Sunday, March 3, 2013

Winter Quinoa Salad

A few months ago, I thought my life was falling apart. It started when the school district I work for decided not to extend their sponsorship for me. They retracted that decision a few weeks later and told me they would be happy to sponsor me again for the next three years.  

During the time when I was scrambling to find another teaching position at any school district that might be willing to sponsor me, DFJ and I started having conversations about getting married. Those heart-to-heart talks were full of love, honesty, awkwardness, and some scary truths. The truth is, we are not sure if we are fully ready for this. The love and commitment is there but not everything else that comes along with it. We are going to have to plan a wedding, get me a Greencard, move somewhere else when we get good job offers, buy a house someday and settle in a place we are going to live in forever, raise kids, AND we are seriously going to be together for the next 50 years… WHAT?!?!

We were perfectly happy the way things were, why do we need to shake it up by deciding to take the next step? The answer is simple, we can’t keep floating within arm’s reach of each other forever. At some point, we have to anchor down and if not now, then when? If we don’t choose each other, then who? The only truth that we know is that we don’t want to lose each other. So from there, we moved forward. Now, we are engaged… and every time I look at the ring on my finger, my heart feels full. I am not alone in this… at the end of the day, no matter what happens, we have each other and that is all that matters.

Today I am sharing a simple, all-in-one meal that says “I love you” one spoonful after another. Quinoa, roasted winter vegetables, and sautéed vegetables all mixed together in a big bowl. It is deliciously heart-warming and will keep you coming back for more.

I love the myriad of textures in this dish… there are fun quinoa pops, juicy mushrooms, crunchy bell peppers, soft cauliflower, and the mashed squash that brings everything together. Each ingredient plays its own role and you get the pure flavor of each ingredient in every bite.   

The preparation and cooking time is quite lengthy, but I will walk you through it so there’s not so much lag time while the squash and cauliflower are roasting and while the quinoa is cooking. There is a four-step process to making this dish: roasting the squash and cauliflower, cooking the quinoa, sautéing the other vegetables, and mixing everything together.  

Winter Quinoa Salad (Makes 6-8 servings)  

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

1 small winter squash (I used a sugar pie pumpkin)
olive oil
rosemary leaves

1 head cauliflower
olive oil
½ teaspoon garam masala

Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. You will need two roasting pans to roast the squash and cauliflower separately. Make sure the roasting pans that you use will fit in the oven side by side.

Carefully cut the squash in half. Remove the seeds and as much of the fibrous threads as you can. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the squash halves and use your fingers to spread the oil all over. Sprinkle liberally with salt and scatter some rosemary leaves. Place the squash halves in a roasting pan. Set aside.

Using a knife, carefully remove the stalks that surround the cauliflower florets. Cut the cauliflower in half from head to stem. Lay each half flat side down on a cutting board and proceed to make half inch slices as if you're slicing bread. Move the sliced cauliflower to a separate roasting pan. Pour a long drizzle of olive oil, toss in 2 generous pinches of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon garam masala. Use your hands to toss everything together.

Place the squash and cauliflower in the oven. Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes and let the vegetables roast. Remove the cauliflower from the oven to stir for even cooking then place it back in the oven. Rotate the squash pan and close the oven door. Set your timer again for another 20 minutes. About 5 minutes before the timer goes off, check your cauliflower. They should start having brown blisters on top. You may remove them from the oven or give them a bit more time until the timer goes off. Take cauliflower out of the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Move the squash pan to the center of the oven and continue roasting for 15-20 more minutes. Turn off the oven and place the squash pan on a cooling rack.     

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the quinoa. I found a really helpful tip from bon appétit on how to treat quinoa right. Here we go:


1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
generous pinch of salt

Rinse the quinoa using a fine mesh strainer. Just for extra safety, place a bowl right under the strainer to catch the grains that might escape through the mesh. Move the rinsed quinoa into a medium size pot, add 2 cups of water, and toss in a generous pinch of salt. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When the water is boiling, partially cover the pot and lower the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste your quinoa to check for doneness. It should be chewy but still have that nice pop. Drain the water when it is done cooking. Again make sure to use a fine mesh strainer to prevent spillage. Move the pot away from heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff quinoa with a fork and put the cover back on until you are ready for the next step. 

While the quinoa is cooking, prepare the vegetable sauté. The cooking time for each ingredient is very short, so make sure everything is chopped and ready to go before you begin. 

Vegetable Sauté

3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
2.5 oz shiitake mushrooms, chopped finely
4 oz bell pepper (I used mini bells)
1/4 teaspoon sumac (if you don’t have sumac or harissa on hand, use cayenne and/or paprika)
1/4 teaspoon harissa
1/8 teaspoon salt

Heat olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, sauté the garlic until it turns golden, about a minute. Add the shiitake mushrooms and cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Toss in the bell peppers and cook for about 2 minutes. Season with sumac, harissa, and salt. Stir everything well together. Turn off the stove and move the pan away from heat.

Making the Salad
roasted squash
cooked quinoa
roasted cauliflower
sautéed vegatables
juice of half a large lemon
parsley leaves, to garnish

salt (to taste)  

Use an oven mitt and be careful not to burn yourself as you scoop out the squash flesh. Remove the fibrous threads that you were not able to get rid of before roasting the squash, they tend to give a bitter taste. Plop the mushy squash flesh into a big bowl and mash with a fork. Add all of the quinoa and mix it with the squash. Mix in the roasted cauliflower and sautéed vegetables. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon all over the salad and mix everything well together. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference… maybe add more lemon juice or salt. I found the flavors to be sufficient, but I encourage you to follow your own taste buds.

Allow the flavors to settle for at least an hour if you can help it. We ate this right away but later discovered that the leftovers had so much more flavor! This can be served at room temperature or warmed up in a skillet.

 This dish is definitely a good-mood food! Make it, I promise you will love it!


  1. Oh my gosh, so much congratulations!! That is so exciting. I think at the end of the day, when it comes down to it, it might never be the PERFECT time or circumstances to get engaged, but if you guys want to be together than it doesn't really matter. :)

    What a gorgeous quinoa dish! I'm in a good mood just looking at it!

  2. It's true, I never think of all the planning that will go into a wedding. I'm always a little hesitant if I want to get married, only because I hate being the centre of attention, and in a wedding everyone is looking at you. I'm sure I will eventually get over that fear.

    I love this dish! I have yet to try quinoa .I'm always making empty promises to myself.. Ok. Quinoa. I'm writing it right now on my shopping list


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