A stuffed squash makes a tasty, fun, seasonal side dish

  • The finished Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice, Kale, Cranberries And Pecans makes a lovely side dish or main course.

    The finished Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice, Kale, Cranberries And Pecans makes a lovely side dish or main course. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Updated 11/23/2020 11:43 AM

I made a wild rice salad one year to grace our Thanksgiving table, and it was such a hit that it's become a go-to autumn dish. Featuring many typical ingredients of a turkey-day feast, the finished preparation offers a welcome counterpoint in texture and brightness. This year, we are putting a new spin on the salad, turning it into a stuffing for winter squash.

I got a 15-pound box of squash from a local farmer, so I used a variety of different squashes to make this. Acorn will be the most common type sold, but take your kids to the store and see if you can find Sweet Dumpling, Carnival, Hubbard or even small pumpkins. Any stuffable winter squash will work here. Letting kids explore and choose is part of the fun and a great way to get them vested in the cooking process.

 
You can use most any kind of squash for making Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice, Kale, Cranberries And Pecans.
You can use most any kind of squash for making Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice, Kale, Cranberries And Pecans. - Courtesy of Leslie MeredithYo

If the skin is particularly hard, one dramatic trick I use for severing squash is to use a cleaver along the vegetable's length, then tap it with a rubber mallet until completing the cut. I use a serrated grapefruit spoon to remove the stringy center flesh and seeds quickly. Make sure to save the seeds, as they can quickly be turned into a healthy, crunchy snack (recipe follows).

You can snack on the roasted seeds while cooking.
You can snack on the roasted seeds while cooking. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

While the cleaver is strictly for adults, safer, more whimsical tools can bring smiles when cooking with kids. My silicone basting brush from Fred & Friends is practical but thrillingly scandalous to the typical 6-year-old, as it looks like a man with crazy hair, sans pants. Kids in my classes also love using the Microplane to zest and the citrus press to juice the orange. Have them help with the mise en place, measuring out all the ingredients ahead of time and setting them in small bowls at the ready.

You can explain to your kids that wild rice is not technically rice. It's the seeds of aquatic grasses that grow in the upper Great Lakes area (though much of what is now sold commercially is grown in California). It has been a dietary staple for Native Americans for centuries, and the Ojibwe people call it manoomin, meaning "good berry" or "wonderous grain."

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Introduce a little fun into the cooking, especially if you want to get kids involved.
Introduce a little fun into the cooking, especially if you want to get kids involved. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

You could make lots of substitutions with this forgiving recipe: Brown rice for wild rice, spinach for kale, dried tart cherries instead of (or in addition to) the cranberries, swapping out the pecans for walnuts or even pine nuts. Use what you have or what you like. If you want to make it more of a main dish vs. a side, you can add cooked crumbled sausage or crispy pancetta to the stuffing mixture. Or make an already nutritious dish even healthier by adding some hemp hearts to the mix.

If you end up with more stuffing than you can pack into the squash halves, it's tasty on its own. Try adding it to your holiday table for a fresh take on tradition.

Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice, Kale, Cranberries and Pecans

1 cup wild rice, rinsed

1 teaspoon salt

1 orange, zested and juiced

3 large or 6 small acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed and reserved for roasting

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons maple syrup

½ cup dried cranberries

2/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cups kale, destemmed and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Add salt and orange juice to enough water to equal 4 cups. Add rice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to and simmer, covered, for 45-60 minutes. Once grains begin to split open, taste rice. Stop cooking once the texture is soft but still chewy and drain. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash, cut side down, in a large roasting pan filled with ½ inch water. While squash cooks, whisk vinegar, 2 tablespoons of oil and maple syrup in a small bowl to make a simple dressing. After baking for 30 minutes, flip squash and brush the cut sides with the dressing. Reserve extra mixture, return squash to oven and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until flesh is tender.

Heat remaining oil in a skillet on medium heat and cook onion for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add kale and sage and continue cooking for about 3 minutes or until the kale wilts and turns a bright green. Stir in the cooked rice, orange zest, pecans and cranberries. Add reserved dressing mixture and mix well.

Turn oven up to 400 degrees. Spoon stuffing into squash halves and return to oven to bake for another 25 minutes. Top with ground pepper and serve.

Serves 6

You can snack on the roasted seeds while cooking.
You can snack on the roasted seeds while cooking. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Spiced Roasted Squash Seeds

Reserved squash seeds

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rinse seeds to remove residual squash and pat dry with a towel. Toss with remaining ingredients and spread in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning a couple of times, until light golden brown.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and a mother from Arlington Heights. She runs School of Food out of her home. See the school's Facebook page @learngrowcookeat or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

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