Quinoa pilaf-salad with acorn squash, onions, cherries, and almonds

April 7, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a hybrid dish and definitely reflects that I have a terrible time naming dishes. Indecisiveness really is a disadvantage when it comes to naming things, especially food, because ideally you want a name that suits the food by both describing it and making it sound appetizing. So here it is, the spicy quinoa pilaf-salad with acorn squash, sautéed onions, dried (local!) cherries, and toasted almonds. Only you can see above that I shortened the title by a fair amount.

Whatever you decide to call it, this dish was good warm, but I loved it cold as a salad. The taste-tester and official dishwasher preferred it warm and more pilaf-y, though I don’t think it made the top ten favorites list. Then again he did accompany me to Whole Foods and after all the enthusiastic squealing about this carbohydrate I think perhaps his expectations were a bit too high. I chose to buy red quinoa because it’s a beautiful color, as you can see here, but the regular tan quinoa is just as tasty and nutritious, and beautiful in its own way too.

Quinoa is a complete carbohydrate that I like for a) its taste and b) because it’s a really fun word to say: keen-wah. It’s very adaptable to all sorts of cuisines even if it is, if I recall accurately, a grain native to South America. I took this dish in a sweet-sour-spicy direction by including acorn squash, dried cherries, and crushed red pepper. Plus there’s almonds for crunch and some nice savory elements with the sautéed onion too.

However, taste tester’s opinions aside, this is a pretty easy meal to toss together, or is a great bring-along to any picnics, or to pack for lunch. There’s a bit of hands-on time (and the possible hassle of getting ahold of some quinoa), but isn’t so involved or timing-specific that you can’t, you know, read blogs or play with the cats during the downtime.

First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice in half and seed an acorn squash. You will really only need half but might as well roast the whole thing. I used the other half a few days ago as one of a homemade pizza’s toppings, which I talked about briefly in the previous post, and will post soon-ish. You can either discard the seeds, or dry them and roast them too, and eat as a snack.

Add about half an inch of water to a baking dish, and place the cut end of the squash downwards. Roast in the oven for about an hour or so, or until the squash is soft but still firm. The softer the squash the more it will blend into the pilaf-salad.

After about thirty minutes have passed, toast a cup or so of sliced almonds over low heat…

until lightly golden in spots.

Immediately remove from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, you can get started on making the starring grain itself. In a large pot, put in two cups of water, one teaspoon dried thyme,

two teaspoons crushed red pepper,

and two teaspoons cumin.

Toss in one cup of rinsed (and then drained) quinoa and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Plop the lid on and let the water just get to a boil, and then turn the burner down to very very low – a bare simmer – for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Chop up one medium onion or two smalls, like I did, into slices.

Sautée over medium-low heat until golden brown. Here they are almost done. If you let them get to the caramelized stage, they won’t have as much bite, but they will still taste good. However, I prefer the textural contrast between the quinoa and all the other ingredients in this dish.

Then wash the six sad key limes, or more likely, a lemon. (I only used the key limes because they needed to be used up – feel free to use the ubiquitous and cheaper lemon here, as was my original intent.)

Once the quinoa is done, squeeze in the juice of one lemon or six sad key limes (well, regular lime would work here too, now that I think about it).

By now the squash should be done, so pull it out of the oven and check its texture.

Slice into cubes. Reserve one half for another dish or whatever, because we’re only going to need one half for this one. Don’t include the skin of the squash, by the way.

Toss in the onions,


one cup of unsweetened dried cherries (feel free to chop them up, by the way – I was being lazy),

and the cubed squash, and mix. Taste and add some salt and pepper, if desired.

Since the picture of it all mixed together in the pot is really dark, I opted for this much nicer photograph of the completed pilaf-salad, complete with a zoomed-in look at the quinoa grain.

Quinoa pilaf-salad with acorn squash, onions, cherries, and almonds

Serves four to six


  • Half an acorn squash (I recommend roasting a whole one, and reserving the other half for something else)
  • One cup sliced almonds
  • One teaspoon dried thyme
  • Two teaspoons crushed red pepper (add more if you like it spicy)
  • Two teaspoons cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • One cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • Two small onions or one medium onion
  • Juice of one lemon or lime
  • One cup dried unsweetened cherries, preferably chopped
  • Additional salt, and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut squash in half, deseed, and place, cut side down, in a baking dish with about a half-inch of water on the bottom. Bake for about one hour.

2. About thirty minutes later, toast almonds over low heat until lightly golden. Set aside.

3. In a large pot, mix together thyme, crushed red pepper, cumin, salt, and quinoa. Place lid on pot and bring to boil. Immediately turn the heat down to a low simmer and let cook for fifteen to twenty minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice onions into lengths, and sautée over medium-low heat for about fifteen minutes until golden but not caramelized.

5. Chop up the cherries, if desired. Once the squash is done, cube one half of the squash.

6. Once the quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat and stir in the juice of the lemon or lime.

7. Mix in onions, almonds, cherries, and squash. Add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Serve warm, or chill first and then serve. Enjoy!

Note: this dish keeps well in the refrigerator for up to three days.


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