Thanksgiving kicks off one of my favorite times of year. As immigrants, my family was slow to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving. We really didn’t know much about eating or cooking turkeys. My mother made Peking Duck instead. It is one of my most favorite culinary guilty pleasures. Peking Duck is quite a laborious venture in the kitchen. The chore begins with my mother meticulously rigging a duck on a wire hanger and suspending it from a kitchen cabinet. Then over 2-3 days, the duck is basted and dried before it is roasted. The end result is the crispiest and tastiest skin that covers moist duck meat. However, one year, on day 2 of project Peking Duck, my mother went into labor with my sister. After giving birth, my mother asked my father what he did with the duck. He fried it. The story always makes me smile thinking how my mother went through all that effort to prepare the duck, only to have it deep fried. I suppose it’s no different than frying a turkey.
Fast forward to 2014, and now I’m in a relationship with someone who also has never had a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. He’s a vegetarian athlete and his only request was that I not prepare Tofurky. I wanted to create something nutritious, packed with protein (like a turkey) and Thanksgiving-y. Like my sister, my Acorn Squash stuffed with Quinoa, Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberry & Toasted Almonds was born on Thanksgiving day. Served with vegetarian side dishes, this main course satisfied my hungry athlete.
Serving size: 6
- 3 acorn squashes* (optional)
- 6 tablespoons of butter (substitute 6 teaspoons of olive oil for vegan)
- 3 cups of butternut squash* (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup quinoa (rinsed well according to instructions)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon Coleman’s English mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
- 2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (about 2 small shallots)
- 3 full packed cups baby spinach
- Juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoon)
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper
Preheat over 400F.
Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the butternut squash to create a level surface. Then carefully cut into ½ inch cubes.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss the butternut squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Bake for 25-30 minutes until tender, tossing once.
Microwave acorn squashes for 1 minute. Cut in half crosswise, dissecting the top and bottom. If necessary, slice a small piece off the top and bottom so that it sits level when served on a plate. Scoop out seeds and stringy parts. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter (or 1 teaspoon of olive oil) inside of each acorn squash half, then season with salt and pepper. Wrap each half in aluminum foil**.
Noting the amount of time left to bake the butternut squash, bake the acorn squashes for 50-60 minutes or until fork tender. The butternut squash will finish cooking and will need to be removed from oven while the acorn squash packets remain in the oven for it’s remaining baking time. The timing will ensure the acorn squash is still warm when served. Once the acorn squash are cooked and tender, keep them wrapped in aluminum foil to retain heat until the quinoa is ready to be served.
Bring vegetable broth to a boil then stir in quinoa. Stir in dry mustard and curry powder. Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed or according to the package directions.
While quinoa is simmering, toast the almonds in the oven, on a baking sheet until lightly toasted and fragrant for about 5 minutes. Allow it to cool, chop coarsely and set aside.
Once quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and toss in cranberries and stir in lemon juice. Taste the quinoa and season with salt if needed. I find that if the quinoa is cooked in vegetable broth, no additional salt is necessary. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork.
With remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sauté shallots until softened. Add butternut squash, quinoa and spinach. Sauté spinach until wilted. Toss in toasted chopped toasted almonds just before serving. Spoon quinoa into acorn squash and serve.
* Note: You may prefer not to include both butternut squash and acorn squash in this dish. I found there wasn’t enough flesh to enjoy inside the acorn squash I picked up. Butternut squash added nice contrast in color, flavor and texture to each bite of the red quinoa. Alternatively, this dish can be served without the acorn squash as shown in the photo below.
** Note: The acorn squash can be baked without wrapping in aluminum foil however, creating individual packets of acorn squash makes it easier to find space for them when other side dishes are competing for oven space on Thanksgiving day. Here are other alternative ways to cook acorn squash:
- MICROWAVE: Lay acorn squash cut side down and microwave and cook at 5 minute intervals until fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
- BAKING UNWRAPPED: Place unbuttered and unseasoned acorn squash, cut side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Add enough water to slightly cover the sides of the squash. Bake at 350F for about 35-40 minutes. Flip over, add butter & seasoning. Continue to bake until fork tender, 5-10 minutes longer.