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pilaf

Roasted Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf with Feta

Roasted Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf with Feta

Guys. Gals.

Yesterday I received some incredible news.

I’m going to have a garden plot in one of my favorite community gardens in Philadelphia!! I have been dreaming of this day since I first laid eyes many years ago on the magical oasis currently plopped right in the center of what’s now my neighborhood. It’s dreamy. And green. And filled with dirt, and creatures, and veggies, and all the other outdoor components I miss often from my farmer days.

Roasted Carrot and Quinoa Pilaf with Feta

Spaces like these are in hot demand in the city, which of course is no surprise. Generally, they’re locked down with a waiting list so full of names that you could’ve moved to three other towns within the time that they call your name.

Luckily, my roommate and amigo has had her name on that list for three years. And yesterday, she got THE call. I moved into her house a few months ago, and am thrilled to have stumbled into this situation. I am more than excited to scheme up how we are going to takeover the world…I mean, this new 10×10 foot of land.

Roasted Carrots

This was obvious reason to celebrate, and what better way to celebrate a new garden than with roasted carrots? (I would also argue these veggie tats are an excellent source of celebration. But that’s aside the point.)

One of my favorite veggies to grow is carrots because they simply taste 10 times better from the ground than they do from the plastic bags you get at the supermarket.

That thought has me chowing down on this light and healthy pilaf, rich in flavor and salty, feta + sunflower seed goodness. That saltiness gets balanced with a touch of sweetness, derived from both caramelized onions and earthy carrots, to create a well-rounded side dish or lunch.

Sure, those carrots pictured above are from Trader Joe’s…but this recipe’s in honor of my carrot-filled dreams and optimism for spring, when I’ll be eating out of my own garden. Cheers to that!

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Harvest Stuffed Squash with Cilantro Tahini Sauce

Swiss Chard

I’m about to give a bit of a confession here – I have yet to buy one single Christmas gift.

That holiday, which I celebrate, is just a handful of days away. Yikes.

In my defense, I have constructively made five cutting boards in the past month. (Hello new, awesome, expensive-but-oh-so-worth-it hobby.) While I may shed a tear as I part with each of them, I’m fairly certain they’ll make for good gifts. For the whole family.

I mean, my five-year-old niece will love a nice, smooth piece of wood, right? Yeah, maybe not.

Harvest Stuffed Squash

While I’ve been neglecting a Christmas shopping trip, I have not been neglecting the season’s signature colors. Rather, I’ve been embracing those reds and greens quite frequently in my kitchen lately, this dish included.

If you squint, or dim the lights, swiss chard will shed a nice holiday crimson onto your counters. Keep that in mind if you were about to call me out. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Hey, swiss chard is pink. You should probably go get your eyes checked.”

Kabocha Squash

Bringing green to your plate is one of the best gifts you could give to yourself this winter. Add some nutty winter squash and creamy tahini, and your tastebuds will be more than pleased, too.

With food-filled gatherings, often left and right, now more than ever do I appreciate a meal like this. It’s hearty so it’ll leave you satisfied, but not feeling weighed down like a typical heavy holiday dish.

Swiss Chard

If you do want to richen it up a bit, double the tahini sauce. You can really rarely go wrong with an extra spoonful of tahini on top of cooked winter squash.

Also, feel free to ditch the whole “stuffed” idea, and simply serve this as a pilaf. You can use any squash variety that you like for this dish. So, if you’re using something like butternut, likely it’s not going to have a round enough bowl to really stuff, and that’s okay. Mash the extra and serve it underneath.

I will say though, there is something that feels magical about turning a squash into a bowl. I used a kabocha, which I’d highly recommend if it’s available to you.

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Roasted Okra, Tomato and Garlic Pilaf

Okra

 

If there was ever a veggie I hated when I was a kid, it was okra. Okra and parsnips, the latter of which I could still go without. But that’s another story.

Okra is a strange character. A little seedy and a bit of slimeball, it’s the kind of veggie you don’t want to mess with on the wrong side of the stove. Treat it wrong, and likely it will treat you wrong back.

Handle it right, however, and I’ve learned it can actually become a new friend. One you may just fancy inviting onto your plate.

Roasted Okra, Tomato and Garlic Pilaf

Human friends and veggie friends alike, they say you get less narrow-minded as you get older. Perhaps that’s been the case with okra. I’m not entirely sure if my change in opinion is primarily a result of my little kid tastebuds growing up, or the new cooking methods I’ve been using. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll ever mess around with any steaming or stewing of okra again. My parents did this one too many times for me to conclude I’m not a fan, even in my old and tastebud-mature age of 23. (Right.)

Okra releases slime when it cooks. Makes it sound so appetizing, right? However, there are ways to reduce this, including cooking them whole and roasting them in the oven. Frying isn’t a bad option either, and as Ree Drummond reveals, you could even eat okra without cooking the pods at all. Who knew? I can’t wait to try a raw version the next time they’re in my kitchen.

Here, I threw the okra in the oven with some garlic to sweeten things up and tomatoes, since ’tis the season for those. It’s a simple preparation that makes a nice meal or side with the addition of bulgur wheat, a traditional tabbouleh staple.

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Bean and Vegetable Quinoa Pilaf with Tahini

After whipping up my last quinoa pilaf, I realized I had forgotten how easy cooking can be. When I’m stressed or simply overloaded with too many extraneous ideas to allow for creativity, cooking turns into an obligatory homework project. From outside the kitchen, it can psychological feel like nothing but a tiresome stack of unwashed dishes.

However, cooking’s really no different than when you conquer that first mile of a run. Ten minutes in, and often you’re ready to take on the whole trail.

For cooking, this is especially true with one pot dishes like these, where there’s very minimal cleanup required once you hit the homestretch.

Simple pilafs like these also keep things light and healthy. There’s no stove full of pans to oil up but rather just one pot of quinoa simmering away. That being said, don’t skimp on the tahini when you finish this one off. The creamy component is needed and adds a perfect richness that compliments the flavors infused in the quinoa. Enjoy!

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