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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rainbow Quinoa Salad + Roasted Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

   I am a super fan of the "superfood" quinoa. In fact, it is one of my very favorite foods. Quinoa dishes are so wonderful because they can be so versatile. Consider this recipe a rough blueprint and make it your own. The recipe I've come up with below is my favorite combination of textures and flavors but I've made it several different ways. Below are a few pictures of the various combos of quinoa salad that I've come up with in the past...

Quinoa Salad #1: Red bell pepper, roasted butternut squash, slivered almonds, basil, lime, and dried cherries. The quinoa I used here is the royal rainbow (white, red & black quinoa) variety, which is what I used for the recipe on this post. This is my 2nd favorite combination because I love red bell peppers & dried cherries!

Quinoa Salad #2: Broccoli, roasted butternut squash, yellow bell pepper, cilantro, lime, and dried cherries. It looks a lot like my favorite combination that I'm sharing today!

Quinoa Salad #3: I used a red/purple quinoa for this dish because it was all I could find at the store. It was certainly more expensive and it also had a more chewy, crunchy texture than the usual creamy off-white quinoa texture. I've read that the red quinoa is higher in protein and contains 3 grams more fiber, which explains the heftier price tag. I added in roasted butternut squash (can you tell I'm obsessed?), cabbage, parsley, lime, and avocado.

Quinoa Salad #4: This is almost the same as the one above except I used the off-white, golden quinoa. On the side is my wildcard salad that I start lunch and dinner with.

For today's ingredient spotlight, I present to you...

Quinoa (KEEN-wah) - This nutritious grain-like crop has been cultivated in the Andes for over five thousand years! It was referred to by the Incas as "chisaya mama" or "mother grain." Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain, and is part of the same family as spinach, beets and Swiss chard. Researchers refer to it as a pseudocereal since it is not a part of the grass family like other grains such as wheat, rye and barley [source].

We see it growing in popularity today largely due to its subtle, nutty flavor and impressive nutritional profile. Quinoa is rich in minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc as well as B vitamins. In addition, this superfood is high in fiber to help keep us regular, which in turn helps to release toxins from the body. It is naturally a gluten-free grain, perfect for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or those avoiding gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and spelt) altogether by choice.

A great source of protein, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, essential meaning that we can only obtain them from our diet as they are not manufactured by our bodies. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are vital in maintaining strong bones and muscles and is also vital for tissue growth. As a vegetarian (and almost vegan), it's so important that I ensure that I am getting enough protein from plant-based food sources. Kimberly Snyder, celebrity nutritionist, author and one of my most trusted and favorite people, notes in her book, The Beauty Detox Foods, "many of the largest, most muscular animals on earth - gorillas, wild horses, hippos, rhinos - are vegetarians. They efficiently build up the protein and muscles in their body from the amino acids in the greens they eat." Amino acids are stored in your body and are used throughout the day so as long as you're consuming a wide variety of plant-based foods in abundance like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, you shouldn't have to worry about protein deficiency as long as your daily caloric intake is adequate. 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

Keep in mind that cooking foods destroys about 50% of the protein and is therefore not useable by the body, according to research done by The Max Planck Institute for Nutritional Research. Strive for a well-balanced diet consisting of both cooked and raw foods. The best way I've found to incorporate raw vegetables into my diet is to eat a large salad full of leafy greens such as spinach, kale, romaine, and swiss chard with other veggies such as carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, etc. before lunch and dinner. It also helps enormously with portion control. Kale and spinach are a great source of amino acids, by the way. You can find my recipe for the wildcard salad I eat daily here. :-)

1 cup of dry quinoa yields about 3 cups cooked. It has a 2:1 liquid to quinoa ratio, so use 2 cups for every 1 cup of quinoa. You can cook it in vegetable broth to amp up the flavor or keep it simple with water. What makes it an even more appealing grain is that it is super simple and quick to cook. You can even make a big batch of it for the week and use it as a breakfast porridge, in salads, soups, stir-frys, or as a main entree. Just add a few teaspoons of water when re-heating on the stove. 

You can find quinoa in the bulk aisle of health food stores or in packages in the grain/bean aisle. I recommend buying foods in bulk to save money! 

Butternut Squash - The fall is the perfect time to welcome winter squash into our homes and bellies, especially butternut squash, since it is one of my all-time favorite vegetables. Even though its name may suggest otherwise, winter squash is actually grown and harvested in the summer months and is picked in the fall and kept until spring. Other winter squash include acorn, spaghetti, kabocha, pumpkin, buttercup, and delicata.

1 cup of butternut squash cubes provides 457% of the RDA for vitamin A and about half the RDA for vitamin C [source]. Vitamin A is a powerful cancer-fighting nutrient and is also important for skin and eye health. This winter squash contains no saturated fat or cholesterol and is often recommended by dietitians for lowering cholesterol and weight loss [source]. Being that it has a nutty, mildly sweet flavor, butternut squash can also help to satisfy cravings for sweets. It's also high in fiber so the glucose will enter the bloodstream slowly, avoiding blood sugar spikes, and in turn will keep you fuller longer.

My favorite way to cook butternut squash is roasting it in the oven because it's more flavorful due to the caramelization that occurs. To preserve more of its nutrients, you can also steam it on the stove for up to 7 minutes. Don't throw away the seeds! They have their own set of health benefits. Butternut squash seeds are full of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Click here for directions on how to peel, cut & roast butternut squash.

Rainbow Quinoa Salad

YIELD: 3-4 servings

• 4 cups butternut squash, cubed
• 1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil, melted*
• 1 Tbs dried rosemary
• High-quality sea salt, to taste + 1/4 tsp for quinoa
• Black pepper, to taste
1 cup dry quinoa, soaked overnight & rinsed well*
• 1 1/2 cups filtered water or vegetable broth (veg. broth gives added flavor)
• Juice of 1 lime
• 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
• 2 1/2 Tbs basil or parsley, minced
• 1/4 cup currants (or dried cherries, raisins or dried cranberries)
• 1/2 avocado, pitted and sliced (flesh), to serve

• 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (some may like the added moisture but it's up to you! You can start with a little and see how you like it. Sometimes I'll just add a drizzle or none at all.)

1. Peel, cut and roast the butternut squash. Directions here.

2. While the squash is roasting, transfer the quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and rinse off the soak water thoroughly with cold water.
3. In a small saucepan, add the quinoa, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Bring to a boil.
4. Once boiling, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is soft and fluffy. Don't peak while it cooks! Leave it be.
5. Take the pot off the burner and set aside covered for 5-10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
6. In a large mixing bowl, add the quinoa, extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, bell pepper, basil or parsley, currants, and roasted butternut squash and mix well. Season with sea salt and/or black pepper, if desired. Top with avocado slices.


• To melt the coconut oil, you can put it in a small glass bowl and place it in the oven while it's pre-heating. It'll melt quickly so don't leave the oven area until it's melted or else you might forget it's in there. I find this is much quicker than pulling out a pot and melting it on the stove top and you definitely want to avoid heating anything in the microwave, if possible.
• Soaking quinoa for 12-24 hours is important because it removes the saponin from the quinoa, which is an outer coating on the hull that creates a bitter taste. Even more important, soaking grains removes the phytic acid that blocks the absorption of minerals and protein. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that make them difficult to digest. Some use 1-2 Tbsp of an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or yogurt and add it to the soak water but I usually just fill the bowl a few inches covering the grains with warm water. Soak grains to ensure you're obtaining all of its nutrients and also allowing for better digestion!
Buy organic ingredients as much as possible, especially bell peppers, since they are one of the top most contaminated vegetables. With that said, it's better to eat conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables than none at all, so I encourage you to use EWG's Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list to help you decide which fruits and veggies you should buy organic and those you don't necessarily have to buy organic.

If you make your own quinoa salad, send me a picture on Twitter, hashtag your picture #healthyfare #rainbowquinoa on Instagram so I can find it, or leave me a comment here telling me what you put in yours. :-)

With love & care,

"When you say 'yes' to others, make sure you are not saying 'no' to yourself." Paul Coehlo


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