Appetizers, Cookbook Reviews, Dinner, Healthy, Holidays / Entertaining, Vegetarian

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Are you eating quinoa yet? If not, then you definitely should be! I’m a recent convert after having eaten a delicious dish called the Happy Vegan at Tender Greens in Walnut Creek and then fell completely in love with the versatile superfood after an impromptu picnic with CK. That day I picked up a good to the last bite combination of quinoa, arugula, beets, goat cheese, and mandarin oranges  from Fleur de Sel and promptly went home to make a grocery list to recreate the dish at my leisure. And oh have I ever!

Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to get my hands on this brand new cookbook called Quinoa Cuisine that’s packed with 15o ideas for getting your quinoa on.

I’ll admit that prior to scouring this book for tips my first few attempts at cooking quinoa were not very good. It seemed that whenever I tried to make it on the stovetop it would come out very wet and mushy. Ick! But then I realized that I could make it in my rice cooker and voila — dry and fluffy quinoa was born. I don’t know why I’m completely unable to cook it the “normal” way, but I was pleased to see that the authors of the book also mention this method of preparation in their extensive introduction. A few additional tidbits of information that I found fascinating and/or useful included:

  • Quinoa is gluten-free and therefore a great alternative staple to keep on hand for your friends and family who are sensitive to such things.
  • Quinoa flakes are a real thing. I’ve heard about and used quinoa flour but not flakes.  Apparently they resemble rolled oats and are good to use in place of breadcrumbs.
  • Rinse your quinoa! I learned this the had way when I cooked an entire bag without doing so. It was so bitter from the saponin coating that I ended up throwing it out. Even if your packaging says that it has been pre-rinsed I wouldn’t take the chance. It takes less than a minute to run it under a little water in a fine mesh strainer.
  • Quinoa isn’t cheap. Buy it in bulk. Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser are right on about this point. I quickly got sick of paying for expensive single bags at my local grocery store. Not to mention that half the time they were sold out. I ended up using the subscribe and save option on Amazon and now have a healthy supply on hand at all times.

That big stockpile will definitely come in handy with the huge array of recipes in this great reference. I love the idea of substituting quinoa for rice in paella, pilafs, and stews. Not to mention all of the great vegetables and pies that you can fill with the fluffy stuff. Plus there’s an entire new facet of baking opened up to you with the use of quinoa flour. Recipes for crepes, pie crust, pancakes, and even buttermilk biscuits are all intriguing enough for me to feel my ingredient shopping urge kick in.

But until that special flour arrives on my doorstep we can tide ourselves over with this healthy, filling, and super nutritious stuffed squash. It couldn’t be easier to prepare and it’s quite pretty to present to guests. You can even make the squash cups ahead of time and bake them off just as your companions arrive. They’ll think you slaved in the kitchen all day, and you can feel good about serving something that won’t make anyone feel guilty about over indulging in customary dinner party wine and dessert.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 4
Originally published in the cookbook Quinoa Cuisine by Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser

2 acorn squash, halved stem to end, seeds removed
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
1 shallot, minced
3 cups fresh baby spinach (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup currants or golden raisins (Erin’s Note: I used dried cranberries)
1/3 cup chopped shelled unsalted pistachios
2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons grated parmesan cheese, divided
kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Brush the insides of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Roast until the flesh can be pierced easily with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over high heat, bring the quinoa and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 10 to 12 minutes for white quinoa, 18 to 20 minutes for red. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool slightly.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent and soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the spinach and wilt, stirring and turning occasionally with tongs, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the cooked quinoa, raisins or currants, pistachios, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the squash are cooked, turn them over so the cut side is up. Fill each half completely with filling and sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Return the filled squash to the oven and cook an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted. Serve hot.