Red Quinoa and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

September 24, 2013 | | | | |

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red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-with-feta-pomegranate-and-toasted-walnutsI love my lunch break. Being “self-employed,” I have the luxury of taking the time to make myself something dope and eat at my fancy white desk while perusing the internet, making personal calls and catching up on some of my incredibly highbrow television shows. I have also been known to have a glass of wine or take a power nap on occasion. Besides my “social media hour” in the morning, lunch is easily my favorite part of the day.

While I practically live for lunchtime, I recognize that some of you don’t have the luxury of enjoying a “European” midday meal. According to my sources, most people go out to grab a quick bite or order delivery to be eaten at their desks. (If my roommate is any indication of lunchtime trends, it is also common to send one’s assistant to pick up Chipotle several times a week.) However, several friends have recently expressed a desire to start bringing their lunch to work in the hopes of saving money and eating more healthily, which is awesome.

I fully support this idea of bringing a fancy lunch to work, and I’ve always wondered why more people don’t do it. At least I did until last week, when I stumbled across a very disturbing website called Sad Desk Lunch, where people can post photos of the miserable concoctions that they eat at work. Not to be melodramatic, but when I finished laughing, I wanted to cry and/or throw up. These were the saddest lunches I had ever seen.

Having never brought my lunch to an office, I felt that perhaps these photos were a gross exaggeration of what individuals actually bring/eat for lunch, so I sent the website to a friend of mine who brown bags it on the reg. Unfortunately, she informed me that she does often eat similarly weird creations at her desk, and that yes, it is depressing. She explained that she doesn’t have much time or know what types of things to make for lunch, so she ends up throwing weird combinations of shit in her purse on the way out the door. This usually leads to a very sad desk lunch.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-3The thought of so many people eating sad desk lunches left me feeling depressed, so I figured I would offer some guidance in making the whole “brown-bagging it” thing a little bit more appealing. (I live to serve.) Below is a list of requirements for a sassy desk lunch that will hopefully lead to happier workday meals.

5 Requirements for a Sassy Desk Lunch:

1. It must taste good and travel well. Duh. Eating disgusting food is both sad and unnecessary. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t spend all morning being excited about lunchtime. (I do.)

2. It must not be smelly. Don’t be the d-bag that brings something that stinks of garlic, curry, or fish of any kind to eat at your desk. I’m not saying that your office peeps will automatically hate you if you bring a giant container of salmon salad, but they might.

3. It must be healthy and satisfying. The point of lunch is to keep you full and energized throughout the afternoon, not make you fat. Seriously.

4. It must look fancy. This is important because a.) you deserve to eat something that appears appetizing, and b.) it will make any passing co-workers jealous appreciative of both your lunch and your domestic skills and/or lead to midday compliments (which are everyone’s favorite pick-me-up).

5. It must be simple. In other words, you must be able to whip it up easily the evening before and pack it in some Tupperware, so that you can grab it on your way out the door. No muss, no fuss.

When thinking about recipes that meet all of the aforementioned “sassy desk lunch” requirements, Red Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash immediately came to mind. It’s a satisfying meal that’s nutritious, travels well, and is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Red quinoa provides a hearty, whole grain base for roasted butternut squash, toasted walnuts, tart pomegranate seeds, and salty feta cheese, that’s lightly dressed (so it won’t get soggy/mealy/nasty) with a simple, slightly sweet dressing. The medley of fresh fall flavors is comforting, delicious and guaranteed to spice up your lunch hour minutes.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-desk-lunch As far as healthy lunches go, Red Quinoa and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad is a home run. Quinoa provides plenty of protein and fiber to keep you satisfied all afternoon, and butternut squash is rich in anti-oxidants and beta-carotene, which is great news for your skin. Plus, both walnuts and pomegranate are considered “super foods” thanks to their anti-inflammatory nutrients and cancer-fighting, heart-healthy phytochemicals. Long story short, this whole grain salad will make you feel great and look prettier while sitting at your desk. Magic!

I know there are a couple elements of this recipe that require actual cooking, which some of you aren’t into. Relax. You can cook the butternut squash and the quinoa simultaneously (both of which require zero domestic skillz), and you’ll be good to go in less than 40 minutes (only about 10 of which are hands-on prep). This salad also tastes delicious warm, so I highly recommend eating it for dinner before crushing the leftovers at your desk the next day. I fed it to my roommate with some chicken sausage last night, which elicited a very enthusiastic response. In his own words, “Oh yeah, Daddy loves that sweet and salty combo!!” You will too.

In case you’re looking for more sassy desk lunch options, I suggest trying the following: Shaved Zucchini and Carrots with Toasted Almonds and Goat Cheese, Detox Salad, Mediterranean Chopped Salad, Shaved Brussels Sprout and Cauliflower Salad, Farro Salad with Cauliflower and Cranberries, Southwestern Sweet Potato Salad, Peanut Noodles with Pork and Vegetables, California Salad with Roasted Chicken and Avocado Dressing (bring the dressing on the side). Keeping some Chicken Paillard in your fridge to add to take-to-work salads is also a smart choice.

Get cooking, friends! Sassy desk lunches are so hot right now.

Red Quinoa and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad: (Serves 4)

2 ½ cups butternut squash, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 teaspoons, extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup uncooked red quinoa
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality maple syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
1/3 cup pomegranate arils
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Preparing your Red Quinoa and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad:

-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

-Place the cubed butternut squash on a baking sheet or in a baking pan. Drizzle with two teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Toss to coat.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-step-1-Roast your butternut squash for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes, until it is very tender.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-step-2-While your squash is roasting, cook red quinoa according to package directions. When cooked, transfer it to a large bowl to cool slightly.

-In a small bowl, combine the minced shallots, remaining two teaspoons olive oil, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Season with salt to taste and set your delicious dressing aside until ready to use.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-step-3-Now it’s time to toast your walnuts. Heat a small pan over medium heat. (Do not put any oil in the pan!) When hot, add the walnuts and toast for about 2 minutes, shaking the pan regularly, until the nuts are lightly browned and fragrant (they will literally smell like toast.). Remove from the pan and set aside.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-step-4 -Add your roasted butternut squash, toasted walnuts, pomegranate arils, parsley and crumbled feta cheese to the bowl with your cooked red quinoa.

red-quinoa-and-roasted-butternut-squash-salad-step-5-Pour the dressing over your salad and gently toss to coat. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled and enjoy your sassy fall meal.


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  1. Gretchen on October 14, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    I made this (with a few tweaks/additions) last night and SWEET JESUS IT IS DELICIOUS. Here I have been making soups out of squash when all this time I could have been roasting it into perfect little bites of heaven. YUM. I added a bunch of kale and went to town. AND I had the sassiest of desk lunches today at work. Thanks so much!

  2. ash o on September 25, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    do you have any tips for how to peel butternut squash without losing your sanity or a limb? I have resorted to buying the pre-cut frozen pieces that whole foods sells just avoid stabbing myself for the 30th time while attempting to de-skin the squash. However I imagine for this meal to hit its optimum level of taste it needs to have the freshest of ingredients…help a knife challenge sad desk salad eater out won’t you?

    • Serena_Wolf on September 25, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      Ash- First of all, peeling a butternut squash sucks. When it comes down to it, keeping all of your limbs is a matter of stabilizing the squash and having a VERY sharp knife. I sometimes like to cut the squash in half vertically and then peel the two smaller pieces. I also like the way that this fancy tutorial does it:
      Howeva, if you are already at Whole Foods, they usually sell fresh, pre-cut NON-FROZEN butternut squash (sometimes even in those weird plastic bins where they have pre-made stir-fry mixings, and like chopped cauliflower/broccoli), which makes life a lot easier. I’m crossing my fingers you can get your hands on some of that.

      • nora on October 3, 2013 at 11:55 am

        that’s what i used and it made the rest of the prep work so easy. i made this for a vegetarian friend and she absolutely loved it! best part was how impressed she was with my domestic skills and the ensuing compliments 🙂

        • Serena_Wolf on October 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

          AH, Nora! I love to hear about successes and compliments.

    • Lizzie on December 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I’m a little late to the discussion, but I’ve found that cutting the squash horizontally into one inch slices and then cutting the skin off of each slice is easiest.

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