Healthy Southwest Stuffed Acorn Squash features a flavorful and healthy meatball with pinions, cilantro, cumin, and green chile stuffing a thick slice of sweet acorn squash... It gets a dollop of avocado crema and more cilantro. Delicioso!
That's the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you.
~~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
About Winter Squash
Pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and the lesser-known and appreciated kabocha squash, delicata squash, and buttercup squash exemplify fall and winter cooking - at least in my mind.
Winter squash differs from summer squash varieties in that they are typically consumed when fully mature - the seeds are fully developed and the skin has hardened into a rind that is not eaten. Once harvested, these squash varieties will last for weeks or even months.
Winter squash is loaded with fiber and complex vegetable carbohydrates. They're a great source of vitamins A and C, potassium, B vitamins, beta carotene, and more. For more on the nutrition benefits see The Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health.
Healthy Southwest Stuffed Acorn Squash was created out of a desire to incorporate more of these wonderful, nutrient-dense, healthy vegetables in our diet. Are you willing to admit these seemingly impervious vegetables are a bit intimidating? Once you move past that hard outer skin, an array of delicious and healthy dishes await... 😀
Making Healthy Southwest Stuffed Acorn Squash
When I approach cooking with winter squash, I try to plan ahead. One prep session may yield 2 or 3 dishes. So, pick an evening that is not rushed, pour yourself a glass of wine, sharpen your best knife, and enjoy the journey.
It really isn't that bad! Start by slicing off the stem and blossom ends. Be careful! If the squash is fairly small, slice the remainder into 2 pieces. Your slices should be 1 1/2 to 3 inches thick.
Since this recipe serves 4, you will probably need 2 squash. Scoop the seeds and fibers out of the center with a spoon. This leaves a perfect vessel for your tasty filling!
- Once the squash is prepped, place the slices with the narrower end on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, and season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Place in the oven to roast.
- While the squash begins to roast, you will mix the ingredients for the filling - in essence a sausage - with southwest flavors. A food processor is helpful with this task. The very lean ground chicken or turkey is combined with cilantro, cumin, Hatch green chile, piñions, and cotija. The resulting "meatball" is lean and full of flavor.
- Remove the partially roasted squash from the oven. Place a nicely shaped 4 ounce +/- meatball in the center of each slice, and then return the baking sheet to the oven. While the squash and meatballs cook, prepare the avocado crema and chop the cilantro.
- When the meatballs are firm and starting to brown, pierce to get a look at the center. Depending on thickness, they require 20-30 minutes.
This lovely dish is topped with a dollop of avocado crema and garnished with cilantro just prior to serving... You may wish to round out this meal with a simple tossed salad.
Once you conquer the preparation of an acorn squash, get creative! Check out my Vegetarian Kofta Stuffed Acorn Squash with Masala Sauce. The stuffing is vegetarian and we love its Indian flavors!
Acorn squash are so flavorful and healthy, and make an attractive vessel for so many different flavor combinations. Vary the protein, spices, even make it vegetarian with black beans and posole. This recipe/method can be a jumping-off-point to many delicious meals. Keep in mind you can make a double batch of filling and freeze for another meal. I do this regularly.
Does Healthy Southwest Stuffed Acorn Squash seem approachable, or do you still find the squash to be a bit intimidating? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 For more on winter squash varieties, see this Visual Guide to Winter Squash from Epicurious.
Do you look forward to cooking with "winter squash," or does their presence in the produce section leave you "cold?" Pardon the pun. 😄 I think many home cooks find them a little intimidating. Isn't it time you tackle this kitchen challenge? Let me know in my "comments" section at the bottom of the post!
- 2 acorn squash*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- sea salt/fresh ground pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 scallions, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
- 1 lb. extra lean ground chicken or turkey
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup panko
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup Hatch green chile, chopped*
- 2 tbsp. pinion nuts
- 1/4 cup cotija cheese - crumbled, optional*
- 1 avocado, skin and pit removed
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil mayonnaise
- buttermilk to thin if necessary
- sea salt/fresh ground pepper
- additional cilantro to garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 convection). Carefully slice both ends of your squash. Slice the remaining piece into rounds from 1 1/2" to 3" - that may be 2 or 3 pieces.* Place on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in the center of your preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes while you make the filling.
- To the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, scallions, and cilantro. Pulse a few times until finely chopped but not pureed.
- Add the cilantro mixture to a large mixing bowl with the ground chicken. Add the cumin and panko. Mix well. Hands work best!
- Fold in the green chile, pinions, and cotija if using. Don't overmix, but do try to incorporate throughout the chicken mixture.
- Form into 4-5 balls depending on number of acorn squash slices and your preferences.
- Remove squash from the oven. Place a meatball into the center of each slice. Return to the oven for about 25 additional minutes. The time depends on the size of your meatballs. If you insert a fork into the meatball, it should be fairly firm, and the squash should be quite tender.
- While the meatballs and squash are cooking, combine the avocado, yogurt, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Check seasoning. Add buttermilk to desired consistency. I like it a little looser than mayonnaise - thick not runny!
- When ready to serve, place a dollop of the avocado crema on each serving, and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!
2 acorn squash will make 4 very generous portions. If you have really large ones, you make cut each one into 3 slices. If so, reserve the extra for another meal, or make 1 1/2 recipes of chicken mixture - leftovers are awesome!
I specify 1/4 to 1/2 cup to allow for heat preferences. We like hot green chile, so I tend to keep medium hot and use the more generous amount.
Cotija is tasty in this recipe - especially if you are fortunate enough to have a source for the really delicious aged cotija. However, we are always watching fat and calories, and I find we enjoy it as much without the cheese.
I strongly recommend doubling this recipe and freezing half for another meal. You can save it to fill squash again, or use it in another dish (patties for a sandwich, meatballs for a soup, etc.).
The stuffing would be considered a "bulk sausage," and it can be used to stuff other vegetables, rolled into meatballs, even stuffed into casings.
Macronutrients (approximation from MyFitnessPal): 414 calories; 31 g protein; 35 g carbohydrates; 18 g fat. Includes cotija cheese crumbles and 1/4 of the avocado crema.
Serving Size:4 Servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 414Total Fat: 18gCarbohydrates: 35gProtein: 31g