This week I'm going to talk to you about acorn squash. I'd meant to talk to you about it last week, but such is my life. Anyway. I used this recipe, from the website Sprouted Kitchen (which I've talked about in a previous post), and I'm happy to report it was a success. I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of the recipes on that site (or possibly purchasing the book they now have out).
I used acorn squash because it was what I had, but really any orange winter squash will do. Please be warned that these are very hard to cut. I'll be honest, I was expecting it to be harder after the warnings from my mom requesting that I don't cut off my fingers, but I also have a very large, very sharp, mildly terrifying chef knife of the slasher flick variety. If you have one of those, you're in luck.
I followed the recipe for roasting the squash exactly, though I probably should have let it go in the oven a bit longer. Next time. Make sure yours is very brown and caramelized around the edges.
As for the quinoa, true to form, I was missing half the ingredients required to follow the recipe exactly. Even truer to form, I wasn't about to go the store just for the sake of getting those ingredients.
As it happens, my sister doesn't like shallots, so I'd be leaving those out anyway, and I had a slightly overripe Macintosh apple that substituted for the pear. I left out the basil entirely because I didn't even have it dried, and I used chard instead of spinach. It was still delicious.
The cardamom adds an interesting layer of flavour against the maple-glazed squash and holds up well to the apples and the tangy lemon dressing that the whole concoction is tossed in. I wish I could pin point what exactly it is about cardamom that I like so much, but I have trouble finding other flavours to compare it to. It's one of my favourite spices, though, and maybe that's why. It's unique and distinct, but subtle, unlike, say, cilantro.
That being said. Make sure you have some ground cardamom on you. You know. The kind that's already ground. To save yourself cracking open cardamom pods and attempting to crush the solid little seed-like insides. Definitely not my typical lazy chef route.
Another note regarding my recipe alterations. The original calls for baby spinach and says not to add it until your quinoa has cooled a bit. I disregarded that instruction with the chard. Chard, like kale and full-grown spinach, benefits from being cooked so it's not as tough and the flavours mellow out a bit. So I mixed it in right off the bat letting the remnant heat from the quinoa wilt it.
It turned out better than I expected, to be honest, what with all the changes I made, and what I really want to emphasize with this post is the wiggle room you have with recipes. Especially when it comes to cooking.
Baking is more precise, and I wouldn't recommend playing with your flour, butter, sugar, and leavening ratios if you don't have a solid grounding in how they work together, but something like quinoa salad, or stir fry, or pasta sauce, is just begging to be played with. To be altered to your tastes. Yes, there are classic combinations. But more often than not you'll be able to find a suitable, similar replacement for an ingredient you don't have.