Montana Public Radio

Recipe: Baked Quinoa With Poblano Peppers, Butternut Squash And Cheese

Jan 3, 2015

Parmesan and Quinoa Butternut Squash. (Adapted from “Joy of Cooking: All about Vegetarian Cooking”, by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker, Scribner, 2000 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Credit Flickr user, Emily

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 1/4/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)

Notes below are taken from Greg Patent's March 4, 2008 "Missoulian" column, where Greg first introduced the recipe (bottom) that Jon Jackson has since adapted to include poblano and chili peppers instead of chard:

Whole grains, nutritional powerhouses packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbs and some fats, make excellent foods. They have to, because the nutrients in them nourish the sprouting seedlings that ultimately grow into adult plants.

We know many, such as rice, oats, corn, wheat and barley, from the myriad breakfast cereals that crowd supermarket shelves. And when ground into flour, these grains play major roles in baking and in cookery.

Less well-known whole grains, such as amaranth, spelt, millet, teff, buckwheat, hominy and quinoa, are still in their infancy with regard to claiming their roles in our nutritional lives.

One of the most ancient grains to come on the culinary scene in recent years is quinoa (KEEN-wah). Born in the Andes Mountains of South America 5,000 or so years ago, quinoa helped sustain the mighty Inca civilization for generations.

Called the "mother grain," quinoa contains more high-quality protein than any other grain. It provides all the essential amino acids in a way that meets the standards set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. And for those who are gluten-sensitive, quinoa is gluten-free. It is recommended by the American Dietetic Association and Celiac.com.

Aside from the good-for-you qualities of quinoa and other whole grains, they're just plain delicious. And that's the best reason for eating them.

Though technically not a cereal grain at all, but a member of the chenopodium herb family whose best-known inhabitant is lamb's quarters, quinoa is easy to prepare, versatile and cooks quickly.

When I first began cooking with it 20 years ago, recipe instructions said to rinse the grains in a strainer under cool running water to flush away acrid-tasting surface substances called saponins. Although quinoa is scrubbed and dried before packaging, some saponins may still persist. Old habits die hard, so despite boxes stating "prewashed, no rinsing," I rinse.

To familiarize yourself with quinoa, buy a small package of it. Ancient Harvest brand organic quinoa is excellent. Its small yellow grains cook up to a fluffy nuttiness that you can enjoy in salads, soups, pilafs and in all sorts of baked dishes in combination with vegetables, meats and cheeses.

Notes to Jon Jackson's adapted recipe:

"Nowadays, I make this with a 1/2 lb of andouille sausage, or lately, a buffalo (bison) sausage, but diced ham or bacon also work well. If you find it too hot, reduce the number of spicy peppers. You can also replace the meat and cheese with vegan alternatives."

Baked Quinoa with Poblanos, Butternut Squash and Cheese

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

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4 tablespoons olive oil

2 generous cups peeled and diced (1/2 inch) butternut squash

1/2 lb. sausage, peeled and sliced

1 large yellow onion, chopped medium-fine

2-3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into narrow strips, then quartered

3-4 chili peppers (Red Fresno, yellow wax), stemmed, seeded and chopped medium-fine

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Pinch of grated nutmeg

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4 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces Swiss or Monterey pepper jack, grated (can top with grated Parmesan cheese)

*Put the quinoa into a large wire strainer and rinse under running cool tap water for 1 minute. Shake to remove excess water. Combine the quinoa with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat. Stir briefly, cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, until the water is absorbed.

*Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Test with a sharp knife to see if the squash is cooked through. If it is, use a slotted spoon to remove the squash from the pan. If not quite tender, cover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer, until it passes the tenderness test, then remove the squash from the pan.

*To the oil remaining in the skillet, over medium heat, sauté  the sausage. Cook, stirring occasionally, till it's just cooked. With a slotted spoon, remove from the pan to a bowl.

*Reducing the heat to medium low, add the small raw chopped chilies to the remaining oil in the pan. Allow about thirty seconds before adding each of the next ingredients, allowing each element to soften. Stir in the onions, then the garlic, and finally, the chopped poblano peppers. Add salt and pepper to taste and the nutmeg.

*In a large bowl, fluff the quinoa with a fork. Add the squash, sausage, and sautéed peppers-onions-garlic mixture and toss together. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Add the 4 oz. of grated cheddar and mix again. Coat a 12-by-8-by-2-inch baking dish with cooking spray or olive oil,  making sure to cover all exposed interior surfaces. Transfer the quinoa mixture to the pan. Level with your fingers and sprinkle with the 2 oz. of your preferred grated cheese. Cover tightly with foil. (May be made one day ahead to this point and refrigerated).

*Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35 minutes. Carefully remove the foil  without disturbing the melted cheese surface and bake another 10 minutes, until golden or lightly browned. Cool a few minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings as a side dish or 6 as a main dish.

Greg Patent's original 2008 recipe:

Baked Quinoa with Chard, Butternut Squash and Cheese You can serve this vegetarian dish as a main meal or as a side. If you're so inclined, feel free to add 1 cup diced cooked ham or chicken or 6 strips cooked crumbled bacon before baking for something heartier. You can assemble this one day ahead and refrigerate it, covered. Bring to room temperature before baking.