Grilled sweet and sour squash with lentil salad

This delicious grilled sweet and sour squash with mint and orange zest lentil salad makes for one of the best vegetarian meals you could have.

While Christmas is gone I’m sure some of you are, just like me, still picking needles out of the rug and the underneath of their socks. Apart from that we have more less got back into a rhythm. I am back in a kitchen rhythm too, and order of sorts, which I find reassuring. My grandpa Roddy called it having your stall laid out. No resolutions or anything like that, just a comfortable rhythm, one that feels like good tights: supportive but not restrictive.

I am back at the market most days too, my ordinarily beautiful market. On the first day back my veg guys shouted Ahò and made the pinched fingers gesture over the crowd. The pinched fingers are a silent question for where the hell have you been. It is the sort of singling out I know they do for many. But it never fails to make me happy. It’s good to be home.

As I said, no resolutions, but after a bloody delicious Christmas and New Year in England, where food came in thick, rich waves, we are craving green, bitter and sharp: kale, raddichio, broccoli, artichokes, lemons, oranges, pasta and lots of olive oil. ‘Mum, I like it when you stink of oranges‘ Luca told me the other day. I like stinking of oranges too, having the zest under my nails, my lip burning hot because I touched it with a zesting finger and the strong oily scent.

I have been cooking from Fabrizia Lanza’s book Coming Home to Sicily, which Vincenzo, my Sicilian, is extremely happy about. It is a beautiful book, but not intimidatingly so: the recipes are too lovely and down to earth for that. The first thing I made was lentils with orange zest and mint. A recipe which transported me back to the case vecchie kitchen last summer where Fabrizia, Giovanna, lauren, Lou, David and I stood chopping onion and mint, and zesting oranges, the combined scent almost seeming an exaggeration of itself. While I was chopping in my Roman kitchen Vincenzo came and sat at the table. He nostalgically noted that it felt like a Sicilian bong.

I also made zucca in Agrodolce or grilled sweet and sour squash. I have been searching for a recipe like this ever since eating at a good local trattoria just before Christmas. Where that version used chunks of pumpkin cooked in olive oil, vinegar and sugar, Fabrizia suggests slices of butternut squash. For the perfect result you should griddle the slices until tender and seared with dark lines. After that you have to dress them with red onions sautéed until soft and slightly caramelized in extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and sugar.

The combination of tender, velvety squash and the sweet, sharp onion is excellent. You can eat it straight away, but is even better after a few hours when the flavors have really taken hold. The lentils, warm with citrus and mint, made a great partner for the squash.

More Great Vegetarian Recipes

Grilled sweet and sour squash with mint and orange zest lentil salad

Recipe by Rachel Roddy


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This delicious grilled sweet and sour squash with mint and orange zest lentil salad makes for one of the best vegetarian meals you could have.


  • For the grilled sweet and sour squash
  • 1 kg winter squash, such a butternut

  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil

  • a large red onion

  • 60 ml red wine vinegar

  • 2 heaped teaspoons sugar

  • black pepper to taste

  • fine sea salt to taste

  • For the mint and orange zest lentil salad
  • 500 g small brown or green lentils (not Puy)

  • finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

  • the juice of half a lemon

  • a big handful of mint leaves and another of parsley

  • fine sea salt


  • For the grilled sweet and sour squash
  • Cut the squash in half, pare away the skin and scoop out the seeds. Slice each half crosswise into 5 mm thick slices.  Heat up the grill-pan over a medium flame. Cook the squash slices in batches, over a medium heat, flipping them when deep grill marks appear. Once cooked, remove the slices onto a deep plate or shallow dish, season with salt and cover loosely to keep warm.
  • Meanwhile, peel and slice the red onion. In a small frying pan, over a medium/low heat, fry the onion on the olive oil until  it is soft, which will take about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir and then add the vinegar and sugar and continue cooking until slightly reduced and caramelized, which will take (roughly) another 5 minutes.
  • Pour the onion and its sticky juices over the grilled squash. leave to stand for about 15 minutes, carefully turning the pieces after about 6 minutes. Serve warm together with the mint and orange zest lentil salad.
  • For the mint and orange zest lentil salad
  • In a medium pan, cover the lentils with a liter of cold water. Bring the lentils to a boil. then reduce to a simmer for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and put them into a serving bowl.
  • Chop herbs and add to the bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and finally grate over the zest. Stir, leave to sit 5 minutes before serving, stir again and serve (pouring over a little more olive oil for shine if you fancy).
  • Enjoy!

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