Quinoa is a nice little grain from the Andes (technically it’s not a grain, but don’t ask me to explain why) that became popular a few years back, and is now widely available. Like most heritage grains, it has a bit more taste and texture (not to mention nutrition) than most mass marketed counterparts, which makes it a nice match for this cold salad.
Quinoa: Pan fry 1 1/2 cups of uncooked quinoa (make sure that it has been
pre-rinsed, as some quinoa requires it) in a teaspoon of oil until just starts to brown. Add 1 cup water, 1 cup apple juice, salt and 1 tsp soy sauce, and cook over low heat until liquid is mostly gone. Turn off heat, add 1/2 cup dried cranberries and cover. Finished quinoa should be fluffy and very lightly flavored.
Kabocha: Cut medium sized kabocha into chunks, keeping peel
intact. Place peel side down in saucepan, and add mixture of water, dashi powder, sugar, plus bit of mirin and sake (We used roughly 1 cup water, 1/2 tsp dashi, 2 tsp sugar and 2 tbs soy, exact amounts will depend on size of pan and kabocha, but balance soy and dashi for saltiness, and keep amount of liquid low). Cover and cook on low heat until kabocha is soft – avoid stirring if possible. Cool on stovetop.
Mix quinoa and kabocha mixture with a handful of crushed walnuts and chunks of creamy goat cheese. Fix flavors with a dash of soy sauce or sesame oil, but keep liquids to a minimum, so the dish does not become too heavy. Salad is ready to serve right away.