While the rest of the world (read: US) is going through seasonal obsession with everything pumpkin-related, I suggest turning your attention to other members of the squash family. Take for example zucchini (aka courgette) – with their subtle green hue, they may look less appealing than their vibrant orange cousins, but they offer a lot more advantages. For one, they are not as heavy as pumpkins so carrying your grocery bag home just got easier. More importantly, they require a lot less work: their thin skin is quite edible so no peeling needed, their flesh is soft no risk of damaging your wrist while chopping it, and they cook very quickly (in fact you can even eat them raw if so desire) so no long cooking times.
What I like so much about stuffed recipes is their versatility – you can put to use whatever ingredients you have on hand. I already wrote a similar post about a year ago on stuffed pepper and how it saved me multiple times when I had nothing particularly good enough to stand on its own as a dish. When it comes to figuring out which ingredients will get along together well enough to become a tasty stuffing, here are some of my self-invented (or self-imposed?) guidelines:
- Use cooked grains and legumes (or a mixture) as the basis;
- Go for variety of colors: tomatoes make everything festive while greens add freshness;
- Pay attention to textures: nuts and seeds add crunch while soft cheese adds creaminess;
- Balance flavors and spices: if you are using olives and parmesan in the same dish, skip any additional salt and oil; if you are in the mood for Mexican- or Indian-inspired dish, consider adding cilantro and chiles (for former) or ginger and turmeric (for latter).
- Don’t be afraid to experiment and figure out what you like best.
The recipe below is provided for cooking with zucchini however this can easily be adapted for other types of squashes. If you are using a yellow squash, add 5-10 minutes to your cooking time and if you are using an acorn squash, you will need to bake it first for 40 minutes. Anytime you are in doubt about readiness of the squash, just poke it with a fork – if it pierces the flesh easily, its ready to be stuffed!
Serves 3 – 4
– 4 small to medium size zucchini or yellow squash
– 1/2 cup quinoa (or another quick-cooking grain such as bulgur, millet or buckwheat)
– 2 small tomatoes, chopped
– few large chard leaves (kale or spinach works too)
– handful of goat cheese (or another cheese you like)
– handful of pumpkin seeds (or nuts)
– 1 tbs flavorful oil (e.g. pecan oil)
– 1 tbs apple cider vinegar
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and heat the oven to 375F/180C. Wash and cut zucchinis in half lengthwise; using spoon, carefully remove the flesh and side aside. Sprinkle emptied zucchini shells with a pinch of salt and pepper inside and bake for 15 minutes or until soft.
While squash is baking, prepare the filling. Cook the quinoa or another grain of your choice according to package instructions. Roughly chop the zucchini flesh, mix with tomatoes, cooked quinoa and pumpkin seeds. Add chopped chard stalk and leaves, drizzle oil and vinegar, and crumble cheese on top. Toss everything lightly until combined. If you think you want to add more things to this (such as cooked chickpeas, lentils or perhaps grated carrots – go for it!).
Using a spoon or two, transfer the filling to cooked zucchini shells and try to make it fit (it won’t always be easy). When you finally got it figured out, put the baking tray back in the oven and cook for another 15 minutes so that everything has a chance to heat through evenly. That’s it!