Power Food: Quinoa With Roasted Butternut Squash

By: Ana Sofia Pelaez

With the Chicago marathon just past, New York City  coming up and Philadelphia around the corner, you might have noticed weekend runners - on their own or roving in packs - heading out with singular determination. Friends or family who’ve spent the last few months training for these events may have dropped out of your life altogether only to reappear weeks later - sporting odd glove-shaped shoes that give them monkey feet and raving about pacing, hill repeats, cadence and hydration. Not surprisingly, nutrition is also a major pre-occupation for runners because the more you ask of your body the more you expect from your food.

Quinoa, a complete protein packed with essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates, fiber, folate, iron, and magnesium, has a lot to offer. Native to the Andes, its nutritional profile made it a staple for the Incas who considered it a sacred crop. As simple to make as rice or pasta, its crunchy, chewy texture lends itself to sides and salads in endless combinations. I like to have large batches on hand to toss with seasoned vegetables, like this version made with roasted butternut squash and toasted pecans that add additional anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Mostly, I like knowing that whether it’s for a big event or just because it’s a beautiful fall morning and running through the streets till you just can’t anymore seems like the most natural thing in the world, I’ve given myself everything I need to get through the miles ahead.

Quinoa with Roasted Butternut Squash, Arugula and Toasted Pecans

Quinoa must be thoroughly rinsed with cold water to remove the saponin coating, a naturally occurring pesticide that coats the seeds and can add a bitter taste.

1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
1 cup red, buff or black quinoa, well rinsed

2-lb butternut squash, trimmed, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. paprika
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cups arugula
1/3 cup pecan halves, toasted and roughly chopped

Pre-heat oven to 450 F degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Place butternut squash in a large mixing bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, cinnamon, paprika and cayenne pepper (if using) until well coated. Pour out onto the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the middle rack of the preheated oven and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In the meantime, combine the quinoa, water (or broth) and ½ teaspoon of salt in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook undisturbed until the water has evaporated and the quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered an additional 5 minutes then fluff with a fork.

In a large shallow skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sautée until they begin to soften, adjusting the heat so that they don’t brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa and roasted butternut squash to the skillet. Toss in the arugula and continue to cook until it just begins to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Top with chopped pecans and serve.

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