Spaghetti Squash with Kale Pesto (Paleo, Vegan)
I LOVE watching my 2 and 6 year old boys enjoy eating the healthy foods I make. My 6 year old will eat kale pretty much however I prepare it, but my 2 year old is still at the kale-in-smoothie, or chopped up so small it’s impossible to pick out, phase. Considering kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, I am always trying to think of other ways he might enjoy it.
Why I didn’t think of it sooner, I’m not sure, but replacing my usual basil with the powerhouse kale in my pesto has proved to be a huge hit in my house! This dish has several variations, from switching the base between soba noodles, quinoa or spaghetti squash (which I use here), to choosing from a variety of veggies and nuts to add different flavors and textures to your meal.
And unlike many pestos, I don’t use cheese, which makes this both gluten-free and dairy/casein-free (GFCF). It’s a great dish for both my Vegan and Paleo friends.
If using soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat, keep in mind that you need to read labels if you’re following a gluten-free diet. Buckwheat is a naturally gluten-free grain, despite having the word wheat in it’s name. Many packaged varieties do contain wheat flour, however, so look for 100 percent buckwheat and a gluten-free or allergy label.
You will find options to buy whole buckwheat and white buckwheat. Choose the whole variety, as it contains more nutrients. Soba noodles are a good source of protein, fiber and omega-3’s and 6’s, and contain all essential amino acids. Other benefits of buckwheat include fatigue-fighting iron, bone-healthy calcium and immune system-boosting manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc.
Quinoa is another great base for this dish. Quinoa is an ancient grain, known as the “gold of the Incas”, because they believed it increased the stamina of their warriors. While most grains are considered inadequate protein sources, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids.
Additionally, unlike other grains, quinoa has a recognizable fat content and provides essential fatty acids and heart healthy fats. It has a high nutritive value, including many anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. It contains a good amount of fiber, iron and magnesium, all of which many people are deficient in. Both quinoa and soba noodles are great options if you tolerate grains.
Spaghetti Squash, on the other hand, is a great way to make this dish Paleo or to sneak in more veggies with the kids! Spaghetti Squash is a golden yellow winter squash, that once cooked, reveals beautiful spaghetti like strands that can be removed with a fork.
A great source of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, spaghetti squash is a great replacement for your traditional pasta (which has 5 times as many calories!). I’m not personally a fan of calorie counting, for many reasons, but I know a lot of people get excited about that big of a calorie saver. Serve it up with your go-to marinara and meatballs, and you’ll be surprised how satisfying it is!
Or, of course, try it with veggies and kale pesto! 🙂
- 1 large spaghetti squash (soba noodles or quinoa are delicious as well)
- 4 cups kale, stems removed
- 4 scallions
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ¼ cup EVOO
- juice of 1 lemon + zest
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- ¼ tsp. Freshly ground black pepper
- water to desired consistency
- Optional add-ins: grape tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, slivered almonds, pepitas, chopped raw or cooked veggies (carrots, bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, etc).
- Preheat the over to 375 F.
- Using a sharp knife, and carefully cut the Spaghetti Squash in half the long way. I find it easiest to stab it in the center and cut down one side at a time.
- Scoop out the seeds and discard.
- Place squash flesh side up on a large baking dish. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the baking dish in the middle rack and roast for 45-60 minutes. It might need longer if you have a very large squash. It is ready when you can easily pull the flesh away from the skin. NOTE: If the squash is drying out while cooking, brush with more olive oil.
- Meanwhile, make your pesto with the remaining ingredients. I find a Vitamix to be the easiest, because you can just throw everything in and blend. A food processor works as well. Add the water as necessary.
- Once the squash is ready, remove from oven and let cool for 4-5 minutes. Use a fork to scrape the flesh out into long stringy “noodles”. If the strings clump, you can separate them with your fingers.
- Add in optional veggies and nuts of your choice, toss with the pesto and serve!
If you do weekend prep for your weekday meals, you can have the pesto all ready to go. Prepped ahead or leftover pesto saves well in the freezer. I find that one batch lasts 3 meals, so I separate it into 3 small glass jars and freeze 2 and keep the one I’ll be using in the fridge.
A great thing about this dish is that pretty much any leftover veggies you might have will work, which makes it a great last minute idea as long as you keep some pesto on hand. And of course, you can always add a protein of your choice to make this a heartier meal.
My boys like the kale pesto with quinoa the best, but we’re eating less grains these days so this is a great alternative. We love the versatility of this dish, and I hope you enjoy it as well! 🙂
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