Christmas in a Bowl: Quinoa Holiday Pilaf Recipe

A few years ago, I was trying to come up with something festive, yet healthful, to take to a dinner party. I really liked quinoa and wanted to use it as the base, as a change from rice or pasta. Since it was Christmas, I also wanted it to have red and green throughout, so I decided to use fresh cranberries and kale. The guests liked it so much that I have since made it every year for Christmas dinners.

Quinoa pilaf

Festive quinoa pilaf

Since I moved to a low-carbohydrate regimen, I don’t regularly eat quinoa, but I decided to make it for our office holiday party this year. It was a nice treat for me to have some and I made some extra for my friend, Nancy, who so kindly shares her garden grown vegetables with me during the summer.

When I make this dish, I ordinarily devein the kale leaves (curly is fine, but if you can get Italian, it’s much nicer) and ribbon-cut them. This time, I had some chopped kale in the freezer I wanted to use, but I was disappointed because the green didn’t come out as well as usual.

There are three great things about this pilaf. First, it tastes great. It’s a flavorful blend of tart cranberries, sweet balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, and savory grains, onions, and rosemary. Second, it is super easy to make and is actually better if it’s made a day ahead of time for the flavors to come together. Third, it’s really good for you.

If you want to cut back on the sugar content, swap out sweet potatoes for butternut squash, or better yet, pumpkin. You can also substitute date sugar and some maple extract for the maple syrup for less added sugar. I remind myself that it’s because I practice good food habits that I can occasionally indulge in something I ordinarily wouldn’t eat.

A few days after I gave Nancy her pilaf, she told me how much she and her family–including her 10 year old daughter–loved it. They had it with chicken and veggies, so you have it on good authority that it’s a great side for omnivores. As a vegan, when I’m lucky enough to get leftovers from the dinner party, I eat it with roasted Brussels sprouts.


Quinoa Holiday Pilaf Recipe

Prepare these ingredients:

  • 1 c. uncooked quinoa, prepared according to package in 1 t. vegetable bouillon (thoroughly rinsing quinoa first is vital; don’t skip this step)
  • 1 small sweet potato, small cubes*

Coat the below ingredients in a baking pan with a mixture of 2 T. canola oil, 1 T. maple syrup, 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar, and a few turns of freshly cracked black pepper. Bake at 425 for ~10 minutes, stirring regularly, until shallots are browned.

  • 1-2 shallots, minced
  • 3 T. frozen cranberries
  • ½ c. kale, thinly ribbon-cut
  • 2 T. fresh rosemary*

In serving bowl, thoroughly blend broiled ingredients with quinoa and sweet potatoes. Add salt to taste. If the mixture is too dry for your taste, mix up a bit more of the oil/syrup/balsamic vinegar sauce, microwave for 1 minute, and mix into pilaf. It’s better start with less and add more, if necessary. Top with fresh sprig of rosemary.

*For most consistent size and doneness of sweet potato cubes, as well as faster cooking time, peel sweet potato and cut into 1/2” thick slices. Coat each side with oil and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes (only until it’s easy to pierce with a knife). Cool and cut into cubes. Butternut squash also works well, and when I use it, I also prepare it this way.

*Dried rosemary isn’t nearly as flavorful- it’s worth getting fresh sprigs. If using dried rosemary, add into oil mixture. You can also substitute sage. Again, fresh is better, but if using dried, add into oil mixture.

Accommodates: Omnivores, vegetarians, and vegan regimens


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