(And how it’s pronounced, but, just in case, keen-wa.)
It lures us with all nine of its essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It excites us with its exotic ties to the ancient Incan tribes of the Andes Mountains. It pleases us with its variety of colors. And it wins our practical hearts with its quick cooking time.
This gem of a grain is actually a seed. It is the seed of the quinoa plant. It cooks like rice, in about 10-15 minutes. And, when it’s done, it expands from tiny little bird-seed-like spheres into slightly bigger translucent discs with a white ring around each. I always marvel at this transformation.
Wonderful on its own, with just a little oil, salt and pepper, it also mixes beautifully with herbs and vegetables for satisfying side dishes, pilafs and stir-fries. And it holds its own as a main dish, too. This came up in a conversation with a friend recently. Thinking of ways to use the quinoa she had at home, one obvious main dish was as a filling. And even if obvious, definitely not mundane, not with all the ingredients quinoa could be mixed with, and then the choices of ingredients it could fill. Bell peppers. Zucchini. Eggplant.
Because I happened to have that one.
What I didn’t have was quinoa. And there was even a variety of that when I stopped in at Trader Joe’s: plain, red, tricolor.
This is what I did. I cut the acorn squash in half vertically and cleaned out its insides. I rubbed it on the outside and inside with a light-bodied extra virgin olive oil (this was the oil I used throughout, but, really, any oil would be fine according to taste), then seasoned with salt and pepper. A little oil rubbed on the pan, too. And if the acorn halves aren’t flat on the pan, then trim a little off the outside to make a secure base. Slide the pan into a 400° oven, which is a good roasting temperature. What I was after was almost-black skin, the flesh golden to browning, and very tender when pierced with a knife, which I got after about 45 minutes to an hour.
In the meantime, I cooked the quinoa according to the package directions, and used vegetable stock instead of water for added flavor, two cups of stock to one cup of quinoa.
While that cooked, I sautéed, over medium-high heat, six thinly sliced mushrooms, to which I added three finely diced garlic cloves (about one tablespoon), three-quarters of a red bell pepper (because that’s what I had left over from something else), and eight thinly sliced sage leaves. Salt and pepper. When everything had cooked down, I turned the heat off.
Then into the pan went two cups of the quinoa, three thinly sliced scallions, about four cups of thinly sliced baby spinach, one handful of thinly sliced parsley, and a good handful of grated cheese (about a quarter cup). Checked for seasoning again.
I turned the oven up to 425°, then scooped the filling generously into each of the two acorn squash halves, with enough left over that would’ve filled two more if I’d had them. (Something to keep in mind for the future, but this time, used some of that filling the next morning with two eggs for an omelet.)
I drizzled a little oil over the top of both squash halves, and then slid them into the oven to brown for about 10-15 minutes.
This was delicious. The fork-tender acorn squash pulled easily away from the skin, mixing with the filling. And the filling had both a depth from the longer sautéed ingredients and a lightness from the fresher ones added near the end. A light green salad on the side. Lovely dinner.