My love affair with quinoa began a few years ago when a roommate wowed me with amazing salad of the said grain, topped with candied nuts. There was something different about this chewy, fluffy side dish. Something wonderful.
Quinoa (pronounced Kee-No-Wah), is a South American plant whose seeds are often confused with the grain family. The quinoa seeds function like rice, couscous, millet, or barley–more as a grain than as a seed.
The Incas referred to quinoa as the “mother of all grain.” I’m not sure whether this was because they knew about it’s unusually high protein content (12-15%) or that it contains a balanced set of amino acids. My guess is they probably just thought it tasted good and was easy to prepare.
When the little couscous-like grains cook, the germ unfold from the rest of the starch to create a whimsical spiral. I think it’s one of the nicest-looking things a person could eat, and I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it. It’s great in salads, but I thought I’d introduce it to my favorite winter squash: the acorn.
This dish is very easy to prepare and can be thrown together quickly. Since quinoa lasts in your cupboard for months, and acorn squash will wait almost as long, this supper can be adapted to most anything you have lying around: cans of black beans and corn, dredges of peppers and onions in your crisper, spices waiting to warm you.
Plus, any meal served in a one of nature’s edible bowls automatically gets bonus points. You don’t really even need a plate. So when you’re done reading the recipe, throw it out and experiment away. Trust me: squash are very forgiving.
Mexi-Quinoa Acorn Squash
2 medium-sized acorn squash
1 cup quinoa
water or broth
2 bay leaves
1 medium white or red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 red pepper, cleaned and chopped
2 jalepeno peppers, minced finely
1 tsp each cumin, chile powder, and coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 can low-sodium black beans, rinsed
1 can yellow corn (not creamed)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a 350 oven or toaster oven until shiny
fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese of your choice
sour cream and salsa
- First, roast the squash: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut each squash in half longitudinally, as the picture shows. Scoop out the flesh and seeds.
- Brush the flesh of each squash with a little oil, and place them cavity side down on a non-stick pan or parchment paper. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until flesh seems to have softened. Remove the squash from oven, (turn it down to 350) and turn the squash flesh-side-up. Put a pat of butter in each cavity, sprinkle with brown sugar or drizzle with maple syrup. Return to the oven.
- Meanwhile, cook the quinoa. Rinse 1 cup of quinoa a few times in cool water. Drain. Bring to boil with 1 3/4 cups water or broth and the bay leaves, reduce heat to low, and let simmer until all water has been absorbed. Let cool slightly and fluff with a fork. Remove the bay leaves.
- Saute the onion and garlic in oil until they’ve softened. Add the red and jalepeno peppers and spices, and keep cookin’ for a few more minutes.
- Add the black beans, corn, and toasted pine nuts. Cook for another minute or two.
- Remove from heat and stir in the fresh cilantro.
- Add the quinoa to the sauteed bean mixture. Fill each acorn squash cavity with as much of the yummy stuffing as you want. Sprinkle the tops with grated cheese of your choice.
- Garnish with chopped green onions, sour cream, and salsa if you wish.