It’s squash season. Bright orange pumpkins of all sizes, ecru butternut, forest green acorn, mad scientist-y turban, and all sorts of weird warty things. What to do with this bounty? Stuff it! This adaptation of a Clean Eating recipe, which I made the other night, changed up my game big time.
And why was that game so changed? Well, I’ve made stuffed squash before and always felt like it was kind of meh. It’s been a while, and I freely admit that I could have been doing a lot of things wrong. But my memories were a sort of bland, healthy filling and a squash that was a little stiff and not perfectly baked, and also—again—just sort of boring.
Stuffed Acorn Squash: The Squash
The beauty of this technique is how simple it is. You know, the “why haven’t I done this all along?” kind of simple. Heat up your oven, cut the squash in half, season it….
….wrap it in parchment, and bake it. The recipe calls for foil, but I don’t trust it. (This same issue of the magazine has a bunch of myth-busting, one of which is that it’s ok to cook in aluminum, but still….parchment makes a cool noise!)
Stuffed Acorn Squash: The Stuffing
While the squash bakes, you make up your yummy sauce. As usual, I improvised off the recipe recommendations. I sautéed onions and mushrooms—onions and any sautéeable veggie you have on hand would work. Bell peppers are a natural this time of year, as are carrots and celery in any season. I added a spicy chicken sausage I had on hand, having been recently chastised for not using turkey sausage in time (man, does that stuff get funky quick). This subbed for regular old ground turkey in the recipe, and if I’d used that, I would have upped the spice quotient, because it, too, can be super blandorama. (I realized crumbled tempeh would have worked great for a meatless version as well, and there are enough spices in this that it wouldn’t taste like b.s., which tempeh does if you don’t spice it up.)
Speaking of spices, I used the recommended ones from the original recipe, and also doubled the tomato paste quantity. I realized afterward I have some red pepper soup sitting in the fridge that would have also been a dynamite substitute for tomato sauce. Next time. And you could easily make this southwestern by using cumin, oregano, chili powder, and just a pinch of cinnamon.
By the time I’d finished putting the sauce together, the squash had 25 minutes to cook—exactly the amount of time the sauce needed to simmer.
After that, I just took the squash halves from the oven, unwrapped them—they were wonderfully soft, perfectly cooked…
…and filled them with sauce. Oh, at the last minute, I stirred some nutritional yeast into the sauce.
Big flavor, a little more texture. I strewed some fresh basil across the top.
Wow, what a great fall dinner. And even greater is that I finally learned how to do a stuff squash that is both yummy and virtuously healthy. Enjoy.
So before proceeding to the evolution and execution of this Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry, I must take a moment to pay homage to my guy, Tim Gunn. For the rest of you: I love Tim Gunn.
I’ve suffered through many a grim episode of Project Runway just to watch him stroll into the studio, impeccably dressed, marvelously discerning and insightful, and most of all, respectful. I’ve been trying to mastermind a Tim Gunn for President of the World campaign for, like, ever. Sigh. Tim, you will also be the secret to making the world fabulous, better dressed, and kinder in my book. Now a lot of times on Project Runway, one of the contestants will come up with a real Fashion Don’t. And Tim will say, “I’m concerned,” and the way he says it…
…you know that he is the only thing between that contestant and an icy and heart-freezing look from Nina Garcia…
….who would disdainfully raise her eyebrows if Botox hadn’t robbed her of that ability long ago in a way that is all the more soul-destroying because in that moment, said unfortunate contestant realizes that he/she/they simply don’t exist for her and never did.
And then Tim will say, in this wonderfully hearty and stirring way, “This is what we call a Make It Work Moment!!”
Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Mistake
Well, making this Sweet Potato Kale Curry was a total Make It Work moment for me. Because I did a very dumb thing, which was: I didn’t get all my ingredients out before hand. I say why one should never do this. Physician, heal theyself!! Or be forced to get through a Make It Work Moment.
I got my new (October 2018) issue of Clean Eating, and there’s this awesome article on spice blends. And there’s also a recipe for Squash, Spinach, and Chickpea Curry. (I’d give you the link here, but the recipe’s not online yet.)
Well, just a couple of days ago, Steve went to visit our friends at Frog Holler Farm, and he came home with this lovely butternut squash. Also, that morning, he mentioned we had some kale just kind of sitting in the fridge, and I nearly always sub kale for spinach, because the texture holds up better. Chickpeas? Tons of cans lying around. Ditto coconut milk. Also, it was an overcast rainy day and so really perfect for some curry.
So I start merrily following the recipe. First up: A really terrific homemade turmeric blend. This is a direct copy of the original recipe at Clean Eating (and I’ll link to it when it’s available); I’ve reproduced it below in half the amount.
There’s a little blurb in the magazine on the joy of turmeric, and this particular blend is generous with a bunch of other stuff, so mainly the turmeric adds color, because on its own it’s got kind of a weird dusty flavor. So I mixed that up straight away.
I heated the coconut oil, chopped up half an onion. We’re going gangbusters so far.
Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Joy of Improv
Then I say, “Hey, babe, did you bring in that squash from the farm?” “It’s in my car.”
I start to exit stage left—and then remember we left the car in Ann Arbor (the details are not that interesting). With the squash in it.
But I did have some sweet potatoes on the counter. So I thought, ok, a sweet potato will Make It Work. Phew! I peel and cube one, throw it in the onion pot that already also has some garlic and the spice blend in it, and add some broth. Everything’s bubbling away making a cozy sound.
Off to the garden to pick a bunch of basil, then wash it along with the kale. I happily chop my troubles away as the sweet potatoes cook up on the stove.
It’s time to add half of them to the blender with a can of coconut milk. Which…we don’t have.
How can this be? I’ve looked a at least 4 cans of coconut milk in my pantry for ages, thinking, why did I think I would use a small case of of coconut milk? (Because I was at Costco, that’s why. That place makes me think I’d better stock up for that army of epicures who are bound to kick down my door, demanding facsimiles of southeast Asian delicacies.)
I search my pantry and my apoteca, which is this kind of cool roll out door that holds the stuff that won’t fit in my smallish pantry, increasingly wild-eyed. There is no damn coconut milk.
Bauer, you can Make It Work! I told myself, feeling plucky despite my trembling lower lip. Quickly, I improvised. I had frozen a bunch of buttermilk in little 1/4 cup batches in the fridge. I threw four in the blender, along with a handful of shredded, unsweetened coconut, and a little almond milk. I blended in the sweet potatoes.
It actually worked. The buttermilk is thick and not out of place in a curry. The almond milk and coconut lent some nuttiness and sweetness.
So that was cool. I poured my coconut milk substitute into the sauce pan, being careful not to boil it (so it wouldn’t curdle), added the kale, and went to find the chickpeas.
Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: Continued Thrills
You probably saw this coming. I had dried chickpeas for days, which frankly were not going to do me a damn bit of good. But a can of cooked chickpeas? You know, one from the batch I’d bought at Costco that took forever to get rid of?
Forever, apparently, passed me by. Not a cooked chickpea in sight.
But in my frantic can search….what to my wondering eye should appear? Oh, for pity’s sake.
Well, I had a half cauliflower on hand. So I roasted it…
….because at this point, the dream of sweet potato kale curry for lunch had evaporated and I just ate some sort of snack.
I also had packs of rice and quinoa from Costco, which are just sitting there like all the six packs of things I get from Costco, so I threw one of those in.
My Make It Work Moment tended to be just like the ones on Project Runway—about an hour long. But I did make it work. I don’t recommend you reproduce my angst. Please get ingredients out ahead of time. Making It Work is gratifying, but slightly stressful. Then again, sometimes that frisson of panic is exactly the seasoning a dish needs. Bon appetit.
I love a big old bowl of rainbow crunch. This Autumn Harvest Salad, inspired by a June 2017 Clean Eating recipe, fits the bill and sums up for me the things I love about this time of year: the rich colors, the produce bursting with vibrant flavor and color, and that wonderful feeling of newness that hits me every September. Read the step by step or jump straight to the recipe.
The dressing is a citrus-y yogurt concoction, though I adapted it to be a little lighter on the acid. I just don’t like dressings that are too liquid or have too high a proportion of vinegar. I did add the juice left over from sectioning an orange I had on hand. The original recipe calls for a bigger amount of juice and no fruit. It made a lot more sense to me to add the sections. The approximate tablespoon of juice that resulted was pretty much perfect, without me feeling like the salad was swimming. See this quick tutorial to efficiently slice up an orange.
Beyond that, it’s a pretty straightforward operation. Make the dressing (see details below if you don’t have the basics down). Chop a bunch of stuff. In my case, that included plenty o’ cabbage….
….along with some carrots, mint, parsley, jicama, and fresh corn, with a few hemp hearts and golden raisins thrown in for good measure.
You can keep your Autumn Harvest Salad entirely vegetarian by adding tofu, tempeh, beans, or nothing….
This version is, effectively, the same as the green beans version linked above. It is no less inspired by the southern U.S. than the other; as noted in the previous recipe, a sauté of the freshest greens you can find, beans or leaves, in a little bit of hog fat, pretty much screams classic southern cooking. But I also suggest some variations. In fact, classic sauteed greens also pair up beautifully with plant-based “bacons”, a variety of which are featured in these vegan bacon recipes from Clean Eating. Just note the slightly different technique.
Pull the leaves of the collards away from the stems, or at least trim the stems way down.
Roll up the collard leaves and slice thinly. If desired, cut the rolled slices in smaller pieces.
If using bacon, place 1 slice for every two handfuls of beans in a cold sauté pan over medium high heat; this ensures that the bacon browns evenly, and doesn’t start sizzling and burning immediately. If not using bacon, heat the pan, then add about 1 tablespoon of oil—olive, canola, or coconut—for every 4-8 ounces of greens. I tend to prefer less oil, but some folks like their greens pretty oiled up. Your preference.
If using bacon, once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the pan. Either way, add 1-2 tablespoons of chopped onions, shallots, or scallions to the hot fat and stir for about a minute. Then add the sliced and/or chopped greens, tossing to coat with oil.
After 4-5 minutes of stirring and cooking the greens and onions, add 1 tablespoon of water or broth at a time; once again, you don’t need much, but if you want them a little softer and/or soupier, add more liquid. Cover the pan tightly and let steam approx 2-3 minutes. When you remove the lid, the greens should be brilliant green; taste to make sure the texture is as you like.
Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar if you like. Stir for about 1 minute; depending on the quality of the vinegar, it may get a little syrupy.
Top with the cut-up bacon, or your choice of vegan bacon.All purpose and wonderful, these greens can really be served on the side of just about any dish, in any season.
Ireland is green, green, green, and the fish is—naturally—fresh, fresh, fresh. Steve and I visited a couple of years ago, and loved every minute we were there. Beyond all the stuff we did and people we met, we ate amazingly. I invented the Emerald Isle Bowl while we were there, taking advantage of the gorgeous fresh produce and the fresh-out-of-the-Irish-Sea salmon.
With St. Patrick’s coming up and spring trying hard to push back winter, I wanted to get this simple, relatively quick, and very colorful meal in front of you. The textures of the Emerald Isle bowl give your mouth plenty to play with.
They start with the raw. That includes juicy fruit—I used a pear but green apples are terrific as well—crispy cukes, crunchy cabbage and romaine, and chewy kale.
And then we have the cooked: delicate salmon, golden-outside-soft-inside cauliflower and broccoli. I also gave the pistachios a little toast for extra crunchiness.
The herbs, a throw-caution-to-the-Irish-wind blend of tarragon, dill, mint, and parsley, add fresh-meadow flavor. The horseradish dressing does that thing where it kind of opens the top of your head. In Dublin, I went crazy for Graham’s, the absolute best horseradish sauce I’ve ever tasted. But any good horseradish cream sauce will work. Or just add some wasabi or minced horseradish to the yogurt and mayo you have on hand.
Optimum prep includes reusing the same bowl to do all of the following:
Toss the cauliflower with oil.
While the cauliflower cooks, toss the broccoli with oil.
Massage the kale with oil.
Toss the romaine, cabbage, herbs, and kale with the dressing before plating.
Above all, be sure to improvise. Use whatever herbs you have handy, though dill and parsley are highly recommended. Change up the vegetables if you like; the bowl looks just as pretty with other colors besides green. And if you want a starch, watch your email for my soon-to-appear recipe Colcannon, the classic Irish potato with whatever-greens-I-have-in-the-fridge.
Indian cooking—the northwestern branch of it specifically, as “Indian” is as sweeping a description as American, Italian, or Spanish—is the first exotic cuisine I can remember getting a proper introduction to as a kid. My parents hosted some Pakistani missionaries at our home; and while, of course, Pakistan is not India, the cuisine across the subcontinent has some shared characteristics: rice, spices, vegetables, amazing and mysterious smells, singing sweet music to my suburban California child’s soul.
When I met my daughter’s father Joel, he gave me what has become a cherished lexicon of food from across the vast country: Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, a massive and lovingly assembled compendium from Yamuna Devi, whom Joel had known when he lived in India.
The sheer luxuriance of color that occurs when I muster up the ingredients for an Indian dish gives me a little shiver. For this one, I knew I wanted to use up some apricot-hued lentils, as well as (of course) a cauliflower and an eggplant that had been waiting patiently. A mix of whole and ground spices provided the depth and complexity that makes good Indian food so special; no curry powder circa 1970, please, which has unfairly convinced more people they don’t like Indian food than any other single factor. Plenty of mint and parsley on hand, because I had them and didn’t have cilantro, which also would have worked.
I’ll be the first to admit that the dish, when you first glance at the recipe, is going to seem overly complicated. It DOES have quite a few components. Feel free to skip any of them, and to assemble the dish any which way that suits you. For instance, leave out either the carrots or the roasted veggies, or both, simply serving the lentils with the various toppings and the rice if you like. Or leave out the lentils, which take the longest. Even better, make the lentils and the carrots the day before; the flavor gets better as they sit.
Another way to simplify is to simply pick up a bottle of garam masala already mixed, and replace the spices with that. One of the great joys of Indian cooking is its improvisation, which rivals Coltrane, Bird, and Monk in their finest hours.
The point, of course and as ever, is to make it yours. And most importantly, as Joel told me, to make it and offer it with love. Namaste.