Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Roots, Spinach, and Pecans

This time of year is made for rest and recharging. The cooler temperatures and darker days beckon us to look inward, recover our strength, and give our body, brain, and spirit a break.

Unfortunately, this time of year is also very demanding.

Expectations and pressures from both others and ourselves are often heightened during the holidays. The busy weeks between Thanksgiving and year’s end are packed with hustle and bustle. We feel obliged to attend every party and gathering, compelled to overindulge and overspend, and all-but forced to go-go-go the entire time. And we’re expected to do all this with a smile on our face and the energy to match.

In other words, we exhibit the exact opposite of Rest. No wonder that come the end of the year we’re so exhausted and spent.

This is why it’s especially important to take extra care of ourselves. We need to get adequate sleep, exercise, and fresh air; boost our immunity with additional supplements; and prepare, eat, and enjoy warming, nutrient dense foods.

There are some things that I just cannot (or will not) change. This may be an especially draining time of year for me, as it is for many others, but I still choose to embrace it as much as possible. Because my people, my family, and my business are important to me.

As a personal chef, my clients depend on me to help make their holidays as memorable and painless as possible. And as a mother, I desire to provide the same experience for my own family. But none of that matters if I can’t take care of myself first. No one benefits if I’m too weak and fatigued to take on the tasks I’ve set out for myself.

Consuming wholesome, nutritious foods is one of my top priorities every day. But it’s especially important this time of year, when maintaining a healthy diet can help me come through it all unscathed—and without the flu. And since I have this terrible habit of “forgetting” to eat when I’m knee deep in work and responsibilities, I need hearty, nutrient packed meals that are easy to heat and eat. Things I can make in large quantities and snack on when I feel my blood sugar dropping.

I usually serve this filling dish as a side alongside roasted meat or poultry. However, it’s filled with such a lovely range of ingredients that it can easily suffice as a stand-alone meal in itself. My cravings are much different during the winter than in warmer months. Like a bear prepping for hibernation, my body longs for substantial, long-lasting carbohydrates that will help power me through the time ahead. This quinoa pilaf is the kind of dish that satisfies those cravings and helps me feel balanced and nourished.

Quinoa is an ancient plant species native to South America. Related to chard and beets, it’s an excellent option for a protein rich dish, suitable for carnivores and vegetarians alike. Unlike most plant proteins, this seed—yes, it’s classified as a seed, not a grain—is one of the few that contains all nine essential amino acids, and it’s particularly high in l-lysine. For a plant-based food, quinoa has an impressive protein-to-carbohydrate ratio, boasting eight grams of protein per one-cup serving. The germ constitutes almost 60% of the seed (compare that to approximately 3% germ in a wheat kernel), which provides a huge amount of fiber. Quinoa also contains notable amounts of vitamins and minerals, particularly manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and iron.

When you factor in the nutrients from the sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and spinach, this dish is even more substantial in both taste and sustenance. And the fragrant flavor from the toasted pecans takes it to the next level. If I’m feeling the need for some additional protein, I’ll throw in a little chicken, a hefty sprinkling of sharp, grated parmesan cheese, or an egg or two.

It’s not easy to deal with the stress of the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be overly hard, either. Quick, simple, nourishing foods are one of your best bets to stay strong through the challenges this time of year can bring. Hopefully, this delicious dish will help make it easier on you, just as it does for me.

Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Roots, Spinach, and Pecans

Serves 4–6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

Ingredients
¾ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 medium garnet yam, peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ¾-inch dice or ¾-inch slices
1 onion, cut into ¾-inch dice
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1½ cups quinoa
2½ cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 tablespoon butter
8 oz. baby spinach
Additional olive oil or melted butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast until fragrant, about 6–7 minutes. Cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Toss yam, carrot, and onion with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, about 30–40 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, pour quinoa into a fine-meshed sieve and rinse under running water for 30–40 seconds (this removes the saponins, which can cause bitterness). Place rinsed quinoa into a large pot. Add butter, stock or water, and a good pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
  4. Steam or sauté spinach until wilted. If necessary, squeeze excess moisture from spinach. Chop coarsely and set aside.
  5. Toss cooked quinoa with roasted vegetables, spinach, and pecans. Add an extra drizzle of olive oil or melted butter and season well with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Image from Briana Goodall. 

Briana Goodall, CPC

Briana Goodall is Chef and Owner of Green Cuisine Personal Chef Service. Visit her website at www.mygreencuisine.com.

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