We are so fortunate to live in an area that has fruit stands in the summer, and local produce in the winter; our farmer’s market and our organic box program make sure of that! This summer however was long-lasting, which has had a knock-on effect on the produce, much of it expiring faster than expected, even when refrigerated. So this winter I am doing my utmost to appreciate our local produce and to experiment more with the varieties we have available.
Life is full of opposites, and winter squash is among them. This year, we have it in abundance, and my recent favourite variety is Kabocha. This small to medium size squash is easy to handle, and its smooth exterior makes peeling perfectly easy. The seeds can be scooped-out in seconds and the small halves are an ideal vessel for stuffing with rice and other grains for baking or presentation.
I had fun with Kabocha in this latest recipe, its firm flesh held up well while being baked in stock flavoured with fresh herbs. Probably the closest thing to this dish is a Moroccan Tagine, with the squash and roasted nuts substituting for the meat, and the quinoa for couscous.
I love to experiment with infusing flavours; infusing basically means that you are imparting flavour into a liquid or oil, just like when you steep dried tea in hot water. You can add lavender, coffee beans, or any number of herbs or spices to milk or cream for example, to create a delicious ice cream, custard sauce or even crème brûlée.
This time it felt like herbs and garlic should take centre stage. Thyme and sage are always in abundance and are fine to use even when covered in snow. The herby poaching liquid is used first to infuse the squash, then again as a broth to serve at the base of the quinoa.
*I recommend using ready-made organic vegetable stock to reduce the time required to make this dish, and a fine-mesh sieve will be needed for filtering out the small peppercorns and coriander seeds in the broth.
We enjoyed this dish as a vegetarian/vegan main for two (hungry people), and it would work really well as a unique side dish at your holiday table, or future dinner party.
Herb-infused Kabocha Squash with Roasted Garlic Quinoa
1 small Kabocha squash, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
8 sprigs fresh thyme + 1 for the dressing
3 fresh sage leaves
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1 litre organic vegetable stock
A few herb leaves or sprigs for garnish
1 1/2 cups dry quinoa, rinsed
2 cups water
Sprouts for serving (optional) (we used broccoli sprouts)
1 bulb garlic for roasting (you might as well roast two while you’re at it)
1/2 cup mixed raw nuts (hazelnuts and pecans are great)
For the dressing- in a small bowl combine:
Pulp of 1 roasted bulb of garlic, mashed
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1 sprig)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sea salt
pinch black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F
1. Add the squash pieces to a small roasting pan, followed by the spices, herbs, vegetable stock and 500ml water (do not cover the squash with foil).
2. Prepare garlic for roasting. Cut the top off to reveal the inside of the uppermost cloves, drizzle olive oil to cover the cut area, and wrap the bulb in aluminum foil.
3. Add the garlic bulb(s) to oven alongside the squash pan. Bake/poach the squash for 20 minutes, remove from oven and flip the squash over (be careful with the hot liquid when you do this), and return to oven for another 20 minutes. You can always keep the pan in the oven while you flip the squash but add ~5 minutes onto the cooking time to let the temperature recover from the oven door being open.
3. In a medium pot, over maximum heat, bring the 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the quinoa, place the lid on and reduce the heat to low (about 2). Cook for roughly 10 minutes, then remove pot from the heat, and keep the lid on for another 10 minutes while the quinoa absorbs the remaining water.
4. When there is 5-6 minutes before the squash is done, add the nuts to a baking tray (with sides) and add to the oven.
5. Remove the squash, garlic and nuts, and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before peeling the nuts, and squeezing out the garlic pulp.
6. While nuts and garlic cool, prepare the dressing for the quinoa. Add garlic pulp and mash well to combine so there are no lumps. Stir dressing into the cooked quinoa.
7. Using a sieve, strain the herbalicious roasting liquid and add 1.5 cups to the quinoa either at the base of the serving dish, or pour into a gravy boat so people can add as much as they like.
Serve with the peeled roasted nuts, sprouts, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.