November 12, 2010

autumn travels and a kabocha & quinoa salad

It's fall! My favorite season! Yay! Wow, that was a lot of exclamation points.

But aren't you in love with autumn too? The chill that drifts in, not cold, exactly, but just cool enough to have an excuse to pull the cute hats and scarves (and my new favorite, fingerless gloves) out from the far reaches of the closet. The scritch-scratch of red and gold leaves rustling along the streets and sidewalks. Pumpkin patches. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Good stuff.

The Yogi (previously known as Meat and Potatoes Man) and I took a late-October road trip up to Newport, Rhode Island, where we spotted this gang of pumpkins on a church lawn.

And saw this spooky decoration on the gate of a shop on Thames Street (I know, it's a little late to be posting Halloween-related stuff. But humor me.)

We stayed at the cozy and uber-professionally run Marshall Slocum Inn. Well situated to explore much of the town on foot, the inn has nicely appointed and spotless rooms, and a friendly and low-key innkeeper, with previous experience at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, who makes a tasty breakfast. (This is in no way a paid advertisement - merely a friendly endorsement! Just saying.)

The weather was all over the place that week: torrential rain for our arrival, then a warm day that saw the coast shrouded in fog and our faces coated with a layer of mist.

Then the wind kicked up and blew the fog away, bringing in cooler temperatures and blue skies for our last day. Ah, fall in New England. It was good to see the ocean again before winter arrives.

Okay, back to food! After a summer of gorging on juicy heirloom tomatoes, fresh corn, pattypan squash, berries, and peaches, I'm ready for - welcoming, actually - a return to the comfort foods of the cooler months. Time for apple baking, root vegetable roasting, all-day simmering of soups, stews, and braises. The start of this period of grounding, turning inward, slowing down (when we can - these days so many of us neglect this traditional element of the winter months). In all, a much-needed contrast to the expansive and outwardly directed energies of spring and summer.

Lately my fruit and vegetable basket has turned appropriately fall-like, with a concentration on apples and winter squash in particular. Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, is my current favorite squash variety (and is pictured at the top of this post). With its dense, creamy, sweet flesh, and tender, edible skin, the kabocha is a ringer in the cold-weather kitchen. Great pureed into a soup, baked and mashed with butter, or simply steamed and drizzled with an Asian-inspired combination of shoyu, mirin, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger. Kabocha pie, anyone? I'm thinking it might be a nice addition to the Thanksgiving line-up this year.

And how about roasted kabocha in an autumn-inspired warm quinoa salad, tossed with cubes of crisp apple, savory baked tofu, and pumpkin seeds, and kicked up a notch with freshly crushed cumin and coriander seeds, minced green chili, and slivers of scallion? It's yummy. I threw this together one morning to bring to work for lunch. Quick to prepare (little more than 15 minutes if you've roasted the squash in advance) and with a satisfying complexity of flavors and textures in each bite - spicy, savory, sweet, creamy, tender, crisp -- this makes a tasty one-bowl meal or side dish.

(please excuse the fuzzy picture - taken with my mobile in my office, right before I gobbled it up.)

roasted kabocha, apple, and quinoa salad
Unless you use an especially small squash, you will probably end up with more roasted kabocha than you'll need for this dish. Save the rest for a soup, mashing with butter and cinnamon, or just random snacking (I am all about random snacking. Just ask the Yogi). If you can't find kabocha squash near you, substitute delicata (also has an edible skin) or butternut (better off peeling this variety, as the skin tends to be tough).

1 kabocha squash, seeds removed, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
juice of 1 small lime (about 2 tsp)
1/2 fresh green chili, minced (such as jalapeno, serrano, or green cayenne) (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 apple, diced (about 1 cup)
1 small slab of baked tofu, cubed (about 1/3 cup)
2 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 Tbsp pepitas (raw, green pumpkin seeds), toasted
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.

2. Place kabocha cubes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt and black pepper, and toss to combine. Arrange the squash chunks in a single layer. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and starting to caramelize, stirring halfway through.

3. Add the quinoa to a medium pot with 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until quinoa is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon and lime juices, green chili, cumin and coriander, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the quinoa, 2 cups of the squash, apple, baked tofu, and scallions to the bowl and toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. I'll try anything with quinoa in it. Love the spices and will eat most anything that includes a pumpkin seed!

  2. Hi Claudia - yup I'll add pumpkin seeds to just about anything too!

  3. This sounds delicious, Nanc'. And, as usual, a beautifully written blog - makes me pine for the east coast.

  4. Hi, Caitlin! Thanks for your comment, and hope you are doing well. Spring and fall in the northeast are pretty spectacular....but come February I'll be pining for warmer climes, indeed.

  5. I love anything with quinoa in it & I also love this kind of Japanese pumpkin. Its taste is just lovely,..what a georgous & healthy seasonal salad!

  6. Wow! I'll have to keep on the lookout for this special Kabocha--edible skin for a winter squash! terrific! I could go for a bowl of your quinoa right now.
    It also sounds like it would be very very good in a pie for Thanksgiving.

    The season shift, and all the good food change that accompanies, is indeed welcome.

  7. Hi Sophie,
    Ah, so you're a kabocha fan, too! Very macrobiotic. Need to pick up another one at the greenmarket tomorrow.

    Nancy - the edible skin makes things sooo simple, I hate peeling winter squash! I am seriously considering a kabocha pie for next Thursday....