The other day, while browsing Wegmans, I stumbled upon a pumpkin. A beautiful, perfectly shaped, tasty looking pie pumpkin.
I knew its destiny was to end up in my kitchen, but I’ve never cooked with a whole pumpkin before. It’s only a squash, so I knew how to prepare it. Mostly, it was the myriad of options I had for using it that left me somewhat clueless. After careful thought, I decided on chili. I’m a huge fan of making chili from scratch because you can adjust the heat and flavors to your exact liking. Also, store-bought seasonings tend to contain a lot of sodium, where you can cut most of the salt out by assembling the seasoning yourself.
Then, I thought of a way to use up the dates that have been sitting around in my pantry. Cornbread. Healthy cornbread. Healthy maple cornbread. Healthy maple date cornbread…. Oh, dang.
For this recipe, I prepared the pumpkin by cleaning it and cutting off the top, then splitting the pumpkin in half lengthwise.I scooped out the seeds and pulp, (Tip: Special grapefruit cutlery [grapefruit spoons and those double-sided knives] are great for scooping out squash pulp!) and then cut the pumpkin into 3/4-1 inch thick wedges. I then scraped off the remainder of the pulpy bits and peeled the skin off of each wedge with a potato peeler.
The great thing about this recipe (besides its deliciousness) is the amount of food it makes – I filled a HUGE tupperware container full of chili, which makes this a great recipe for families and meal-preppers alike. Plus, most of its bulk is from the vegetables and squash, not the meat, making this chili lean, filling, and easily adaptable for vegetarians/vegans.
- 4 cups cubed pumpkin (~1/2 large pie pumpkin)
- coconut oil spray (or any type of oil spray)
- 1 medium bell pepper
- 1 white onion
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. olive oil
- 3 cups chopped kale (Tip: You can buy kale pre-washed and pre-chopped by the bag, making preparation much easier)
- 1 lb. lean ground turkey
- One 15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- One 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, mashed or chopped
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. oregano
- 1/4 tsp thyme
- 1/4 tsp rosemary
- 1/8 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 425˚F.
- Prepare pumpkin by halving, removing seeds and pulp, cutting into wedges, peeling, and then dicing into small chunks.
- Arrange the diced pumpkin onto a baking sheet that has been greased with oil spray. Season if desired with salt, pepper, and a bit of pumpkin pie spice. Roast for about 10-15 minutes, or until fork tender.
- Finely dice your bell peppers and onions and set aside.
- In a large pan, warm your olive oil over medium-low heat and add the minced garlic. Add your diced peppers and onions, stirring occasionally until the vegetables start to become soft and the onions are translucent. Add the roasted pumpkin and kale to the vegetable mixture, and cover.
- Once the kale has wilted, remove your vegetable and pumpkin mixture from heat, then transfer to a pot.
- In your smaller vegetable pan, mash and brown the ground turkey until it no longer appears pink anywhere, then remove from heat.
- Add the turkey, beans, and tomatoes to the pot and keep over low heat. Stir well.
- Separately assemble and add your seasoning mixture. I recommend assembling everything but your cayenne/salt and pepper, and adding those last to taste. (Note: Paprika can also contribute a lot of heat depending on what kind you have. If you're not a "spicy" person, I would recommend starting with less paprika in your mixture just to be safe, and then adding it in small increments to your liking once the seasoning is mixed in with the chili.)
- Garnish with plain greek yogurt and avocado slices. Serve with Maple Date Cornbread (recipe link below).
Considering my blog is supposed to chronicle my balancing of life as a music major with other things, it’s pretty pathetic that I haven’t found time to post ANY of the recipes I’ve made in the past six weeks. To be fair, everyone falls out of their habits sometimes, and I actually have been going through some tough decision-making processes lately. If you’ve read my post about the five things that my junior year taught me, you know that I’m very hard on myself. That’s why, when the time (which is now) came to decide what I wanted to do about graduate school auditions, I decided to take a year off in order to prepare auditions to the best of my ability. Then, I began to get encouragement from several different teachers whom I respect very much, telling me that my goals are within reach now, and a year off would probably be unnecessary. So, I sit before you today decision-less, but I can’t afford to stay that way for much longer. It’s killing me, but at least now I can curl up with a hot bowl of this here squash soup when the days get rough.
I love this recipe for a few reasons.
1) It’s super easy. A bit time consuming, but low maintenance. And I’m very high maintenance, so consider this a miracle.
2) It has all the usual suspects when it comes to autumnal spices and flavors, and you can make it any time of the year when you’re missing these wonderfully crisp fall days. You can also season it however you want, with as many or as few spices as you wish.
3) A little bit goes a LONG way because it’s very filling and satisfying, so it will last you a while as leftovers. One recipe can also feed a large group of people (at least 8-10, possibly 12)
4) It’s super healthy. But that kind of goes without saying. 😉
5) The soup itself (without the garnishes I added) is vegan, gluten free, and can be oil free.
How can you lose?!
- 2 medium acorn squash
- olive oil
- 1 tbs. whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup original, unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp. ground coriander
- salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425˚F (I put my oven on “convection roast,” if you have that setting). Clean and halve both acorn squash, scooping out the seeds and pulp. Cut the pointy nubs off of each half so that they can sit flat while they’re concave-side-up. Stick cloves into the yellow flesh of the squash, making sure to cover the squash evenly (see pictures below). If you’re having trouble, carefully score X’s into the flesh. Drizzle a little olive oil onto the squash and then flip them face down. Bake for about 20 minutes, then flip squash right side up, and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool. Once the squash are cool enough to handle, remove the cloves and scoop out the flesh, being careful not to include any bits of skin if possible. In a saucepan, combine the squash flesh, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and vegetable stock over medium-high heat. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove bay leaves/cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, blend the squash and vegetable stock. Pouring the ingredients into a regular blender would work fine as well. Add almond milk, cardamom, coriander, salt, and pepper, then stir to combine. If you’re feeling fancy, garnish with rosemary, homemade croutons, almond milk drizzle, all of the above, or get creative!
- Make this a spicy squash soup by adding a little bit of hot chili sauce (like Sriracha) or red pepper flakes. If adding pepper flakes, do so gradually while blending to control the heat content and keep the soup smooth.
- Use a very small amount of pure maple syrup in addition to/instead of olive oil when cooking your squash for a sweeter soup.
- Substitute any type of squash if you can’t find or don’t like acorn squash. Butternut squash or pumpkin would work very well in this recipe, and I plan to try this next with a kabocha that I have lying around.
Where food is concerned, I feel that my self control is pretty decent (most of the time). If I’m in a room filled with desserts, I could bypass all of the German chocolate cakes and lemon squares and pecan bars without shedding a single tear. Well, maybe not the pecan bars. But if you bring me into an Indian restaurant and expect me to not eat ALL of the things, you have no business being in my company and you can show yourself out while I not-so-attractively inhale some malai kofta. Unfortunately, not all Indian food can be figure-friendly, especially when there’s delicious creamy sauces involved. So, I will save the chicken tikka masala for the occasional splurge, and during the week I will make this delicious chana masala instead. Chana Masala is a chickpea stew prepared with many of the warm spices that make Indian food so spectacular. Admittedly, I had to do my research when it came to spices. This was my first time making an Indian dish, and I was terrified that I would somehow epically mess up the spice mixture. But, I pooled my resources and found a few recipes for channa masala, picking and choosing spices and measurements I liked until I’d created my own. Spoiler Alert: It turned out great.
My inner summer camper wanted to make culinary sand art.
Another thing that’s great about this recipe is the way in which it can be reworked and repurposed. A few days after making this for the first time, I used this general recipe but replaced the chickpeas with chicken breast, used less stock, and added some coconut milk and a sprinkle of raisins toward the end. And, as a round two recipe, I made a spinach omelette for breakfast one morning and filled it with the chickpea stew, which was one of my better ideas.
The recipe I made was slightly different from others in that I added more vegetables and chopped the onions into larger slices rather than dicing them. I found this created a more filling and satisfying texture, but that is all up to your personal preference. Also, when serving this dish, I made a coconut jasmine rice, which I made by cooking long grain jasmine rice in a mixture of water and coconut milk with a tablespoon of coconut oil. I had about a 60/40 water to coconut milk ratio in order to cut the fat content, and the end result turned out fragrant and flavorful with a texture that sort of resembled sticky rice.
Indian Chana Masala (Chickpea Stew)
Servings: About 12
- 4 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 2 tbsp. unrefined virgin coconut oil (I use unrefined coconut oil whenever possible for the flavor and health benefits!)
- 3/4 inch fresh ginger root
- 5-6 garlic cloves
- 3 large tomatoes
- 1 cup baby spinach
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp. curry powder
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1.5 teaspoons garam masala (This is a special spice mixture used in Indian cuisine, the contents of which can easily be Googled and ground up at home if you can’t find it in a store)
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cube your tomatoes and toss them with minced garlic (2-3 cloves should cover all of the tomatoes). Place tomatoes into a baking dish that’s been lightly greased with coconut oil. Place in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the skin begins to blister and juice forms in the pan. Mash roasted tomatoes into a pulp/sauce and set aside. Mince remaining 2-3 cloves garlic and the ginger root. In a pan, heat two tablespoons of coconut oil on low-medium heat. Once melted, add the garlic and ginger and leave heat on very low, allowing them to sweat in the oil. Cut the onions into strips (or dice, whichever you prefer) and add to the pan along with the bay leaves. Raise heat to medium. Once the onions are partially cooked, you may decide to add about a half cup of vegetable stock to speed along the process and to make an onion “jam” of sorts. Combine spices (without salt/pepper/cayenne). To the pan, add chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes, and spice mixture, adding the remaining broth gradually. Stir, and then let sit uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened. Add the lemon juice to the pan and stir, seasoning with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.
If you read my last post, you know how hard I have been working on completing the two term papers I have due. Well, one of them is done and the other is in the works (grant me strength, O’ Oprah) and I finally got a little time to prep my meals for the next week. So I made a completely from-scratch Chicken and Squash Stew. And this recipe will surely last me more than a week. In fact, I will probably have to freeze most of it!
Why stew? A few reasons:
1) Stew is gooood.
2) While writing my paper on the culinary culture of Sephardic Judaism (stop it, I know I would) I found a recipe for Argentinian “Cazuela Gaucho.” It is a hearty chicken and vegetable stew created by the Russian immigrants that settled as gauchos, or cowboys, in Argentina. The recipe that inspired me can be found here, although I did not follow the recipe verbatim while making mine.
3) My soul needed some Chicken Soup. Obviously, the events on Marathon Monday were horrible and upsetting. Plus, on top of that AND all the stress I’ve been dealing with academically, I had to make a decision I’ve been avoiding. I had to approach my teacher about cutting back on my jury repertoire, for a second time. My personal philosophy up until now has been working SO well, which is that if I play pieces that are doable but out of my comfort zone for each jury, I will gain confidence. Now, I would have been able to pull off all the new repertoire that I wanted to do, had I not weighed myself down with so much academic work. So, to save myself from an almost certain total meltdown (I already had a partial one on Monday), I decided to bring back the first section of my concerto and just play the last section on my studio recital instead. Although I am admittedly disappointed in myself for taking the easier way out, I feel much more at ease mentally and physically now.
BUT BACK TO THE STEW.
Here’s how you make the best chicken stew ever. No, that’s not an assumption. This is the best chicken stew ever:
Hearty Chicken and Squash Stew (Servings: ??? We’ll go with… A crap ton.)
- 1 box (4 cups) no-salt-added chicken stock
- 3 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
- 1 kabocha squash, seeds removed, peeled, and cubed (Note: You can use whatever squash you like, the kabocha yields about 2 cups)
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced thick
- 1/2 lb. green beans, cut
- 1 bag frozen peas
- 1/2 bag frozen corn
- 1 white onion, sliced
- 3-4 cloves minced garlic
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp. curry powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- Optional: 1-2 cups pre-cooked quinoa
Prepare the seasoning mix (paprika, cinnamon, curry, and garlic powder). Feel free to tweak the seasoning as you wish, but the cinnamon is the magic ingredient! 😉
In a pan with a little olive oil, sautée the onions and minced garlic until onions are translucent but tender. Combine the squash, sweet potato, and all the remaining vegetables together into a large soup pot that’s been coated with a bit of olive oil. On medium high heat, cook vegetables for about 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add all of the chicken stock and put heat on high. Bring to a boil, then reduce back to medium-high and add the seasoning mixture, cooking until the squash and sweet potato are cooked through. Reduce to simmer.
In the same pan you used for the onions, add the cut up chicken and cook over medium heat until mostly cooked through. With a slotted spoon (to keep unnecessary fat out), transfer the chicken to the soup pot. Allow the chicken to finish cooking in the stew pot, or about 10-15 minutes on simmer. At this point, you may add 1-2 cups of cooked quinoa. I happened to have some in the fridge, and it not only helped soak up the liquid, but added great texture!
TIP: To make this recipe vegan, substitute the chicken with beans such as chickpeas or kidney beans and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.