When we think of meatless sources of protein, foods like beans, tofu, and cheese generally top the list. But one of my favorites is quinoa (shark-jumping be darned!) — not only is it a delicious and complete protein, but it's also rich in iron and fiber, vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and unprocessed. For ethical farming reasons, I always make sure to buy Fair Trade quinoa.
This season I'm baking quinoa into a savory pie with roasted winter squash and aromatic herbs and spices. As a main dish for dinner or lunch to eat during the workweek, it's packed with fall flavor and nutrition.
Quinoa bakes and casseroles can get crumbly, especially when made without ingredients like eggs or cheese. To hold this dish together and give it some creaminess, I use roasted and mashed winter squash and ground flax seeds, which make a great vegan binder. I also mix in cubes of roasted winter squash — a butternut squash is perfect, or you can use another winter gourd like delicata, carnival, or kabocha.
The squash matches perfectly with herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme, and a pinch of paprika and nutmeg. A handful of toasted pumpkin seeds and dried currants or cranberries gives the bake even more texture and autumn flair. This dish is seasonal and filling enough that I'd happily serve it as a vegan, gluten-free main dish at Thanksgiving. It's also great room temperature or out of the fridge, making it fine for a quick lunch or dinner alongside a green salad.
Quinoa and Winter Squash Bake
1 1/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing dish and brushing on top
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ground flax seeds
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon water
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups cooked quinoa (cook in vegetable broth for best flavor)
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons dried currants or chopped dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel and cut the squash into 1/2-inch cubes (see How to Peel and Cube a Butternut Squash). Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
Combine the flax and water in a medium bowl and stir with a fork until thickened. Mash half of the squash using a fork or food processor. Add the mashed squash to the flax and stir with a fork until well-combined. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and herbs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add the quinoa and mashed squash-flax mixture to the bowl along with the paprika, nutmeg, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and a few cracks of black pepper. Stir until well combined. Add the remaining cubed squash, pumpkin seeds, and currants, and stir until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired.
Transfer the mixture to a greased 9-inch pie plate or a similar-sized oven-proof dish. Press it down firmly and evenly and brush a little olive oil on top. Bake until set and edges are browned, about 40 minutes.
Slice and serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to a week.
(Image credits: Emily Han)