Anyone wanting to make a change in what they eat can often feel compromised. Recently, a lot of my friends have been discovering they have various intolerances and as they wave goodbye to wheat, sugar, meat or dairy I can’t help but catch my breath. Can one really survive life without the pleasures of rice, pasta or bread? A food future where a slab of steak will be absent forever? It doesn’t bare thinking about. And don’t get me started on the Hammer House of Horrors that is a life without dairy. However, we all know the deal. Too much of life’s ‘good things’ can come back to bite you in the bottom (and give you an even bigger one), plus there has been so much research on ‘superfoods’; the gold medal ingredients that are meant to make us all feel a whole heap better, that these realities become difficult to ignore and not respond to. So I have embarked on a challenge to eat more of them, but not feel like supper is being served at the Binaisa Borstal Diner.
On today’s menu is Squash; said to have the highest incidents of Vitamin A. Beetroot said to improve blood flow, increase stamina and a favourite of Olympians before they compete and Kale currently considered the ultimate ‘superfood’. In fact such is Kale’s might there has even been a piece in the Huffington Post about it. Yes, vegetables can go viral too, although I hasten to add I have always had love for kale – check out earlier posts as proof! Also making an appearance is that hardy perennial of the health foods world garlic, a chili pepper brought back from a friend’s farm in Macedonia (I know, random), some walnuts and sesame seeds (slow release energy providers) and the current Don in Carb-Substitute Land, quinoa. If you are twitching as you read this and already reaching out for a restorative glass of wine or Lemonade to take the edge off this virtuous ingredients list, fear not. The recipe for the dish below is pretty hot Actually it is pretty and hot as the video will attest.
Playing in the Gastrotastic kitchen today and in keeping with the notion of Superfoods is Electronic’s Getting Away With It. Electronic was a super-group that formed back in the day and comprised of Bernard Sumner of New Order, Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Pet Shop Boys. Who knew dance, indie and pop influences could turn out such a classic tune? Bon Apetit and happy dancing round the kitchen afterwards.
Roast Harlequin Squash and Beetroot with Red Onion Chilli and Garlic Quinoa, Kale, Feta, Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds
Difficulty Factor: Simple Enough
1 Harlequin Squash
1 Large Beetroot
100 grams (approximately a teacupful) of Tricolor Quinoa
100 grams of Curly Kale
100 grams of Feta Cheese
1 red onion roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped roughly
1 chilli pepper roughly chopped
A handful (approximately 20grams) of Roughly Chopped Walnuts
A handful (approximately 20grams) of Pumpkin Seeds
10 grams of dried Sage (fresh is better but there was none in the organic shop today)
Juice of Half a Lemon
Salt (to taste)
This meal is simple to prepare, but it is important that you cook things in the correct order so that no one element is getting cold whilst others cook. First cut the squash vertically into quarts and scoop out the seeds in the middle. Once you have done this you can cut the squash again depending on its size. Keep the skin on as this will protect the squash flesh from getting too soft in the roasting pan. Next wash the fresh beetroot and cut into similar sizes. Fresh beetroot is the way to go and so much tastier than the pre-cooked stuff that is in the chill cabinet in most supermarkets. Place in the same roasting pan as the squash, season with salt and generously coat with dried sage and grate around the third of a whole nutmeg over the squash. If you are using ground nutmeg a teaspoon should suffice. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the roasting pan and place in a pre-heated oven (180 degrees Centigrade or Gas Mark 4). The cooking time should be 40 minutes, but I always check and if necessary take the pan out and baste the veg in the oil so that it doesn’t dry out or cook more on one side than the other, as everyone’s oven seems to be a teeny bit temperamental.
Whilst the squash and beetroot are in the oven, move onto preparing the quinoa. Cooking quinoa is very similar to cooking rice or couscous – the grain is cooked through the absorption of water. To make the quinoa a little bit more interesting I have incorporated slow sautéed red onions garlic and chilli. Chop your onions and garlic and chilli, keeping the seeds in. Heat a saucepan with olive oil so that the bottom of the pan is evenly covered and fry the onions and garlic, and chilli on a low heat. You want the onions to completely soften and begin to caramelise. At this point add your one cup of quinoa in the same saucepan, add two cups of water and simmer. The quinoa is cooked when all of the water has been absorbed.
The feta, walnuts and pumpkin seeds are not cooked but prepping for them ahead of plating is important as it saves time. I bought my walnuts already broken, but if you are using whole ones put them in a plastic bag and give them a bit of a bash with a rolling pin for the right size. The feta is cubed and the pumpkin seeds are left whole. The Lemon which will be used at the end for the dressing can also be pre-juiced and ready to go.
I have always espoused a less is more approach to vegetables, and with curly kale this is no different. Don’t put the kale on until everything is prepared, as readers of this blog will know, nothing makes me more miserable than cold or overcooked vegetables. Heat a tiny bit of water (no more than a centimetre deep) in a wide pan (wide enough to put the kale leaves whole) and then added the kale in. Sluice a tiny bit of olive oil – the pan will go mental and spit a bit, and cook for no more than two minutes or whenever the stalks, which on organic kale are pretty thin, begin to soften. You want your kale to still be bright green and not to have lost its distinctive curly shape from over-cooking.
It is now time to plate up and one has to be quick otherwise you are in Lukewarm Limbo. Remove the squash and beetroot from the oven and scoop three table spoons of the sage infused oil from the pan. Pass through a sieve into a bowl so you do not get any sage leaves in the dressing. Next add two table spoons of balsamic vinegar to the bowl and the juice of a lemon. You will drizzle the dressing at the end of plating up.
To assemble put the quinoa on the plate first then the squash and beetroot. You can remove the skin off the squash if you prefer, but I’m an eat everything kind of girl. Next sprinkle the walnut and pumpkin seeds, and place feta cubes around the beetroot and squash as they will add a colour and taste highpoint. Next place the kale around the above elements, garland style. Now tell me if that doesn’t look amazing? Never mind taste great too.