Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Quinoa Stuffing

DINNER PARTY MENU: Lemon-Garlic Roasted Chicken Breasts; Pear Almond Tart

Stuffing was a strange recipe to come back to on a winter’s night in of movies and board games. Thanksgiving-y fare is mostly left to Thanksgiving. Even if we occasionally wonder why we don’t roast a turkey any other time, the truth is we don’t. And we don’t eat much stuffing, or much pecan pie, in February.

So I forget why I started browsing through our own archives, looking for Phoebe’s post about the stuffing she was in charge of making for her family’s Thanksgiving party. Maybe it was because I had an inkling that I owned most of the necessary ingredients–including an enormous and intimidating winter squash. Or maybe it was because I was going through a second (fifth?) love affair with the leek confit that made an appearance in our very first post. Either way, before I knew it, I was prepping all the various parts and concluding that bread would not be the vehicle for the flavorful squash, leek, sausage, and onion mixture. Rather, I’d use quinoa.

I know a lot of people are ambivalent about quinoa, and I get it. I think the taste varies from brand to brand, and I’m partial to the one in the turquoise box (called Ancient Harvest). Still, I think quinoa usually does need some spicing up. When I’m eating alone, I’ll sometimes top it with some good olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper, and grated parm. But its nutritional value and great grainy flavor makes it a good candidate for a more complicated dish like this stuffing. It complements the vegetables, garlic, wine, and sausage, just as much as it is enhanced by them.
From my kitchen, where I’m reinventing Phoebe’s old favorites, to yours,

Squash, Leek, & Quinoa Stuffing
Serves 2-4
Here’s the recipe, modified and cut down from Phoebe’s to make dinner for two or three, or a side dish for four or six.
2-3 cups cubes of winter squash (I used kabocha, Phoebe used pumpkin)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water or stock
6 ounces sausage (optional; I used an apple and chicken sausage), removed from the casing
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 cup quinoa
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Toss the squash with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous amount of salt and spread on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes, redistributing occasionally, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove and set aside.

In a 3.5 quart Dutch oven or casserole, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté for 5-10 minutes until the it begins to wilt. Add the water or stock, turn the flame to low, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook slowly until the leeks are completely soft and beginning to turn to mush. Take the lid off and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt. Add the baked squash to the Dutch oven, toss with the leeks, and set aside.

In a small frying pan, add a little olive oil, turn the heat to medium-high, and brown the sausage. Break it apart with your spatula as you go so the sausage crumbled into very small chunks. When properly browned, add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

Turn the heat down to low, the onion, garlic, and thyme to the pot and sauté for 5 minutes, making sure to scrape up any brown bits from the sausage. When tender but not caramelized, add the white wine and season with salt and pepper. Continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or so until the vegetables are very tender and the alcohol in the wine has burned off. Add to the pumpkin-leek mixture.

NOTE: everything up to this point can be done 1-2 days before.

When ready to eat, toss the quinoa in with the veggies and sausage. Add the 2 cups of water or stock and the egg and stir well to distribute everything evenly. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes, until the water is all absorbed and the quinoa is cooked. Remove the lid and cook for another 10 minutes until the top is slightly browned.

Serve hot, accompanied by a salad.
  • Kate

    Wow! This sounds delicious. And, with the onset of spring, I can't wait to start adding leaks to everything I cook. Also, would it be possible to individually bake these in muffin tins to have a higher crust ratio, and how might you adjust the baking time?

  • sinnlighet

    Your blog ….. it's amazing and soooo inspiring. Nice to find you!

    A small footprint from Agneta & Sweden

    Ps. I have an ongoing jewelry contest on my blog. Welcome! Ds

  • Colleen

    I love stuffing and could probably eat it year-round, but you're right; using quinoa rather than bread does seem more appropriate for a lighter spring dish.

  • Natalie Tuggle

    Sounds Yummy! But I think I will be waiting until the holidays to give it a try.

  • Jill

    great idea! sounds delicious.

  • Amy

    I made this last night and it was AMAZING!  The best quinoa recipe I have ever had.  Thanks for posting!!!

  • Stefanie

    Yes!!! Finally a savory quinoa stuffing recipe (not to mention it looks amazingly delicious). Most of the gluten free stuffing recipes that I’ve come across are on the sweet side with cranberries, etc. I LOVE this- and love that I can make it a day or two in advance also. Happy Thanksgiving planning to all!

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