Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash with Pumpkin Seeds, Apricots, & Pine Nuts

For the Holidays, it's all about the sides.  While you might contend that the turkey, pot roast, or tofurky are the leading players, I would beg to differ that it's more of an ensemble effort, particularly during Thanksgiving and the Winter Holidays.  Everyone wants a little of everything, leaving their plates a motley crue of colors, flavors, and textures.  And as someone who has been known to order three appetizers in place of three courses, it makes both cooking and eating during this time of year particularly satisfying.

Today's recipe was inspired by a turmeric-spiced quinoa pilaf with pine nuts that my sister made most recently for our flight to the Philippines.  Neither of us eat dairy, and knowing that her vegetarian and my gluten-free designated meals would likely contain some form of milk, cheese, or butter, we were prepared.  I remember eating it at one point during the 15 hour flight to Nagoya in the dark cabin and feeling comfort, security, and a sense of sigh-inducing contentment.  And what better time to share that than during the most family-oriented gatherings of the year?

Should you be making this for a smaller crowd or even just you and someone special, it could be extra fancy to stuff it into an acorn squash, so I'm including basic instructions for that as well.  But regardless if it's in a squash, snuggled up close to green beans or mashed potatoes, or simply on its own, rest assured that this vibrant side dish won't shy from taking center stage.

Middle Eastern Spiced Quinoa Saute with Pumpkin Seeds, Apricots, & Pine Nuts
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: none
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Yield: approx. 2 1/2 cups

3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 c onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons jalapeno, chopped (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon raw pine nuts
2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons dried apricot, diced

2 c cooked quinoa
1 c baby greens

salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Heat oil in wok or large pan over medium heat.  Add cumin seeds and gently fry for about 1 minute.
2.  Add onion and saute until translucent and softened, about 1-2 minutes.
3.  Add garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, if desired, and a pinch of salt.  Saute for about 1 minute until aromatic, stirring to prevent the garlic and ginger from burning.  Note:  Generally, with the addition of each new ingredient, I add another two-fingered pinch or two of salt.  Of course this helps with seasoning overall, but it also helps to keep each new component's flavor distinct.
4.  Add turmeric, pine nuts, pumpkins seeds, and apricot and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes, imparting a beautiful yellow glow to your ingredients.
5.  Add quinoa and stir to combine, doing your best to separate, and not mush, the grains to give the dish a nice 'fluff' and a consistent color.  Slightly reduce heat and cook altogether for another 3-4 minutes.
6.  When finished, remove from heat source and fold in baby greens.  They will wilt from the residual heat.
7.  Season to taste.  Tastes wonderful either hot from the stove or served cold as a salad.

Mise en place always makes me happy.

The permanent mark of turmeric on my 'curry-designated' spoon.

Almost there. Intensely aromatic.

Gently tossing with baby red chard greens before serving.

Roasted Acorn Squash
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: none
Cooking Time: 40-60 minutes
Yield: 4 halves

(2) 1 lb. acorn squashes
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Cut each acorn squash in half lengthwise.  Do not discard the seeds.  If you have a very round squash, it may be helpful to slice a small portion off the rounded part to help it stand steady as a bowl.  
3.  Drizzle about half a tablespoon oil into each half.  Massage into flesh, seeds, and membrane.
4.  Season and bake, open side down for 40-60 minutes, or until fork tender.  For added flavor, bake your acorn squash with herbs (e.g., sage, rosemary, thyme), spices (e.g., cumin, cinnamon), or aromatics (e.g., shallots, ginger, garlic) stuffed into the center of each half.
5.  Note:  Keeping the seeds and membrane creates additional steam within the squash, helping to cook it evenly and maintain moisture.  And at the end of it all, your bonus is roasted squash seeds to snack on.

Shallot nestled in the seeds, leaving behind beautiful flavor.

If serving quinoa with the acorn squash, spoon a heaping 1/2 cup into each half.   But they would also do well to be served on their own as separate sides.  Just don't be surprised if they end up finding each other anyways.  The nutty sweetness of the squash is a beautiful echo to the comforting warmth of the turmeric and cumin and the contrasting sweetnesses of onion, apricot, and wilted greens.  And I love the pop of the pine-nuts and snap of the pumpkin seeds - so much fun and really quite simple to throw together, even last minute.

Hope you're having a beautiful week thus far.  Can you believe that in eight days we'll already be at Thanksgiving and just about a month from the end of the year?  Yeah, neither can I.  

Let's enjoy it.


  1. Time really flies. But it's best to have good foods on special occasions. Love this recipe as I enjoy eating turmeric and pumpkin seeds!

  2. Hi Joe, I'm glad that I could inspire this one =) Thank goodness for back-up food. I don't know how we would've made it through those flights. Your spin looks just as tasty as the original. I already made a quinoa pilaf with spiced Edamame during the week, but I just bought some fresh Turmeric and I'm going to make another one. You can never go wrong with squash either. Om nom nom all around =)


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