Sunday, November 10, 2013

Autumn Salad of Red & White Quinoa with Roasted Delicata Squash & Apples

Occasionally when I propose recipes for a class, I don't have a finished recipe ready.  Instead, I propose a recipe title that expresses a food idea that appeals to me.  Most of the time developing the recipe to match the idea is a pleasure.  Such was the case with three of the recipes in my recent Squash and Sweet Potatoes class.  I posted two of these recipes last month (Rice Gratin with Butternut Squash & Mushrooms and Marbled Chocolate & Pumpkin Cheese Tart) and I am posting the third today: Quinoa & Roasted Winter Squash Salad with Autumn Fruits & Pistachios.  Along with the recipe, I thought it might be fun to share how I went from title to finished recipe.

The title of this recipe was purposefully vague—this gave me some creative wiggle room as the class approached.  "Winter Squash" could be any number of the delicious squash that are flooding the market right now...Butternut, Kabocha, Red Kuri, Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, etc.  (Although, I knew it would not be Butternut or Pumpkin since those two were already slated to appear in other recipes.)  "Autumn Fruits" is also conveniently could mean a dried fruit of some kind, or an apple...or pear...maybe cranberries...or even pomegranate.  And the word "salad" allows leeway to include greens...or not.  To me, it is the presence of a vinaigrette that makes a salad, so as long as I included that, I knew I would be in good shape. 

When I began to think seriously about this recipe, I settled on Delicata squash for the "winter squash" portion of the salad.  Delicatas are one of the easiest of the winter squashes to prepare—they only need to be scrubbed, halved and seeded to prepare them for cooking.  The thin skin is attractive and tender when cooked, so it can be left on.  The flavor too is easy and friendly—nutty and slightly sweet.  I can't imagine there are too many people who wouldn't like the taste of this squash.  It is particularly delicious when roasted, making it a perfect candidate for  my salad recipe.

Delicata and apples...ready to be roasted

To be honest, when I proposed the recipe I knew I wanted to include chunks of roasted apple in my salad.  I love apples with winter squash (although, roasted pears would have been good too...).  My dilemma was what other fruits to include.  Since I had chosen to put pistachios in the salad (something that I have appreciated in combination with winter squash and grain pilafs since I developed a bulgur pilaf that featured these two in combination), I thought something red would be nice...Christmas is coming, after all.  This limited me to pomegranate or dried cranberries or cherries.  I had planned on pomegranate, and then at the last minute, just before I threw the pomegranate into my first test run of the salad, I decided I wanted something slightly chewy (as opposed to crunchy) and reached for the dried cranberries instead.  I loved the way this turned out—not only because of the texture they add, but also because of their pronounced sweet-tart flavor.  Soaking them in orange juice emphasized these great qualities...and added another nice flavor element as well.  If you don't want to use orange juice, apple cider would be a good choice too.

In the end I did decide that my "salad" should include greens. I love the addition of Arugula to the Quinoa, Beet & Avocado salad I posted a couple of years ago...and there are still such beautiful greens available locally.  Just this past weekend I purchased a bag of hearty Autumn lettuces that included (among other things) Beet greens, Arugula, young Red Russian Kale and an Asian green similar to Tatsoi (unfortunately, I can't remember its name).  I couldn't believe how good these greens were (I started to eat them right out of the bag as I was washing olive oil...they didn't need a thing).  These greens had more substance than baby lettuces, but at the same time had not been allowed to reach the point of maturity where they had to be cooked (the grower jokingly told me that he called them "teen-aged greens").  

When I was testing the salad I used a package of Organic Girl mix ("supergreens") that included Red & White Chard, Arugula, Spinach and Tatsoi.  Any of these greens I have mentioned—alone, or in combination—would be delicious in this salad.  They will stand up to the bulk and weight of the quinoa as well as the strong flavors of the other ingredients.

To round out the flavors of my salad, I used sherry vinegar and Feta cheese.  Sherry vinegar is excellent with apples, and its inherent nuttiness makes it good with the roasted squash.  The Feta provides a nice salty accent...really waking up all of the other flavors. 

Finally, as is obvious from the pictures, I chose to use a combination of white and red quinoa.  My original plan had been to use all white quinoa.  White is the kind that I'm in the habit of keeping on hand...and like everyone else, I often cook out of habit.  I do think that the salad would be just fine made with all white quinoa, but at some point between the time I proposed the recipe and when I began testing  the recipe I happened to see a bag of mixed quinoa—white, red and black.  It was so pretty that I decided I wanted to make my salad with a combination of two colors of quinoa.  If you don't want to purchase two colors of quinoa, I would choose to make the salad with all white instead of all red.  The white provides some quiet relief in the midst of what was in the end a very colorful salad. 

I loved the way this salad turned out.  It is loaded with flavor and substantial enough to stand on its own as an entrée (which is how I have enjoyed it).  If you are a person who must have animal protein with your evening meal, I imagine it would make a nice side dish...particularly for pork.  Best of all, unlike most salads that include raw greens, this one holds up beautifully.  It would be a great contribution to a pot luck dinner...and I can vouch for the fact that the leftovers make a fine lunch the following day.  

Quinoa & Roasted Winter Squash Salad 
with Autumn Fruits & Pistachios

1/2 c. olive oil, divided
1 small red onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 c. quinoa, well rinsed (1/2 cup white and 1/2 cup red, if available)
1 1/4 c. water
1/3 to 1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (from Valencia oranges, if available)—see notes & variations
1 lb. Delicata squash, well-scrubbed (see note)
1 large apple (8 or 9 oz.)—something with a sweet-tart character and that holds its shape when cooked...I prefer Pink Lady, but Braeburn or something similar would also work 
1/2 c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 to 4 t. Sherry vinegar
2 1/2 to 3 oz. hearty greens (see notes)
2 to 3 oz. Feta (optional)

Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a medium sauce pan set over moderate heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until onion is soft and beginning to caramelize—about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the quinoa and continue to cook and stir until the grain is well-coated with the oil, lightly toasted and hot through—1 or 2 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender—12 to 15 minutes. Let rest, covered and off of the heat, for 5 minutes. Spread the quinoa on a sheet pan to cool.

While the quinoa cooks, prepare the vegetables and fruit: 

Place the dried cranberries in a small bowl and cover with the orange juice. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Halve the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the halves of the squash lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick pieces. 

Peel the apple. Cut it into quarters and remove the core. Cut each quarter into three wedges and cut the wedges in half cross-wise.

Toss the squash and apples with enough olive oil to lightly coat. Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. 

Roast in a 400° to 425° oven until tender and caramelized—about 30 to 40 minutes.

Carefully turn the squash and apples over with a pancake turner about 2/3 of the way through the cooking time. Let the squash and apples cool. 

To make the salad, place the quinoa, squash, apples, dried cranberries and orange juice in a large bowl. Add the pistachios and toss to combine. Drizzle a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and a quarter cup of olive oil over all. Toss to combine. Add the greens and toss again. Taste and add more sherry vinegar if necessary. If the salad seems dry, add more olive oil...or more orange juice, if you like. 

Serve with the Feta crumbled coarsely over. Serves 4 as an entrée, or 6 to 8 as a side.

Notes & Variations:

  • If you like, you may use an Acorn, a Sweet Dumpling or a Carnival Squash. Halve and scoop out the seeds as for the Delicata and cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into bit-sized lengths. 
  • If you prefer, you could substitute a peeled and cubed squash for the slices of squash—Butternut, Red Kuri, Kabocha, etc. 
  • Try substituting apple cider for the orange juice. 
  • For the greens, I love an Organic Girl blend that includes red & white chard, spinach, arugula and tatsoi (called "supergreens". Baby kale would also be delicious.

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