I'll be honest: a few years ago I had never even heard of quinoa. I've loved couscous for years, but quinoa wasn't on my radar until recently. Now this fluffy grain seems to be everywhere, touted as a "super-food" and praised for its nine essential amino acids and high protein content. It's also gluten-free, which is great news for people who have gluten allergies. I finally broke down and bought some a few months ago and, even though it takes a bit longer to cook than couscous (15 minutes instead of 5), its nutty flavor and light texture hooked me instantly. It also blends well with practically everything, and can be stored in the fridge for several days after being cooked.


This recipe was actually inspired by some leftover quinoa I had in the fridge yesterday. I also had some butternut squash, baby spinach, red onion and dried cranberries (a fabulous combo my friend Dori introduced me to) on hand, so I just sort of went from there. I've made quinoa salad with all sorts of flavor combinations–it's great in the summer with a ratatouille blend (roasted eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini) and in the fall and winter with any sort of squash and dark greens. I admit, I sometimes buy butternut squash already peeled and cut from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, which cuts down on prep time considerably. But if you're buying a whole squash, you might want to wear some plastic gloves while peeling and cutting it. Some people (myself included) have allergic reactions to raw butternut squash–my hands will dry out immediately and begin to crack. It's really weird, so I just wear gloves now when I'm prepping butternut squash.

I love making dishes like this that are as colorful and delicious as they are healthy–AND that use up leftovers! This makes a great meal all by itself or a perfect side for a piece of fish or some roast chicken or pork.