When it comes to winter squash, I’m a bit of a late bloomer. Up until the last couple of years, I always gave these tough-skinned gourds a wide berth when browsing the produce area of my local grocery store. Something about them intimidated me. Maybe it was the scabs on their skin. Maybe it was warts.
Or, maybe it was the fact that I had no idea how to cook with them. It was always easier just to go with the yellow summer squash and the zucchini. The only times I made an exception were between mid to late October of every year, and then it was open season for winter squash. But it was only to round out the jack-o-lanterns and the scarecrow on the front porch.
And then I discovered that winter squash has so much more potential beyond getting the house into Halloween mode. Especially acorn squash. These gourds are high in fiber and vitamin C, low in calories, and contain just about zero fat. The yellow-orange antioxidant-rich flesh is not only a treat for our eyes but beneficial to our bodies.
But enough talk of nutrition. Let’s get to the fun part—cooking with acorn squash. Acorn squash is a great item to keep in the pantry for many reasons. They’ll wait around a good long time before spoiling while you figure out how you want to cook them. When cut in half, each portion makes the perfect serving size.
It only takes a little bit of elbow grease and a sharp knife to do the job if you start from the pointy side opposite the stem. You can also start from the side. If you try going at it from the stem, however, it takes a whole can of elbow grease and all the flavorful curse words that you have on hand. Don’t ask me how I know. Once cut, the seeds are easily removed with a couple of swipes of a spoon.
When cooked, the flesh of acorn squash acquires a delicious sweetness and becomes tantalizingly tender. It makes for a thoroughly satisfying meal when scooped straight to your mouth plain, or maybe with a dab of butter. But why not take advantage of that little hollow in the center where the seeds were housed?
This cavity is a prime real estate just waiting for a delicious stuffing to move in. The hard part is deciding exactly what to stuff the squash with—there are countless combinations of ingredients to choose from.
In this recipe for Vegan Stuffed Acorn Squash, the stuffing consists of a colorful mix of sauteed broccoli, yams, mushrooms, and onions. Once the vegetables are cooked al dente, cashew cream is added to bind the mixture. This makes it easy to scoop a generous mound neatly onto each half of the squash without having to fight the vegetables that will otherwise want to tumble down the sides.
It also adds a nice flavor and a bit of moisture. I experimented with this dish a couple of different ways—one using a regular garlic cashew cream sauce, and the other using an alfredo cashew cream adapted from Lisa Bryan’s Best Vegan Alfredo Sauce recipe from her website. The alfredo version won hands-down in the taste department.
A little bit of cinnamon adds a cozy warmth, making this dish especially satisfying during the fall and winter seasons. That said, I made the dish earlier for lunch on this warm Spring day, and it was just as yummy.
I also threw in chopped walnuts for some textural contrast against the cooked vegetables. If you’re allergic to walnuts, you can always leave them out and opt for something else, like toasted pumpkin seeds. The panko bread crumbs on top give the stuffing not only a gorgeous deep golden crust when it comes out of the oven, but a fun crunch factor as well.
Yield: 4 servings
Total prep time: 30 minutes
Cashew soak time: 2 hours minimum
Total cook/bake time: 1 hour 10 minutes
A. Alfredo Cashew Cream
(Adapted from Lisa Bryan’s Best Vegan Alfredo Sauce recipe on www.downshiftology.com)
Yield: About 1 ½ cups
Prep time: 2 hours soak time, 10 minutes for everything else
- 1 cup cashews, soaked at least 2 hours in water and drained
- ¾ cup water
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ cup diced onion
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Scant ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a blender.
Blend until the consistency is smooth and creamy.
Step 2: Refrigerate any unused cream in a closed container.
B. Squash And Stuffing
Stuffing Prep time: 20 minutes
Stuffing Cook time: About 10 minutes
Squash Bake time: 45 minutes + 15 minutes
- 2 acorn squash, cut in half tip to stem
- Olive oil for brushing squash
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter, melted
- ¼ cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup onions, diced small
- 1 cup yam, ½-inch dice
- 4 ounces white button or cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 1 cup broccoli
- ¼ cup veggie broth
- ½ cup alfredo cashew cream
- ¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts
- Scant ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch ground black pepper
Step 1: Preheat oven to 400F.
Step 2: Brush the cut sides of the acorn squash with olive oil.
Step 3: Transfer to the baking sheet cut side up.
Bake 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.
Step 4: While the squash is baking, melt the butter in a small bowl.
Add panko bread crumbs and mix well. Set aside.
Step 5: Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large non-stick saute pan and place over medium heat until oil shimmers.
Step 6: Add onions and yam. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions turn golden, about 4 minutes.
Step 7: Add mushrooms and broccoli. Stir to mix.
Step 8: Add veggie broth and stir to mix. Cover with lid and let steam for 2 minutes, or until yams are al dente.
Step 9: Add alfredo cashew cream, walnuts, cinnamon, and pepper.
Stir to mix. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Set aside.
Step 10: Scoop about ½ cup of the stuffing mix into the hallowed seed cavity of each half of the baked acorn squash.
Step 11: Sprinkle panko bread crumb mixture over the top of the stuffing and pat in place.
Step 12: Bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until filling is heated through and bread crumbs are a deep golden brown color.
Remove from the oven. Let cool for 10 minutes before enjoying.
Alice Mesa is an environmental scientist turned foodie. She followed her heart away from a 10-year career in the water quality industry and into the kitchen, where she spent the next few years as the owner and operator of a handcrafted vegan chocolates business. Alice combines her passion for cooking with her vegan lifestyle by creating and writing about dishes that are not only delicious, but plant-based as well.