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Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa

Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette
Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette

“I wish I knew how to quit you…”

I said, looking longingly at my faithful, but now dead, computer.

The hard drive of my four year old computer had simply ceased functioning one day a few weeks ago. I was working on it, walked out of the room, returned, and poof! Gone. In its place was the dreaded DOS black screen with white text telling me that my hard drive was in imminent failure. The good news is that within a couple of days I was able to have the drive replaced, saving me the agony (and money) of having to buy a new computer on the fly. The bad news was that I had to recover all my files from my backup drive and reinstall all the software myself which was a long and tedious process.

What’s the point of this tale? The first is to admonish you to make sure you have an active back up drive either in an external drive or the cloud, or both. Without my back up drive, I would have lost over a terabyte of data spanning 15 years and 130,000+ photos. I learned this lesson the hard way many years ago.
Go, do it, NOW. I’ll wait.

The second point is that this problem delayed me in getting this lovely recipe out sooner even though I made it several weeks ago. Every time I went to work on it, I was thwarted by either a dead or “not ready” to be used computer. Not to mention all the bill paying, emails, and writing put on hold until I got things fixed. I wish my life was not so connected to this electronic box, but I just can’t quit it, so…

Here it is, just in time to be that new Thanksgiving side dish you were looking for. Trust me on this, it may sound a little “healthy” for a holiday dish (yeah, yeah, quinoa), but you will find yourself eating leftovers straight out of the fridge with a spoon the next day, if you have any left at all. It’s so addicting because the squash gets even sweeter when roasted and the quinoa has a nice nutty crunch along with the roasted pepitas.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette
Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette

Cooking notes:

Is it a side dish? A salad? A vegetarian main course? You decide. This dish can be served chilled (made in advance), room temperature, or warm, right after you finish it, your choice.

Butternut Squash: I made it easier on myself by buying the squash already cleaned and diced (impulse buy), but if you have a whole squash, what I usually do is cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and cut it in half again. Then I cut off the thin skin with a very sharp knife and cut the squash into chunks. Be careful because it can be slippery. You can also use a regular potato peeler to take off the skin. A 2.5 lb whole squash should yield about 2 lbs.

Quinoa: I prefer red quinoa over white, and what you see in the photos is a blend of red and white. The red seems to stay firmer when cooked and the white can get mushy. I cook the quinoa in my Aroma rice cooker* to make it easy and get flawless results, but it works just just fine in a pot of water; one part quinoa to two parts water.

Yield: This recipe makes quite a bit, perfect for a dinner party, about 10 cups. Feel free to cut it in half, but having leftovers is pretty great too!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette
Ingredients for Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad with Pepitas and Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette

Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa

Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa salad
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: quinoa, salad, side
Servings: 10 cups


For the Salad

  • 2 pounds butternut squash peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups red or white quinoa 4 cups cooked
  • 1/2 ounce cilantro leaves roughly chopped
  • 3 each green onions sliced
  • 2 each tomatoes diced
  • 1/4 cup roasted pepitas small pumpkin seeds

Lemon Cumin Vinaigrette

  • 1 each lemon zested then juiced (about 1 floz juice)
  • 1 fluid ounce white wine vinegar
  • 1 each shallot minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 fluid ounces extra virgin olive oil


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Toss the diced squash in a large bowl with the olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread evenly on a baking pan. Roast in the oven 30-35 minutes until the squash begins to brown and caramelize on the edges. When the squash is cooked, allow it to cool slightly before proceeding.
  • While the squash is roasting, cook the quinoa (according to package directions or in a pot with 2 cups quinoa and 4 cups water). When the quinoa is cooked, allow it to cool slightly before proceeding.
  • In a small bowl whisk together all the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

To assemble the dish:

  • In a large bowl, place the quinoa, diced tomatoes, sliced green onion, and half of the chopped cilantro. Using a large spoon, fold the ingredients together with 2/3rds of the dressing. Place on a platter.
  • In a medium bowl, place the roasted squash, half of the pepitas, and most of the rest of the cilantro (reserve some for garnish). Mix the remainder of the dressing with the squash and spoon over the top of the quinoa.
  • Garnish the top with the remaining cilantro and pepitas.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Butternut Squash

*I bought my Aroma rice cooker at Costco and I love it. It’s the exact same one as the Amazon affiliate link, same price too.


  • Lynda

    What do you think would make a good sub for those of us that think cilantro tastes like soap??? I was thinking either parsley or a mix of sage, thyme and rosemary….

  • Susan Claire

    Never been a fan of squash in any form, never tried quinoa, but I think I’m going to give this recipe a try-cilantro! cumin! tomatoes! shallots! What could be better?

  • Teresa

    This is such a great post for a couple reasons. The idea of squash and quinoa is really appealing in the healthy department, but often not the easiest to make super flavorful with texture at the same time. This seems like it would cover that very well. You also made it colorful, and I think that’s really important too. I think cilantro is a good herb choice here, but for the ‘soapy-cilantro’ folks, I would try a combo of basil chiffonade and pea shoots/sprouts. OR fresh thyme would be nice too. Have you ever tried to just pan-toast (a tsp. here?) cumin seeds and add to vinaigrette instead of the ground? Ground can be kind of pungent. I’ve infused toasted seeds into olive oil and brush pizza crust with it. So good. Other cool thing on your post here is the link/mention of the rice cooker. I’ve never had or used one, thinking it was just be another piece of equipment that wouldn’t get used much. But now that we do more healthy grains than ever before, why not get one that produces “flawless results”?!? I deserve it. 🙂 So I am so buying one. This looks like a good one and price is not bad either. Thank you Chef Kristina!

    • formerchef

      Teresa- Thanks for the thoughtful comments! Yes, I’ve pan toasted cumin seeds before and they are lovely that way. The rice cooker really is wonderful. For years I just had a basic one which only doubled as a steamer, but this one is “smart” and I used the brown rice setting all the time to cook whole grains.It can also double as a steamer and a slow cooker (though I’ve never used that function).

      • Teresa

        My rice cooker arrives today! Yay! So i am bringing this dish to T-giving, but I’d like to do as much in advance as possible. We are traveling and need to leave tomorrow, so does the cooked squash and quinoa hold up texture-wise enough to do 2 days in advance? Have you done this ahead? I was thinking of bringing all components done, but separate, then plating Thursday evening for dinner. I guess since I will serve room temp, refrigerate the ‘parts’ and then bring out and toss an hour or so before serving. You mention it can be served warm too, but the dish is never really warm (it mentions to cool the squash and quinoa)…so question is if you did want to serve warm, what method do you suggest to do that? Or have you ever? Wondering if it is any better that way. Thanks in advance.

        • formerchef

          If I were you, I’d do as you planned; cook in advance, but keep it all separate until you are ready to assemble. Don’t chop the cilantro until right before putting it together. Make the dressing and if you have one, put it in a small jar with a tight lid. That way, you can just shake it up and use it when you’re ready. You’re right, the dish is never “hot” as the recipe is written, but if you were to assemble it right after everything cooked it would still be fairly warm. I say to let it cool a bit in the recipe so people don’t burn themselves. 🙂 In your case, you’d have to re-warm it in a microwave and I wouldn’t bother. It’s fine cool or at room temp.
          I’ll be making this for Thanksgiving too and will do much the same as I’ve suggested for you. In terms of cooking in advance, cool the quinoa on a baking sheet before you put it in a container to refrigerate it (so that it doesn’t go in hot and keep cooking). I would suggest the same for the squash and take care not to over cook it so it doesn’t get mushy (it’s a fine line).
          Hope this helps!

          • Teresa

            Hey Kristina! Yes this helps and thanks so much for responding. I am keeping with serving “Room-Temp” . You’re making and taking too?! cool. I hate to bug you once more, but got the Aroma rice cooker and it doesn’t mention whole grains or quinoa anywhere. Do you use the BROWN RICE setting for your Quinoa ? (maybe also farro, amaranth too? ) because that’s what I am gathering you do. I hope that’s right. I want those ‘flawless results’ you speak of. 🙂 Thanks so much. I really can’t wait to taste this!

          • formerchef

            Teresa- Oh the pressure! I hope it all lives up to the hype for you. 😉 I do use the brown rice setting to cook whole grains like farro, barley and wheat berries. Quinoa cooks faster though, so I’d recommend the white rice setting as they do on the Aroma website. http://www.aroma-housewares.com/kitchen/appliances/recipes/4581/Basic%20Cooked%20Quinoa.html I’ve cooked quinoa on the brown rice setting but I think it gets a little over-done. I looked at the manual for mine and it only mentions “brown rice and whole grains” briefly on one of the first pages and doesn’t go into detail about specific whole grains. But if you google whole grains and Aroma rice cooker you’ll find a ton.
            I have several other whole grains recipes if you want to give them a try in the rice cooker sometime, like this; https://www.formerchef.com/2012/09/23/wheat-berry-salad-with-corn-asparagus-tomatoes-and-pesto-vinaigrette/

  • Lucy

    I had the same questions as Teresa, except we’re only going 2 blocks away from my house! I chopped the squash just now, but I think I’ll do the rest in the morning and chill till about 4. Then I’ll take it with me and plate it at 6ish for dinner at 7.

    Wish me luck. I had some issues finding pepitas here in Honolulu, but the clerk at my grocery store recommended our local organic co-op. Great tip! I was able to get the right amount of both white and red quinoa, 15 cents worth of cumin and some really nice scallions. I forgot about them a few years back, but as I’m cooking a little more now, it’s nice not to have to buy quart sized quinoa and $7 bottles of spices.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

      • Lucy

        T s/b shallots, not scallions! I just finished baking the squash and making the ***delicious*** dressing just now. It was super easy, and as I was baking pumpkin pie and some yams, Igot triple duty from the oven.

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