Fall Squash Quinoa

Fall Squash Quinoa | Cook it Pretty
Cutting right to the chase, you need this dish in your life. This recipe is full of fall flavor bombs: squash (or pumpkin), dates, dried cranberries, almonds, balsamic, and warm spices. It’s also healthy (because spinach), gluten-free, and vegetarian. I have made it with acorn squash, butternut squash, and gem pumpkins. You can impress guests by stuffing the quinoa mixture in a roasted acorn squash. It looks really cute. But this deconstructed method tastes the same. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to go the extra mile in presentation. I know this looks like a lot of ingredients but that’s ok because they’re all bringing something to the table.

Fall Squash Quinoa
1 Squash of your choice (butternut or acorn), halved and scooped
1  cup uncooked Quinoa
2 cups Water
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 small Red Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
S&P to taste
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Honey
1/2 cup fresh Spinach
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped raw Almonds
6 Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup dried Cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled Feta
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped

Roast the Squash
Preheat the oven to 400F. In a roasting pan, drizzle the squash halves with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place them cut side down and roast for 20-25 minutes. Turn the halves over and return to oven for 10 more minutes. They’re done when you can easily stick a fork all the way through the flesh of the squash.

Cook the Quinoa
While the squash is roasting, bring your quinoa and water to a boil on the stovetop. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking the quinoa covered for 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Set aside.

Ready the Flavor Bombs
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add a dash of salt and pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Add the balsamic and honey and allow it to reduce for a couple minutes. Add the spinach and stir until the leaves cook down. Turn off heat. Add your cooked quinoa and mix well. Add red pepper flakes,  almonds, dates, cranberries, crumbled feta and cilantro and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine Forces
If you’re going for presentation points, spoon the quinoa mixture into the roasted squash halves. If your halves aren’t so pretty or you just don’t care, go ahead and scoop the cooked squash out of its skin and add it to the quinoa mixture.

Enjoy!

© Cook it Pretty 2016

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Couscous or Quinoa, Pumpkin or Squash?

Any conversation about squash or pumpkin can get pretty confusing around here. In Dubai, and apparently in Australia as well, butternut squash is referred to as butternut pumpkin. I’ve also seen acorn squash labeled as green pumpkin. I like pretty much all manner of squash and/or pumpkin and tend to gravitate toward recipes with these ingredients. (A recent review of my Pinterest boards made that pretty clear).

Butternut Squash Couscous | Cook it Pretty

So I recently picked up a “butternut pumpkin” and was looking for a recipe to use it with. I opted for  this Couscous Salad with Butternut Squash and Cranberry from The Kitchn. I followed the recipe pretty closely except for not soaking the dried cranberries (I eat them straight from the bag anyway – anyone know why I would need to soak them?) and adding some honey to the dressing as I found it a little too strong on the vinegar. I do love the local couscous, how cute is the packaging?

Dubai Couscous | Cook it Pretty

As I was making it I realized how close this recipe is to the Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe that is a big favorite of mine. After tasting it, I concluded that I prefer the quinoa/acorn version. This recipe from Camille Styles is the favorite of which I speak. I’ve made it over and over and it has sweet, salt, spice, and heat in all the right places. I always use cranberries instead of currants and different chopped nuts instead of pepitas, and my favorite personal addition is dates.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash | Cook it Pretty

I think this one also wins for presentation, and the addition of greens ups the health factor. Secret bonus of this presentation – no peeling or chopping the squash. That’s right, it’s actually easier to make it the cute way this time. I’ve made it clear in the past how partial I am to quinoa. Maybe I’m biased, but quinoa beats couscous this round. Cute camel packaging notwithstanding.

Secret Lovers: Dates & Bacon

Bacon Poem

Bacon.

When I think about what inspired me to put a little more time and effort into my kitchen skills, the things that come to mind are my surprise successes – things that turned out more impressive than I expected, and were memorable and yummy – or things that went poorly that pushed me to try again to fix my mistakes. Three dishes specifically come to mind: bacon wrapped dates, Irish car bomb cupcakes, and (pretty messed up) lemon bars.

The bacon wrapped dates are as good a place to start as any. The first time I made them was during my inaugural Dubai adventure in the summer of 2010. We were new here. Bacon was doing its thang back in the States, invading menus everywhere and finding its way into everything from mac ‘n cheese to ice cream sandwiches. I had only recently discovered the crispy, gooey, salty, sweet nuggets of deliciousness known as bacon wrapped dates. I missed them.

I realized I was sitting on a gold mine of delicious and inexpensive local dates in the Arabian Peninsula – the Sheik’s dates, I was told! – and they came in almost every form you could imagine. Date syrup. Date jam. Date oil. Dates stuffed with pecans and candied orange peel. While all these things taste pretty darn good, the dates were really missing their secret lover: bacon.

Bateel Dates

Don’t they look lonely?

The Middle East has a bit of a bacon problem. It’s not halal (Muslim version of kosher), yadda yadda yadda, they don’t eat it. Or serve it. It’s a bit of a conundrum, then, how many things around here are called bacon that AREN’T BACON. If you don’t want to eat bacon, don’t eat bacon. But don’t parade beef bacon and turkey ham around on menus and pretend it’s ok.

Are you feeling concerned for me yet regarding my lack of bacon access?

There is a way. There’s a secret section of the grocery store for people like me. Sinners. Outlaws. Hoodlums. It’s rather un-secret, actually. But it is way in the back. In large letters it reads “Non-Muslims Only”, much like that part of the old video store you weren’t supposed to see unless you were over 18. And that section is just chock full of pork products. Stuff I don’t even understand.

There’s something about hiding things away like that that makes you want it more, don’t you think? The lack of real bacon everywhere else made me a bit indignant. I will eat real bacon, dammit! I will proudly walk into the meat locker of shame to get it if I have to! America!

Old Oscar Mayer himself, apparently “America’s Favorite Bacon”, is right there in the mix. I have a terrible picture to prove it. (Didn’t I give the disclaimer about it not always being pretty?)

Oscar Mayer

America.

What could be better than combining the Sheik’s dates with Oscar Mayer? So rebellious. So forbidden. And yet, imagine the lack of confidence in my own cooking skills at the time…I only made FOUR! What a shortsighted fool!

I was absolutely shocked at how well they turned out. Obviously I ate them all before the man got home from work. But because sometimes the best part of cooking is sharing your successful creation with others, I quickly made another batch to prove to him how delicious this combination truly is. He was skeptical, but he agreed. Which is probably why we are getting married.

You can be certain that the next time I made these little bites of heaven, I made a batch about ten times the size and confidently served them to a happy group of friends. I went out on a limb and tried something, it turned out amazing, and thereby I was inspired to do more of it: more trying, more experimenting, more cooking. And of course, more sinning of the bacon variety.

BWD

Four! How adorable.

I’m willing to bet your popularity stock goes up when you show up at your next party with a platter of bacon wrapped goodness. A solid basic recipe to start with is this one from Popsugar Food.

Cook it Pretty notes: The most labor intensive part of this is pitting the dates. You’ll get a rhythm down after you do a few, but having a friend and a glass of wine helps. The bacon handling can be a little icky. Use kitchen shears to cut the bacon to an appropriate size, get a little greasy, then get over it. Your reward is coming.