This Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette is a worthy centerpiece for your fall celebrations. It features the best flavors that fall has to offer thanks to roasted pumpkin wedges, sliced fennel, peppery arugula, and a nutty and sweet pumpkin seed crunch. Dressed in a gourmet balsamic vinaigrette, every bite is beautifully balanced!
Why this recipe works
The best fall flavors
An irresistible blend of cozy flavors are married together in this salad with roasted pumpkin. You’ll find the best that fall has to offer in every bite:
- Peppery arugula or watercress are balanced by the sweetness of the maple-spiced pumpkin crunch and the subtly sweet roasted pumpkin.
- Shaved fennel adds a delicate anise sweetness and refreshing bite.
- A pinch of cayenne in the pumpkin crunch adds an unexpected, but fun and fiery twist.
- Drizzling the tart and tangy balsamic vinaigrette over top balances each bite.
Made to impress your guests
Looking for an impressive salad to add to your vegan Thanksgiving menu or to serve throughout fall and winter? Make it this roasted pumpkin salad.
It has everything you need to ‘wow’ your holiday guests: (1) A medley of exciting textures (crunchy, chewy, creamy – oh my!), (2) vibrant, yet cozy fall flavors, and (3) light and refreshing bites that leave you feeling satisfied.
Plus, it’s gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, and of course dairy-free, so it’s very allergen-friendly!
Easy to prep ahead
This is a gourmet salad that takes a bit longer to prepare than your average salad, but you can save time by preparing certain elements in advance. The pumpkin wedges, sweet pumpkin crunch, and balsamic vinaigrette can all be prepped hours or days ahead of time!
Once that’s done, all that’s left to do on the day is roast the pumpkin and chickpeas, shave the fennel, and assemble!
Check out the Tips section for details on how to prep it ahead of time, as well as shortcuts you can take to save time.
The star of this seasonal salad is, of course, roasted pumpkin wedges. Instead of going to the pumpkin patch, head to the farmer’s market or your local grocery store to get a sugar pie pumpkin. They’re much sweeter and flavorful than those large carving pumpkins.
As the pumpkin wedges roast, their natural sugars caramelize, making every bite extra sweet, warm, and comforting. They even get a little crisp around the edges, giving every bite an even better texture. You can chop the pumpkin into cubes instead of wedges if you want, but I find that the texture isn’t as great (they stay soft and don’t get any crispness).
PS: Did you know that pumpkin is super nutritious? It, along with other varieties of winter squash, is a fantastic source of beta carotene, a compound that turns into vitamin A in our bodies. All of that vitamin A can help improve your eyesight and strengthen your immune system.
Substitute: This may be a pumpkin salad but that doesn’t mean you have to make it with pumpkin per se. I personally prefer kabocha squash, acorn squash, or butternut squash, as they have a bit more flavor than sugar pie pumpkins. Really, any winter squash will do.
You can add roasted chickpeas to the salad for a tasty source of protein. They’re easy to roast on the same pan as the pumpkin and become super crunchy in the oven.
Alternatively, leave them out if you don’t need the extra protein or you’re serving the salad as an appetizer or side dish.
A peppery leafy green adds some serious character to this salad. Arugula or watercress are two of my favorites!
The benefits of making this salad with arugula and/or watercress go well beyond flavor. They’re both known as cruciferous vegetables, which contain anti-cancer compounds, heaps of fiber, and a long list of vitamins and minerals, like vitamins K and C.
Looking for something with a milder flavor? Virtually any salad green will work well. Try mesclun or mixed spring greens, baby kale, chopped romaine, or a combination of different lettuces.
Its mild anise flavor pairs extremely well with the other components in this pumpkin salad. With a crisp and light bite, it brings a lovely contrast to the spicy greens and rustic, slightly sweet pumpkin.
Substitute: If you don’t like fennel or can’t find it, use 3 medium carrots instead. Julienne or shred the carrots so they mimic the crunchy texture of the fennel.
I lean on fresh herbs a lot, and for good reason. If you’ve seen my YouTube video on how to become a salad person, you know that they’re one of my favorite additions to salads. Not only can they make a salad look beautiful, but their fresh flavor easily turns a good dish into a great one.
Here, fresh mint and flat-leaf parsley add fresh flavor and dimension. Mint, in particular, adds a lovely refreshing sweetness that works very well with the fennel. However, you can omit the mint and only use parsley if that’s more convenient, and/or substitute them with the wispy fronds attached to your fennel bulb.
This blender balsamic vinaigrette is no ordinary vinaigrette. It’s creamy, zingy, tart, and has a subtle hint of umami from the garlic and aged balsamic vinegar. Bonus: it’s ready to use in less than 5 minutes.
You can technically use any balsamic vinegar to make your homemade salad dressing, but the best flavor will come from aged balsamic vinegar. The Whole Foods aged balsamic (affiliate link) is a great grocery store option for its price:quality ratio.
Sweet pumpkin crunch
One taste and you’ll be hooked on this sweet pumpkin crunch. It’s made with a handful of fall’s key players: pepitas, maple syrup, and warm spices. As they cook together in a hot pan, the maple syrup caramelizes and turns the pepitas into little crunchy clusters with a warm, slightly spicy flavor.
I highly recommend making a double batch so you can have the pumpkin crunch on hand throughout fall and winter! It’s delicious on everything. Sprinkle the candied pepita clusters over fall salads, grain bowls, yogurt and berries, and even ice cream! Or mix with roasted almonds and dried cherries or craisins for trail mix.
Bonus: Despite its sweet flavor, the pumpkin crunch is surprisingly healthy. Pepitas are a natural anti-inflammatory and a fantastic source of iron, plant-based protein, vitamin K, and magnesium. They’ve even been known to support our reproductive health because of their high amounts of zinc.
After rinsing and drying, microwave the whole pumpkin so it’s easier to slice. When it’s a bit softer, slice off the stem and the bottom nub.
Slice the pumpkin in half lengthwise using your sharpest knife. Scoop out the seeds and pulp with a spoon, then peel each half. Feel free to reserve the pumpkin seeds for roasting!
Cut each half into thin wedges. Toss them with oil and maple syrup, then season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Place them on the prepared sheet pans.
If you’re using the chickpeas, toss them with oil, salt, and pepper before scattering them in open spaces on the sheet pans.
Roast the pumpkin and chickpeas for 15 minutes, then flip the pumpkin wedges. Continue roasting until the pumpkin is browned in spots and fork-tender.
Meanwhile, make the Sweet Pumpkin Crunch. Add the olive oil and pepitas to a frying pan and toast over medium heat for a few minutes.
Then add in the spice blend and maple syrup and stir very frequently for 2 minutes, until pepitas are well coated. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined plate to cool for 5 minutes until sticky and crunchy.
Meanwhile, make the Creamy Balsamic Vinaigrette. Simply add all the ingredients except for the olive oil to a food processor or small-capacity blender.
Blend, then with the motor running, stream in the olive oil, and blend until creamy.
To assemble the salad, add the greens and chopped herbs/fennel fronds to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle some balsamic vinaigrette on top to coat the greens.
Add the roasted pumpkin and chickpeas, handfuls of the pumpkin crunch, and fennel to the bowl. Toss to combine, then add the optional vegan feta and more balsamic vinaigrette on top. Enjoy!
Tips for making this recipe
Pick a small-ish pumpkin or squash
Make sure your pumpkin or squash is no bigger than 3 pounds. If it is, only roast 2 pounds of the peeled flesh.
Roasting too much pumpkin/squash at the same time = overcrowding the pans. This causes the wedges to steam rather than roast, which means you’ll end up with soggy squash rather than golden, caramelized goodness.
Treat yourself to a trip to the farmer’s market to explore the many varieties of winter squash out there. There are so many to choose from, most of which are great in this salad!
Instead of the usual sugar pie pumpkins and butternut squash, try any of these alternatives:
- Kabocha (red or green)
- Red Kuri
Dress it right before serving
Pour the dressing over the assembled salad right before serving. Any sooner and the creamy balsamic vinaigrette will wilt the salad greens.
Prep it ahead of time
Are you short on time? No problem! You can prep several of the components in advance to save on time and stress:
- Peel and slice the pumpkin/winter squash up to 3 days in advance. Store the slices in a large container or ziplock bag in the fridge until it’s time to roast.
- You can make the pumpkin crunch well ahead of time. Store it in a jar in your pantry (it should last at least 2 weeks).
- Blend the balsamic vinaigrette up to 1 week ahead of time (but it should last for 2 weeks in your fridge).
And to save even more time, turn to these shortcut ideas:
- Skip the pumpkin wedges and make the salad with 2 pounds/900g of peeled, pre-cut butternut squash instead. It’s typically sold as cubed squash, so it’ll be slightly different but still works fine.
- Use a store-bought bag of pre-shredded carrots instead of shaving the fennel yourself.
- No time for a homemade salad dressing? Generously season the salad greens and herbs with salt, pepper, your best extra virgin olive oil, and aged balsamic vinegar (about a 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar) instead.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pretty much any kind, but sugar pie pumpkins are the best. Just avoid the large carving pumpkins, which have very little flavor.
We’ve tested this salad with roasted sugar pie pumpkins, butternut squash, and acorn squash. Hokkaido pumpkin (red kuri squash) or kabocha squash are great options, too. Each salad we made was delicious but I personally loved the versions made with roasted kabocha squash, acorn squash, or butternut squash.
Microwaving the pumpkin/squash for 60 to 90 seconds will do wonders for softening the stiff flesh. If you’re still having trouble, microwave it in 30-second increments until it’s soft enough to slice.
And remember to use your largest, sharpest knife! This is a dangerous job for a dull knife.
It also helps to slice off the top, then the bottom nub so the pumpkin is on a flat surface. From there, carefully slice the pumpkin in half lengthwise (use a back-and-forth motion, like a saw).
Peeling pumpkins and squash can be a little annoying. To avoid this, you can roast the pumpkin/squash with the peel on, then use your hands to remove the peel after roasting.
NOTE: For some varieties, like kabocha squash, butternut squash, or Hokkaido pumpkin (red kuri squash), you can keep the peel on and eat it if you’d like.
You could serve it on its own as the main meal or enjoy it as a nice, light side dish with comforting fall recipes, like Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, Red Lentil Curry, and White Bean Stew.
And just like my Roasted Butternut Squash Kale Salad, this recipe always fits in on holiday menus. Make it a part of the feast alongside these 40 Fantastic Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes!
Want to keep it simple? You can pair the salad with this Butternut Squash Soup and Vegan Mushroom Soup for simple, yet flavorful and healthy dinners.
It’s best to store each component separately so you don’t miss out on the fantastic textures:
• Store the pumpkin crunch in an airtight jar in the pantry for at least 2 weeks.
• You can keep the vinaigrette in a jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
• The roasted pumpkin can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 or 6 days.
If you love this Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette as much as we do, please rate and review the recipe with your feedback below! It’s always very much appreciated :)
- 1 small to medium sugar pie pumpkin or other winter squash (no bigger than 3 pounds) (see Note 1)
- 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 (15-ounce/425g) can of chickpeas (optional, for protein)
- Sweet Pumpkin Crunch (see 2nd recipe card)
- Blender Balsamic Vinaigrette (see 3rd recipe card; see Note 2 for quicker alternative)
- 1 medium fennel bulb, shaved with a mandoline or very thinly sliced
- 1 cup (16g) parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
- 1 small handful fresh mint leaves, torn (optional; can use fennel fronds instead)
- 5 to 7 ounces (150 to 200g) arugula or watercress (see Note 3 for alternatives)
- 2 ounces (56g) vegan feta, crumbled (optional for a creamy, salty flavor)
- Preheat the oven to 425ºF/220ºC and arrange a rack in the bottom of the oven and in the top third.
- Rinse and dry the pumpkin. Microwave the whole pumpkin for 60 to 90 seconds to make it easier to slice. Slice off the top stem, then slice off any bottom nub from the pumpkin so you have a flat surface.
- Using your sharpest large knife, carefully slice the pumpkin in half lengthwise (use a back-and-forth motion, like a saw). Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and sticky pulp. You can save the seeds to roast later.
- Using a Y-shaped peeler, peel the pumpkin halves. If you don’t have a wide Y-shaped peeler, use a sharp knife to peel the pumpkin. Or, roast the pumpkin with the skin on and remove it after roasting. Cut each half into wedges, ½” thick (1.25 cm).
- In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin wedges with the maple syrup and olive oil (I use 2 TBSP oil for 2 lbs/900g of peeled & sliced pumpkin). Season with the cinnamon, several cracks of black pepper, and kosher salt (I used 1 ½ tsp for 2 lbs/900g of peeled & sliced pumpkin). Divide pumpkin evenly across the sheet pans. Keep the bowl for the next step.
- If adding the chickpeas, drain and rinse them. Transfer them to a dish towel and gently rub to remove water, drying well. Add them to the large bowl and drizzle with a generous 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Scatter chickpeas across empty spaces on the sheet pans.
- Roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Flip the pumpkin and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is browned in spots and fork-tender.
- Meanwhile, make the Sweet Pumpkin Crunch (see recipe card #2 below). Then make the Creamy Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe card #3 below). Finally, slice the fennel, and chop the parsley/mint/fennel fronds.
- Assemble the salad. Add the salad greens and chopped parsley/mint/fennel fronds to a large bowl. Season with a generous pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper. Add enough Balsamic Vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens, about 1 tablespoon per ounce of greens used (5 to 7 tablespoons).Add the roasted pumpkin (and chickpeas), several handfuls of Sweet Pumpkin Crunch, and sliced fennel. Toss with tongs to combine. Crumble the vegan feta on top, if using.Spoon a bit more Balsamic Vinaigrette on top, as needed.
- You can use any type of pumpkin or winter squash. Personally, I prefer kabocha squash, acorn squash, or butternut, as they have a bit more flavor than pie pumpkins. If your squash is bigger than 3 pounds, don’t use more than 2 pounds of the peeled flesh because you won’t have enough space on two sheet pans.
- In a rush? Skip the vinaigrette. Season the salad greens and herbs fairly generously with salt and pepper and toss with your hands. Drizzle the salad greens with your best extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar (about a 2:1 ratio).
- If you prefer a milder, more neutral salad base, use greens like mesclun, mixed spring greens, baby kale, or even a mix of those with chopped romaine.
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice (or 1/8 tsp ground cloves)
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- A big pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (use ½ tablespoon for a nonstick pan)
- ¾ cup (105g) pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds–not the seeds from your roasted pumpkin)
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- Line a large plate with parchment paper. Stir the cinnamon, nutmeg if using, allspice, cayenne, and salt together in a small bowl.
- Heat a medium frying pan for 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the pepitas. Cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes, stirring from time to time, until they start to smell toasty and some have started to turn golden.Add the maple syrup and spice mixture. Allow to sizzle, and stir very frequently, for about 2 minutes, tossing to coat the pepitas in the mixture.
- Immediately, transfer the mixture to the lined plate and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Some pepitas will stick together in clusters. I like to add small clusters to the salad and break apart big clusters with my hands.Store leftovers in a jar in the pantry for at least 2 weeks.
For nutrition info, click here.
- ¼ cup (60g) aged balsamic vinegar (see Note 1)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or whole grain mustard
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated (see Note 2)
- 1 small shallot, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (84g) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or organic cane sugar, only as needed (see Note 3)
- Add the balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, shallot, salt, and pepper to taste to a food processor or small-capacity blender (see Note 4).Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. With the motor running, stream in the olive oil and blend until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- If the vinaigrette is very tart, you can add the maple syrup or sugar, but keep in mind that the sweet pumpkin crunch has some sweetness to it.Store in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.
- While you can use any balsamic vinegar, you’ll get the best flavor from an aged balsamic vinegar; this is a great grocery store option with a good price to quality ratio (affiliate link).
- If you’re using a high-powered blender, you can just roughly chop the garlic.
- Since there is sugar in the sweet pumpkin crunch, add the maple syrup sparingly here (no more than 1 teaspoon).
- If you don’t have a small blender cup (e.g., 32 ounces or smaller), use a food processor instead of a blender.
For nutrition info, click here.