“There’s all different ways of carrying your stuff.”
— George Carlin, comedian
Cut through the impossibly thick skin, scoop out the bleeping seeds and the hollow semicircle remaining in an acorn squash is the reward for your labors. You’re left with an ideal compartment for stuffing, and so much the better if that nutritious stuffing shows off the flavor of the holidays.
In “Stuff It!” (Morrow, 1998), mother/son culinary duo Lora and Max Brody credit comedian George Carlin for their inspiration. They also refer to stuffed foods ranging from calzones to knishes as “downtown food” because it is homey, unpretentious, old-fashioned fare that is inexpensive to make or easily adaptable to the leftovers and ingredients you have on hand.
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The Star’s Stuffed Acorn Squash features a stuffing of bulgur, a Middle Eastern staple made from kernels of wheat that have been steamed, dried and crushed. A whole-grain bulgur is steamed here, then studded with cranberries that are high in antioxidants and pecans that are not only tasty but are high in the “good” monounsaturated fat.
Although it’s considered a winter variety, acorn squash is available year-round. The deep orange flesh supplies an impressive amount of beta carotene, iron, potassium and vitamin B6, which may reduce the risk for heart disease and lessen the symptoms of depression.
When it comes to versatility, this recipe works as a meatless entree or as a side dish with turkey, ham or a roast.
Stuffed acorn squash
Makes 4 main-dish servings or 8 side-dish servings
1/3 cup bulgur
2/3 cup water
2 small- to medium-sized acorn squash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 Jonathan or other tart, red apple, cored and chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup orange juice
Combine bulgur and water in a small, covered saucepan; heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to stand, covered, about 10 minutes.
Pierce squash with a sharp knife. Place squash in a glass 9- by 13-inch dish. Microwave on high (100 percent power), 2 minutes. Allow to stand 3 minutes. (This makes it easier to cut the whole squash.) Slice off stem, then cut each squash in half, cutting through stem end. With a teaspoon, scoop out seeds. Place cut-side down in glass dish. Add 2 tablespoons water. Cover and microwave on high (100 percent) power 8 to 9 minutes or until squash are tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is transparent. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Stir in chopped walnuts and cook until nuts are toasted. Stir in apple, cranberries, herbs and juice. Heat to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in bulgur.
With a teaspoon, carefully scoop out 1/4 cup of pulp from each of the four squash halves, leaving a shell of squash. Chop the removed pulp, then stir it into the bulgur mixture. Spoon bulgur mixture into each squash shell, mounding if necessary. Cover casserole dish and microwave on high (100 percent) power 3 to 5 minutes. (Or cover casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes; uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes.)
Per serving, based on 4: 299 calories (30 percent from fat), 11 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 16 milligrams cholesterol, 50 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 22 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.
Recipes developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.
Shopping tip: If desired, substitute 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice for bulgur. Proceed as recipe directs.
Cooking tip: If your family isn’t wild about cranberries, substitute raisins instead.
Preparation tip: A reader recently called in to suggest using a grapefruit spoon instead of a regular tablespoon to scoop out the seeds. It’s an idea with teeth, as long as you already have one on hand.