Plant based eating: Not just for January

Charlotte McGarry 30 January 2016

Veganuary may be coming to an end, but this doesn’t mean plant-based eating has to. Even if you don’t want to go all out and become a vegetarian or vegan, you could still decide to eat less meat by making plant-based meals that are filling, protein-packed and super satisfying. Even though I’m not fully vegetarian or vegan, I regularly enjoy eating this way because it's healthier, cheaper and usually much quicker and easier to make – time is often of the essence at Cambridge! It’s also, you know, better for the environment and the animals.

A favourite recipe of mine is this cheerfully colourful and flavoursome quinoa salad with avocado dressing and butternut squash – guaranteed to brighten up your hectic days! It’s really quick and easy to make, especially for students using a tiny communal kitchen.

Quinoa is quite easy to cook from scratch, but if you’re lazy like me, you can buy microwaveable quinoa from most supermarkets.  It’s a perfect addition to a plant-based meal because it’s very rich in protein, with eight grams per cup! If you don’t like quinoa, you could easily substitute it with couscous or brown rice instead. 

The avocado dressing sounds fancy, but it’s really easy to make – just mash an avocado with a fork (the riper the avocado the easier this will be) and add some seasonings. I love adding a handful of dried cranberries to this salad for a lovely burst of sweet juicy flavour.

I find butternut squash one of the more cumbersome vegetables to chop and peel – that alone puts me off ever making it for myself, especially when I’m pressed for time. Fortunately, Sainsbury’s has recently started selling pre-prepared butternut squash, which makes life so much easier. You can either cook these in a frying pan or roast them if you’re lucky enough to have an oven. And if you can’t get hold of butternut squash, use pumpkin or sweet potato instead.

This salad is also great as a packed lunch – just make sure you’re generous when adding something acidic to the dressing so the avocado doesn’t go brown.  Infinitely better than forking out the best part of a fiver for something unsatisfying and mediocre from the Arc Café…

Ingredients (serves 1):

1 packet microwaveable quinoa 

Handful of dried cranberries 

1/2 packet butternut squash 

2 tablespoons oil, any kind

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt + pepper, to taste

Optional: 1 tablespoon pine nuts (or sunflower/pumpkin seeds)

For the dressing:

1 ripe avocado

1 tablespoon lemon juice/cider vinegar 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional: 1 teaspoon dried coriander

Method:

1. Cook the quinoa according to instructions on packet

2. In a bowl, mash up the avocado with a fork, add all other dressing ingredients and mix well 

3. Add the cooked quinoa to this bowl, along with the dried cranberries

4. Heat some oil in a frying pan and cook the butternut squash until soft and slightly browned (season with the paprika and salt + pepper) – alternatively, place the squash on a baking tray, add the seasonings, drizzle with oil and roast in an oven at 200 degrees Celsius  

5. Once cooked, place the butternut squash on top of the quinoa and scatter over some pine nuts.

Enjoy!