Autumn’s just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a medley of apples and acorn squash?
I’ve always been partial to winter squashes. They last longer than their summer counterparts, and overall taste better! The texture, the dishes, the scent, the warmth … winter squashes just have it all. So I was very excited to see winter squashes return to the farmers market, especially my beloved acorn squash.
One of my favorite meals is to cut an acorn squash in half, bake it, and either eat it on its own or stuffed with a grain mixture. With a slight chill in the air and a lot of rain this week, I decided to whip up a stuffed acorn squash packed with one of my favorite grain dishes, Israeli Couscous with Tart Apple and Sage. Israeli couscous (also called Pearled Couscous) is a thicker couscous that’s more like a pasta, and it’s very delicious. Definitely add it to your grocery cart in the future, not just for this dish, but for other kitchen experiments!
The acorn squash takes the longest to bake, so I recommend starting with this first. Fortunately it’s also the lowest maintenance portion of the meal (and the whole meal is pretty easy). First, I started by melting about a tablespoon of Earth Balance margarine in a saucepan and pouring it into a small bowl. I then cut the acorn squash into two equal halves, using a spoon to scrape out the seeds and excess strands of pulp from the center. I also recommend cutting off a small portion of the top of the squash, as flattening the squash this way will make it easier to eat out of once it’s done. The pointy end gave me many a headache in Autumns past as it would make the squash wobble in my bowl while I tried to eat it, so giving the squash a flat base before baking will make life much easier!
Once the squash “bowl” was ready, I prepped it for baking by brushing it with the melted butter, than sprinkling on some cinnamon, cardamom (optional), salt, and pepper. All of these spices are optional, really; but I highly recommend at least the cinnamon, salt, and pepper since they really enhance the flavor of this semi-sweet squash. I then placed the squash face down on a baking sheet, and baked at 375 F for about 30 minutes. The cooking time may vary depending on your squash, but I usually have a soft, tender squash after half an hour.
This gives you ample time to prepare your Israeli couscous stuffing. To start, I first simmered some Israeli couscous in vegetable broth for about 10 minutes. While the couscous simmered, I prepped my other ingredients and started to cook them. I heated a little extra virgin olive oil in a skillet, then added some heavily minced onion (I actually chopped the onion in a blender because I wanted it to cook away into nothing; this is just a personal preference, since I don’t like onion pieces). After cooking for a couple minutes, I added my minced apple and cooked for a few minutes more, until the apple pieces softened slightly, the peel changed color, and the apple became fragrant. The recipe calls for a tart apple, but I used a Gala apple and still had success. I also left out the red pepper called for in the recipe, simply because I don’t like peppers.
Once the apples were cooked through a bit, I added some ground sage and chopped walnuts. You don’t have to cook these long; just until the walnuts become fragrant. I then turned off the heat, drained my couscous, and added it to the apple mixture, stirring so that the apple and walnuts appeared well-dispersed throughout the couscous. I then added the finishing touch: more olive oil, lemon juice (2 TB of prepared lemon juice is the equivalent to the 1 lemon called for in the recipe), and salt. Once stirred, I set it aside and let it sit while I removed my squash from the oven.
The rest is cake from here. I took my acorn squash from the oven and placed it face-up in a bowl, so that the core of the squash was visible. I then spooned the Israeli couscous mixture into the core until full. Voila! An easy, seasonal meal that looks a lot more time-consuming than it really is. Dig in!