Today is day 9 of my cleanse and I am feeling incredible. Besides feeling lighter, clearer and more awakened when cleansing, I really love the opportunity to play around with new dishes. I love the challenge of making fun cleanse-friendly, vegan meals that are loaded with whole, fresh ingredients and of course, flavor. I especially enjoy doing so this time of year, when there is so much exciting produce to play around with.
I am not going to sing the praises of quinoa once again, if you read my blog regularly you know what a nutritional powerhouse it is. I will tell you however, if you haven’t yet experimented with spaghetti squash, you must. It is such an amazing vegetable (well technically it’s a fruit, but whatever) and it is so versatile in vegan cooking. Many people like to eat spaghetti squash in replace of traditional pasta in recipes, I personally love pasta too much to do this on a regular basis, but I have before and it’s good. I had some for lunch today with a bit of the leftover vegan alfredo sauce that I made and it was delicious. Spaghetti squash is especially good simply tossed with butter or olive oil, garlic, fresh sage and some salt and pepper. Much like a pumpkin, you can also toast the seeds from a spaghetti squash, one of my favorite fall snacks. You could certainly use those on top of this recipe, just cut the squash in half before baking, scoop out the seeds and rinse them before toasting. I personally didn’t feel like hacking through the raw squash before baking, which is much harder than cutting into it when fully cooked, so I baked the squash whole. Plus I already had toasted pumpkin seeds from earlier in the day, on hand, ready to be used.
This meal is full of flavor and it quite hearty. Beyond the nutty crunch of the quinoa and the fall flavor from the squash, I love the taste and aroma from the fresh herbs, the slight crunch from the spinach, the subtle heat from the chile and the brightness of the lemon juice at the end. The crispy toasted pumpkin seeds on top were the perfect finish to the dish. For a dish that is incredibly healthy and light, this dish filled both Mark and I up perfectly. The leftovers are also just as delicious as a room temperature or cold salad.
Feel free to play around with whatever fresh herbs you happen to have on hand, sage would be nice here as well as rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano or whatever fresh herbs you can easily get your hands on. You could also use arugula instead of spinach which would bring a lovely peppery flavor to the dish.
Red Quinoa with Spaghetti Squash, Spinach, Fresh Herbs and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 cup red quinoa (you could also use regular quinoa here)
1 1/2 cups water
1 large peeled whole garlic clove
1 spaghetti squash
1/4 cup fresh herbs, I used chives and mint
1 spicy hot chile pepper, finely chopped, seeds removed for less heat (I used an heirloom lemon drop pepper, you could also use a jalapeno or dried red pepper flakes)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375º.
Place the whole spaghetti squash in a shallow baking pan, pierce with a knife or skewer and place in the center of the oven (this is a must so it doesn’t explode). Baked for 45 minutes to an hour, until you can easily pierce it with a paring knife.
While the squash is cooking, rinse quinoa well and place in a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water and garlic clove. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and it’s fully cooked. Fluff with a fork and place the cover on the pan until the squash is finished baking.
Meanwhile, cut up your fresh herbs, mince the garlic and pepper and add all to a large serving dish.
Once the squash is cooked remove it from the oven and allow to cool slightly, enough so that you can handle it. At this point, if your pumpkin seeds are raw you can increase the oven temperature to 400º and put them in to be toasted.
When cool enough to handle, cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous strings from the center of the cooked spaghetti squash. Gently scrape the tines of a kitchen fork around the edge of the spaghetti squash to shred the pulp into strands. Add the spaghetti squash to the serving bowl. Remove the whole garlic clove from the cooked quinoa and add the quinoa to the serving dish. Add in the fresh spinach and toss everything together to combine. Your spinach will wilt a bit from the heat of the quinoa and squash. If you want the spinach fully cooked, you can quickly saute it in the pan you cooked your quinoa in. I personally like the crunch from the fresh spinach. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the dish. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately topped with fresh herbs and a small handful of toasted pumpkin seeds.