Hi, Manhattan. I’ve been avoiding the borough since before Hurricane Sandy hit, but today I boarded the 3 train and rode right back in from Brooklyn.
On the surface, our city is back. Read between the lines and you’ll see that the recovery has not been equal. To be honest, what to do next is confusing. Go about normal life? Or plunge myself into the epicenter of disaster to help dig the whole city out?
When I’m confused, I make more complicated meals than usual. You should have seen the dishes that piled up in our sink during our 10 days of being at home and kind of confused! Alex and I alternated dish-washing duties. They were endless. One day, friends, we’ll have a dishwasher.
I made these curry-stuffed squash for lunch on Tuesday. (Or maybe it was Wednesday. I totally lost track of the days, like the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey who uttered one of my favorite lines from the whole series: “What is a weekend?” she asks Matthew, a man who works for a living.)
I had an image of stuffing the gorgeous delicata squash I’d bought at the market the weekend before Sandy hit, but I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in for flavor. All I knew was that I wanted there to be a lot of parts, a lot of sizzling frying pans for me to attend to.
Stuffed veggies fall into two camps: traditional peppers filled with meat and cheese and sauce, and mushrooms or squash filled with a bread-based, Thanksgiving-like stuffing.
I wanted to do something different. I remembered a curried chicken-rice salad that Kelsey had served to me at the party for her book, The Naptime Chef. The rice was rich and studded with tons of add-ins: raisins, sautéed onions, and coconut. Even though I figure some of you might want to serve these as a vegetarian main course at Thanksgiving, and curry might seem weird for that purpose, I decided to go with my original idea. I eliminated the chicken from the recipe and introduced lentils, and then I took scoops of the rice salad and wedged them into pre-cooked delicata halves.
They came out of the oven with a nice golden crust, leaving the apartment unbelievably fragrant. Complicated but not too complicated in the end. Don’t be intimidated, I mean. They were just our Tuesday lunch.
By the weekend, we were ready to hit up the restaurants. My cravings seemed to have gone haywire. First it was nachos, then pastrami sandwiches at Mile End, then a lot of French fries. Apparently, my taste buds were rebelling against homemade food after a glorious week of eating only what came out of my kitchen.
More stuffed vegetables:
Portabella Mushrooms with Parmesan-Herb Stuffing from Big Girls, Small Kitchen
Creamy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms from Food52
Cous Cous and Feta-Stuffed Bell Peppers from Smitten Kitchen
Curry-Stuffed Delicata Squash
Serves 3 to 4
The most important part of this recipe is using fresh curry powder. If your curry powder’s old and stale, then your dish will be lacking. Don’t risk it!
Also, there are a bunch of different steps you’ll need to do to complete the recipe. Don’t be intimidated, though. Each one is fairly easy.
For the squash
1/2 cup black lentils – the little French ones that hold their shape
1 cup white basmati rice
3 delicata squash, halved lengthwise, scraped clean of seeds
2 teaspoons neutral oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons super fresh curry powder
1/4 cup shredded coconut, preferably unsweetened (but sweetened will work in a pinch)
1/2 cup yellow raisins, submerged for 10 minutes in a bowl of boiling water to plump, squeezed dry
1/4 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds or peanuts
Handful coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
For the dressing
1/3 cup mayonaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Bring around 6 cups of water to boil in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lentils. Lower the heat to a simmer and boil for 20 to 25 minutes, until the lentil are soft but not falling apart. Drain in a fine metal sieve. Set the lentils asie.
Rinse the rice in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. Place it in a small covered saucepan with 1 3/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then give the rice a stir, put the lid on, and place the pot over the lowest possible heat. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave the cover on the rice for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until you’re ready to use it. (If you have a preferred method of making rice, go for it. You’ll need 2 cups of cooked rice.) You’ll need 2 cups of the rice; reserve the rest for another use.
Place the squash halves in a lightly oiled baking dish. Combine the oil with the maple syrup, then brush the squash with the mixture. Season with a pinch of salt. Place the squash in the oven and cook them for 30-40 minutes, until they’re easily pierced with a fork.
In a large, heavy skillet – a cast iron pan works great – heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and slightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt, until the curry powder is very fragrant, about 3 more minutes. Add the coconut and cook for another minute, then add the lentils, the raisins, sunflower seeds or peanuts, and 2 cups of the rice. Stir gently to combine all the ingredients. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Make the dressing: combine the mayo, lemon juice, curry powder, salt, oil, and sugar, and stir well.
Add about 3/4 of the dressing to the lentil-rice mixture and stir to combine. Taste for balance of flavors, adding more dressing or salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed. You want the mixture to hold together well.
Fill each squash half to overflowing, using about 2/3 cup of the mixture. Return the squash to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the top of the filling is slightly browned and crisp.
Sprinkle with the cilantro leaves. Serve 2 halves to those with big appetites; 1 half will be enough for smaller eaters.