Roasted and caramelized autumn quinoa

Potlucks can be risky for vegetarians and vegans in mixed groups. You might be tempted to make a dessert or appetizer, either to try a fun new recipe you’ve been eyeing or to save a bit of money over buying the ingredients for a main dish. Then you get there and realize the main dishes ended up all being meaty and you eat a dinner comprised of potato chips and cookies, maybe with a few leaves of salad if you’re lucky.

So last Sunday when I realized I had a potluck to go to in a few hours that I had completely forgotten to plan for, I knew I needed to make something quick but hearty — just in case.

Quinoa salads fit the bill. Quick, high protein, filling, delicious, and infinitely adaptable based on what you put in it.

Since it’s autumn, I wanted something with rich, roasted flavors. Without spending all day on it.

Cue my freezer. Low and slow caramelized onions and roasted garlic bring this quinoa’s flavor to the next level, and luckily I had both stashed in my freezer. If you don’t have these items ready to go, this dish will take a little bit longer to make, but it’s the perfect opportunity to make extra to freeze. (I flash freeze my roasted garlic as individual cloves spread out on a baking sheet, then put them in a labeled freezer bag. I freeze my huge batch of caramelized onions in 1/2 cup portions, then again, put all of the portions in one labeled freezer bag. Seriously though, freeze some caramelized onions.)

Roasted butternut squash and fresh chard and thyme round out the garlic and onion into a hearty, veggie-filled, protein-packed dish that can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. This makes it perfect for potlucks as you don’t have to worry about serving it at a particular temperature. If you’re eating it at home, enjoy it slightly warmed when the air is crisp, and chilled when you just wish it would get crisp already.

roasted and caramelized autumn quinoaRoasted and Caramelized Autumn Quinoa

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

1/2 a medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed *
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/2 cup caramelized onions (from about 1 large onion, use only olive oil for vegan dish)
10-12 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
2-3 fresh chard leaves, stems removed sliced into ribbons
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves stripped from woody stalks
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss butternut squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet (lined with a Silpat if desired to ease cleanup). Bake for 30-40 minutes until pieces are slightly browned and fork-tender. Set aside to cool.

If you do not have roasted garlic ready to go, bake it at the same time as your squash. Cut off the tip of the head of garlic to expose the cloves inside the paper skin. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then wrap in a square of aluminum foil. Throw it on the pan with the squash and it’ll be good to go at the same time.

Put quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse with plenty of cool water to avoid having a bitter taste to your cooked quinoa. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium pot over medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and toast, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add water, then cover and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove the pot from heat without uncovering and let sit 5 minutes more. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.

Let quinoa cool slightly, then stir in caramelized onions. Properly caramelized onions should melt right in and become almost imperceptible. Fold in the chard, which will then be lightly cooked from the steam from the warm quinoa.

Fold in butternut squash, garlic, and thyme. Taste, then add salt and pepper as desired. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

* Note: wear gloves when you’re prepping the butternut squash to avoid the difficult-to-remove drying residue on your hands.

More Beyond Meat experiments: autumnal chicken-free salad

So, remember Beyond Meat? Well, I found out that Roots Market is selling it in five pound food service bags. So you can guess what I picked up last week.

They sell the big bags frozen, which answers a question you may have had — yes, it freezes fine, so there’s no need to worry if you want to stock up. It’s still at a pretty high price point — I paid about $40 for the five pounds. But once they roll out nationwide I hope to see the price drop quite a bit.

With so much Beyond Meat at my disposal, I decided to tackle something I wasn’t all too optimistic about: chicken salad. I was worried that without cooking it into something, the Beyond Meat wouldn’t be up to snuff.

It’s not like I have a super refined chicken salad palate. I mean, I ate a ton of chicken salad as a kid. Just not good chicken salad. Canned chicken breast (blech) mixed with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. That’s it. My dad stocked up on the canned chicken from Costco, so we had pyramids of it in the pantry. Mayonnaise lasts forever in the fridge. It was quick, easy, and we always had the ingredients.

Yeah.

Anyway, I promise this is way better than just fatty-salty. It’s got a lot going on; it’s creamy-salty-sweet-herby-tangy-crunchy. It’s an autumnal, Thanksgiving-y blend, with veggies and cranberries and pumpkin seeds all rounded out with a hearty dose of fresh sage and thyme. I even used Greek yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise for a little bit of sass. And… the Beyond Meat holds up perfectly. I think it tastes delicious, but it’s been a while since I’ve had chicken. My omnivorous mister says: “It is a pretty good ringer for boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is nowhere close to a juicy roast.”

I’m cool with that.

autumnal chicken-free salad(Since this post was originally published, I have edited the recipe to reflect the slightly changed retail formulation of Beyond Meat after the national rollout.)

Autumnal Chicken-Free Salad
Adapted from Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6

1 3/4 pound Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips, shredded
1-2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup hulled, roasted pepitas
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt *
1/2 cup mayonnaise
 *
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stripped off the woody stalk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, then place in a medium bowl filled with cold water and ice. (Alternatively, let cool and then chill in the fridge if you are doing this ahead of time. You can also safely use the strips “raw”, but the texture is much better and they are easier to shred if you cook them.)

Once cool, shred the Beyond Meat strips with two forks (or your hands, I won’t judge).

Chop up your celery and shallots. The size of the dice is up to personal preference, but I like to go pretty fine for two reasons: the shallot benefits from having the flavor dispersed pretty evenly, and my mister is not a huge fan of raw celery so I have to chop it finely so it’s not too stringy.

So, toss your chopped veggies on top of the Chicken-Free Strips. While you’re at it, add the dried cranberries and pepitas.

Mix mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, vinegar, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. When you add the thyme, crush the leaves slightly with your fingers to get the oils going. Stir everything together until dressing is combined.

Pour dressing over the other stuff and toss until everything is fully coated. Give it a taste and salt and pepper to taste. I like to serve over a big bed of baby spinach, but it’s obviously equally at home in a sandwich, wrap, on crackers. Do what you do.

* Vegan substitutions: Instead of mayonnaise, use an equal amount of Veganaise or your choice of vegan mayonnaise. Instead of Greek yogurt, try So Delicious Dairy-Free Greek Yogurt. If you can’t find that locally, you can try straining your favorite plain soy yogurt to thicken it — start with double the amount of yogurt — or simply use more vegan mayo.