My introduction to quinoa came a year or so ago, and I was so excited about this new alternative to rice and pasta that I went a little crazy with it. For a while I put it on the menu at the Children’s Space at least once a week. I tried using it to replace the rice in burritos (not recommended), in casseroles (slightly more successful) and as a side dish (the kids mostly pushed it around their plates into little piles). At home I was equally enthusiastic and my family — usually good sports about trying new, healthy foods — eventually rebelled. I knew I had to take a break from adding quinoa to everything the night my husband, eyeing his dinner plate suspiciously for any trace of the tiny spheres, asked, “Did you put quinoa in these mashed potatoes?”
I took a step back, and vowed to only put quinoa on the menu at school and at home when I found a really fantastic recipe.
Over the summer, I experimented. I tried various combinations of quinoa with beans, veggies, herbs, spices and dressings. They were all okay, but there were no home runs. And I knew it would take something really special to get everyone excited to give quinoa another try.
When the Children’s Space got a box of butternut squash from our Intervale farm share a few weeks ago I had a brainstorm. I cooked up a pot of quinoa. I cut one of the squash into tiny cubes, then roasted it with olive oil, salt and pepper until it caramelized. I added the squash to the quinoa, along with finely chopped red onion, scallions, salt, pepper, dill and feta.
I made it for my family's dinner that night and, for the first time, a quinoa dish actually disappeared.
I think I found my home run.
It seems like you can’t look at a food magazine, blog or website these days without seeing an article about quinoa. It’s understandable. The funny little seeds do have a lot going for them. Quinoa cooks up in about 15 minutes, much quicker than brown rice. It's gluten- and cholesterol-free, has a high protein content and provides all 9 essential amino acids — making it an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans. What’s not to love?