization at my medical school (or any medical school), called CHEF (Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh- don’t you love the name?). I was super active with extracurriculars in undergrad, so I was really looking for something fun to be involved with. I just about keeled over when I heard about a student group that runs a cooking elective class and does a ton a ton of volunteer work, including teaching cooking classes with patients!

So first year me applied to be an officer amongst stiff competition. During the interview, they realized that I was tad bit passionate/zealous/obsessed with food (in case you couldn’t tell, I like food), so they took me on as an officer, and I’ve been helping it grow ever since!

Each fall, our cooking elective is for second years – once a month we all gather together at school to hear a lecture on diet, wellness, and nutrition for ourselves and our patients by professors, doctors, nutritionists, and food advocates.

Then comes the fun part – actually cooking 3-4 dishes with Bunsen burners and full sets of pots, pans, spatulas, knives, blenders, chopping boards, potato mashers, and everything you can think of (minus an oven). The classes are taught by actually trained chefs, including a fourth year medical student who in his former life went to culinary school and worked in restaurants several years prior – isn’t that an awesome story!

I’ve been introduced to all sorts of weird cuisines – from vegan to paleo to southern style comfort home cooking. We’ve learned about diets from kidney/cancer/diabetic to Mediterranean/Dash/South Beach/[insert fad diet of the moment] to straight up only local/no groceries allowed/literally butchering your own chicken and hogs and growing all your food diets. We’ve eaten flowers, pumpkin hummus, and vegan cheese, and every kind of exotic vegetable imaginable.

As a third year now, it’s been a ton of work running the elective, but I wouldn’t change anything. Last week was the final class for me. Alas, I’m out of town for the last one in December, a new Iron CHEF challenge for the second years, complete with a secret ingredient and our school Deans as judges. That Iron CHEF format was one of my crazy ideas, so I’m super bummed I have to miss out.

For this past class, our chef had a last minute cancellation, so I was brainstorming which of my recipes to teach in case I had to be a substitute. I had just made this delicious Autumn Arugula Salad the weekend before, adapted from How Sweet Eats, and was going to teach this glorious fall salad as one of my recipes. It was my first time buying a real pomegranate or eating/cooking acorn squash, but had I succumbed to the fall produce sales and needed to use them up. This is a great salad to detox, if like me, you’ve eaten out too much recently.

In the end, we found a last minute chef (far more legitimate than I), but coincidentally she introduced a very similar fall salad in her class. I like to think great minds think alike (or I’m just pretending I have the same culinary genius as a real chef). We can all dream of being chefs, right?

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 acorn squash, thinly sliced and seeds removed
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
4 cups baby arugula
1 avocado, sliced
1 pomegranate, arils removed
salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (I used pomegranate balsamic vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 garlic clove, freshly grated
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Add brown sugar and pepper on the squash slices and cook until golden and caramelized. You can use a large skillet (about 5 minutes per side) or the oven at 400 F (10-15 min until soft). Set aside and let cool. Toss pecans with pumpkin pie spice and toast in the oven until slightly golden and fragrant.

Add the arugula to a large bowl with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add in the avocado, pomegranate arils, cucumber, pecans, and squash pieces. Cover in the pomegranate dressing.

Whisk together the pom juice, balsamic vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the olive oil while constantly whisking until the dressing comes together. Adjust spices to taste.

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