Saturday, November 30, 2019


Not everyone feasted on turkey for Thanksgiving. To honor one guest who is vegetarian and another who eschews gluten and dairy, we came up with a menu that everyone could eat. Charlotte made her famous sweet potato soufflé (subbing in coconut milk). Paola made crisp broccoli. Jesse did a knockout salad (and brought us fresh cranberries from the US). Peter brought baked apples with a native American berry sauce, with no added sugar. There was non-alcoholic sparkling cider for the teetotalers and a good Rioja tinto for the rest of us.

I brought the main course, an impressive stuffed pumpkin. It’s a festive dish, just what is needed for the holiday season to come.

My "birds," just out of the oven--two halves of a big pumpkin with a savory vegetarian stuffing. 

Stuffed Pumpkin (vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free)
Calabaza Rellena (vegetariana, sin gluten, sin lacteos)

Stuffing ingredients, from top left; celery, chickpeas, gluten-free bread, leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, pistachios, raisins, eggs, tofu, garlic, carrots, black olives, piquillo peppers, and, in the center, pearl millet, a gluten-free grain.

The stuffing mixture can be freely varied in both ingredients as well as quantities. Quinoa instead of millet; kidney beans instead of chickpeas; walnuts in place of pistachios. If you want a vegan version, omit the eggs. If you want a loaf that can be sliced, use more eggs.

Millet is a grain nobody thinks about. It reminds me of cous cous or bulgur, but is gluten-free.

I used traditional turkey-stuffing herbs—thyme and sage—but middle eastern spices can be used instead. Smoked pimentón adds a “meatiness” to the stuffing (tofu mixed with pimentón reminds me of chorizo). Season generously to give the stuffing some punch.

No great big pumpkins? Stuff several smaller squashes or bell peppers. Or, just bake the stuffing in a casserole or loaf pan.

Gravy, made with vegetarian stock.

You will need some well-flavored vegetarian stock to moisten the stuffing mixture and to make gravy (there’s a gravy recipe here ) to accompany it. A yogurt-based sauce would also be a good accompaniment. Whole-berry cranberry sauce is divine as a side.

 I’ve added a variety of extras to the basics, so that every bite has a crunch or a pop of flavor—nuts, olives, raisins, sun-dried tomatoes (soaked in water, then chopped). Some others to try: truffles, maybe, or fermented black garlic; dried apricots or dates; cranberries; capers or pickles; pine nuts or hazelnuts.

Rather than hollow out the pumpkin from the top, I cut it in half. After removing seeds and scooping out much of the flesh with a melon-ball cutter, I had two halves in which to heap the stuffing. It is easier to pre-bake the shells and then scoop out the flesh.

I gave the food processor a real workout! I used it to chop the onions, celery and mushrooms, to crumble the tofu and to coarsely grind the chickpeas.

Prepare and season each of the ingredients for the stuffing separately. If you’re doing this in advance, store them refrigerated, but bring them to room temperature before continuing. Mix all of them together right before stuffing and baking the squash.

This recipe serves 8 as a main course. It’s also appropriate as a side with roast turkey, chicken, pork or lamb.

Just out of the oven, in the late afternoon sunshine--stuffed pumpkin halves with crispy topping.

We carved the first half crosswise, so everyone got a slice of pumpkin (with rind, but, hey, no bones!) and stuffing. For seconds, we scooped the stuffing right out of the shell. 

1 large pumpkin or squash
Olive oil (about 1 cup total)

1 cup pearl millet
2 cups boiling water

2 cups chopped leeks and/or onions
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Thyme, fresh or dried
Sage, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup medium-dry Sherry

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

12 ounces firm tofu
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika), plus additional to garnish

3 eggs, beaten
8 slices gluten-free bread, toasted and cut in cubes

¾ cup pistachios
¼ cup seedless raisins
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup pitted black olives
1-2 cups vegetable stock (recipe follows)

2 carrots, cooked and quartered lengthwise
3 piquillo red peppers (from a can), cut in strips

Pumpkin balls to garnish (optional)
Arugula or other greens to garnish (optional)
Gravy or sauce to accompany the stuffed pumpkin

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Cut the pumpkin in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Brush the flesh with oil. Place the halves, cut-side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the pumpkin 15 minutes. Turn cut-side up and bake 10 minutes more. The flesh should be just beginning to soften, but still firm.

Use melon ball cutter to scoop out flesh. 

Remove the pumpkin from the oven. (Turn off the oven until ready to finish the dish.) When it has partially cooled, scoop out the flesh using a melon ball cutter or spoon, leaving about 1 ½ inches of flesh on sides and bottom. Turn the pumpkin shells upside down to drain. (Save the pumpkin balls to make a garnish for the platter, if desired.)

Cook the millet: Add it to boiling water with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until tender and water is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of oil. Fluff the grains and set aside.

Sauté the vegetables: Heat 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet. Add the leeks/onions and celery. Sauté them until softened, 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes. Season the vegetables with thyme, sage, pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Add the Sherry and simmer until the alcohol is cooked off, 3 minutes.

For the chickpeas: Coarsely chop the drained chickpeas in a food processor.

 Mix the chickpeas with the sautéed vegetables. Cook 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.

For the tofu: Coarsely chop the tofu in a processor with 1 tablespoon oil,  ½ teaspoon salt and the pimentón. Combine the tofu with the sautéed vegetables and chickpeas.

Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Stir the cooked millet into the eggs and mix well. Add the sautéed vegetable mixture. Add half of the bread cubes and toss them to combine with the stuffing mixture. Mix in the pistachios, raisins, olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Add enough of the stock to moisten the stuffing, about 1 cup. Taste the mixture and add additional salt, pepper, pimentón or herbs, as needed. Be generous with the seasoning.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Spoon stuffing mixture into pumpkin shells

Place the pumpkin halves on a rimmed baking sheet. Partially fill them with stuffing mixture, pressing it down. Lay skinny strips of carrot and piquillo peppers on top. Cover with remaining stuffing mixture.

Place remaining bread cubes in a small bowl. Moisten them with 2 tablespoons of stock. Toss them with 2 tablespoons oil. Press the cubes into the tops of the pumpkin halves. Sprinkle tops with pimentón.

Bake the stuffed pumpkin until the stuffing is set, 1 hour. If the top hasn’t browned, turn up the oven temperature and allow the topping to brown.

To serve, place the stuffed pumpkin halves on one or two platters. Garnish with (sautéed) pumpkin balls and arugula leaves. Serve hot or room temperature. Accompany with gravy or sauce.

Pumpkin balls scooped from the shell can be sautéed in oil, seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice and used to garnish the platter of the finished dish. Or, serve them as a salad.

My big pumpkin--stuffed, it makes a main course for 8 persons.

Vegetarian Stock
Caldo Vegetariano

With no meat, poultry or bones for flavor, the stock needs double the quantity of aromatic vegetables and herbs. Roasting some of the vegetables first intensifies their color and flavor. Seaweed such as kombu adds a umami punch to the basic stock. (I used the cooked kombu blended with olives, garlic and olive oil to make a tapenade-type dip.)Use minimal salt in the stock, as the liquid will reduce considerably. More salt can be added when using the stock for gravy or sauces.

2 onions
5 plum tomatoes
½ pound mushrooms
Olive oil
Sherry, white or red wine (optional)
12 cups water
2 tablespoons vinegar
½ ounce kombu (seaweed)
2 stalks celery, quartered
4 carrots, quartered
2 leeks, quartered
1 turnip, quartered
½ lemon
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
10 peppercorns
Bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, etc.)

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Place the onions, tomatoes and mushrooms on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with oil. Roast the vegetables, turning them occasionally, until they are well-browned, about 45 minutes.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and place them in a large soup pot along with any drippings in the baking sheet. (If desired, use a little Sherry or wine to deglaze the baking sheet.) Add the water to the soup pot with vinegar, kombu, celery, carrots, leeks, turnip, lemon, bay, cloves, pepper and bouquet garni. Add 2 teaspoons of salt.

Bring the water to a boil. Skim off any froth that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer 45 minutes. Uncover the pot and cook the stock 30 minutes more.

Strain the stock, pressing hard on the solids to extract all the juices. Discard the kombu,
 vegetables, lemon, herbs and spices.

Allow the stock to cool, then refrigerate (or freeze) until needed.

More festive vegetarian recipes:
Upside-Down Cake with Rice and Mushrooms.
Millet and Carrot Pilaf. 
Chard and Cheese Pie.
Brown Rice Paella with Vegetables.
Fideo Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables.

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