Oh quinoa, how I love you! Quinoa is always the answer when you’re after an easy to make, healthy dinner after a hard day’s work. In fact, for me, it’s always the answer even when I’ve had a lazy day. It’s the perfect base to salads or side dishes and barely a week goes by without me boiling up a batch.
For the uninitiated, quinoa is kind of like couscous, but it’s much more nutritious, gluten free and its texture is much less dry and sandy. (Can you tell I’m not a couscous fan?) It’ll soak up the flavour of your dressing and sits happily with almost any flavour. Apparently you can even use it in baking, although I haven’t tested this theory yet! If you haven’t tried quinoa yet, you really have to! Promise me you will, okay? (Pushy? Me? Never)
Now that autumn has enveloped us, it’s time to fall back on some trusty and comforting roasted veg. It’s squash season right now and I beg you to make the most of it. Sure you can go with a boring old butternut squash, but why not hunt out something a little more exciting. Crown Prince, or in this case Onion squashes are simply incredible and a decent sized supermarket should stock them or something similar. They both have a slight hint of chestnut to their flavour and are frankly gorgeous simply sprinkled with dried thyme and rapeseed oil and roasted as a side dish, but here they work wonderfully in an autumnal salad.
All good salads need some oniony tang, but I really dislike the taste of raw onion. I mean, who wants to be able to taste their lunch for the rest of the day? And the breath situation? Not good. So here I’ve used chives, they deliver the necessary tang without outstaying their welcome. Feta adds creamy and salty coolness and always works well in a quinoa salad.
To add a little sweetness and crunch to the party I’ve included pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts. Deseeding a pomegranate can seem like a palaver, so if you’re feeling lazy I’m sure you can find pomegranate seeds in a plastic pot at the supermarket. However, I like to keep my seeds fresh and juicy by doing the deseeding myself.
TV chefs seem to think that the best method is to cut the pomegranate in half across the middle, hold it over a bowl and smack it with a wooden spoon. I find this method pretty ineffective and it usually ends up with a nice big splash of pomegranate juice up the kitchen wall. Instead, after cutting it in half, I just rip my pomegranate apart with my bare hands and pick out the seeds. I’m just tough like that.
Roasted Vegetable & Feta Quinoa
The quantities here are a pretty rough guideline, it’s basically a case of add whatever you fancy in whatever quantity you want!
1/4 of an onion squash
1 baby aubergine
1/2 – 1 courgette (depending on size)
1/2 cup quinoa
Small bunch of chives
Seeds of 1/2 pomegranate
1 tbsp pine nuts
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200 C / 180 C Fan / 400 F. Start by cutting your squash into small chunks. Put the chunks into an ovenproof dish, drizzle with rapeseed oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir to coat and then pop them in the oven for 10 minutes. In the meantime chop your aubergine and courgette into small chunks. When the 10 minutes are over, remove the dish from the oven, add the aubergine and courgette, stir and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. When the time is up, remove the dish and leave it to one side to cool slightly.
Next put the quinoa into a small dish and cover it in cold water, leave it to soak for 5 minutes, to remove any bitterness. (If you don’t mind your veggies being hot in the salad you can cook the quinoa while the vegetables are in the oven). After 5 minutes, drain off the water using a fine sieve and then put the quinoa in a small, lidded saucepan. Fill the pan with cold water and put it over a high heat, with the lid on. Once the water boils turn the heat down to low and simmer the quinoa for 15 minutes. Drain through a sieve and run cold water through it to cool it down and stop it getting too claggy. Leave it to drain thoroughly in the sieve whilst you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Put the pine nuts into a small, dry frying pan over a medium heat, watch them carefully and shake them around frequently. When they have become lightly golden, immediately remove them from the pan and put them into a little dish. Deseed the pomegranate and finely chop the chives.
Now it’s time to bring the dish together. In a medium sized bowl mix together the roasted vegetables, quinoa and chives. Squeeze over the lemon juice, drizzle with a little rapeseed oil, season to taste and give it all a good stir. Top with some crumbled feta, the pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Enjoy!