Hello, my friends! So last week, my husband was out of town for work in NYC and whenever he’s gone, there are two things that happen without fail.
- I rarely manage to eat dinner before 9:00 p.m.
If there is no one around to remind me—a.k.a. pull me out of whatever rabbit hole I’m in (usually blog-related research/recipe development/photoshooting, werking on things for my nutrition coaching practice, or watching back-to-back episodes of Chopped and House Hunters)—I’m lucky to start dinner before 9:00 p.m. C’est la vie.
- A GIANT spider will appear out of nowhere, requiring me to attempt to kill it without dying myself. (Ugh.)
Seriously you guys, weeks—months—will pass without any spider sightings and then, literally, the day my husband leaves for a work trip it’s like spider-a-palooza. I swear they know the Spider Killer is gone and come out to torture me.
Needless to say, the struggle was real you guys. Like, really real.
Obviously, I survived the week (that spider did not) and I’m grateful to have my husband back in town. Espeeeeeecially since I needed him to help me cut acorn squash in half and serve as my hand model in recipe photos.
I actually made and shot this recipe a few weeks ago, although he is the one who cut the acorn squash in half and that definitely is his hand in the photo of someone spooning up black forbidden rice stuffing. I keep promising him that one day I’ll have an food-obsessed intern to help me with this sort of thing (dream big!), but until that day comes (sooner than later he hopes), he’s my stand in. The things you do for love, right?
In addition to being obsessed with pumpkin, fall has me head-over-heels for all things squash. I know pumpkin is technically a squash, too, but in my mind pumpkin is in a whole ‘notha league of its own, you know? After all, acorn squash doesn’t have a latte flavor dedicated to it.
The point is that winter squash is everywhere right now and I couldn’t wait to share one of my favorite ways to enjoy this seasonal vegetable—acorn squash stuffed with cranberry chicken apple sausage and black forbidden rice. Holla.
Acorn squash really are the darlings of the squash world. For one, they are shaped like an acorn, which automatically makes them a must on any fall dinner table. Plus, they are the perfectly portioned serving vessel for all sorts of stuffing. And, they are adorable.
ACORN SQUASH: THE DARLING OF WINTER VEG
Acorn squash are relatively low calorie and low carb compared to the heartier butternut squash or pumpkin in the same Cucurbitaceae family. One half of an acorn squash is around 120 calories, 23 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat, 4 grams fiber, 1 gram protein, and 14 grams of sugars.
While winter squash obviously isn’t considered a high fat food, the fat it does contain is mostly from the anti-inflammatory omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid, which is great for supporting heart health. Acorn squash also contain cucurbitacins, which are phytonutrients with anti-cancer properties. They are an amazing source of vitamin A and a good source of vitamin C—two key nutrients for keeping your immune system running at its best.
Acorn squash are slightly nutty and peppery with a mild sweetness. They are most similar in flavor to spaghetti and delicata squash. When shopping, look for acorn squash that are heavy and firm with a dull skin. Store them in a cool dark place and they will keep for up to six months.
RICE, RICE BABY
There are more than 8,000 different varieties of rice, but for this recipe I decided to use forbidden rice, or more commonly black rice. Forbidden rice is a short-grain rice and ancient grain that actually takes on a purple hue when cooked. It is slightly sweet and sticky and it offers numerous health benefits beyond your basic white rice.
The outer hull of the rice, which is normally stripped away to produce white rice, remains intact with black rice and this is where it gets its super powers. The black outer hull is exceptionally high in the flavonoid antioxidant anthocyanin, which is known for its anti-cancer properties and heart health benefits. Forbidden rice is also a good source of manganese, fiber, iron, and protein.
It is also visually stunning and when combined with the slightly orange hue of acorn squash and filled with bits of cooked carrot, it makes for a dramatic presentation, don’t you think? This recipe is warm and comforting and extremely simple to prepare with a few shortcuts.
HEALTH HACK: MY SECRET TO A SIMPLE STUFFING
As a real food dietitian nutritionist, I’m all about encouraging people to get into the habit of preparing meals from scratch so as not to rely on overly processed, nutrient poor foods. However, I am not above shortcuts that save time without sacrificing the nutritional quality of food.
For example, in this recipe you can either dice the carrots, onions, and celery yourself or use my favorite health hack—buy the pre-cut container called “mirepoix.” This vegetable mix is typically used a base for soups, stocks, and many other dishes and can be found in the refrigerated produce section. It can be pricey but worth it if you loathe chopping vegetables.
This stuffing also uses pre-cooked chicken apple sausage so all you have to do is remove it from the casing and brown it a bit with the vegetables before stirring it into the cooked rice. To make this whole meal a snap to throw together, prepare the rice and the acorn squash on your batch-cooking day so that all you have to do during the week is sauté the vegetables and chicken sausage and voila. Dinner is done in less than 20 minutes.
It’s warm and comforting and extremely simple to prepare.
Of course, I encourage you to experiment with what you include in your stuffing. I love adding sage, thyme, green apples, cranberries, and walnuts—quintessential fall flavors. However, it doesn’t have to match my ingredient list exactly—use whatever seasonings you prefer and the same goes for the rice and protein.
Once I realized that there really are no rules in cooking, it all changed for me. Make it fun and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on things!
// RECIPE //
Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Cranberry Chicken Apple Black Forbidden Rice
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 60 minutes (inactive)
// INGREDIENTS //
2 acorn squash, halved with seeds removed
1 package organic chicken apple sausage (I like this brand), removed from casing and crumbled
1 small organic green apple, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 organic celery stalks, diced
2 organic carrots, diced
1/2 pint organic crimini mushrooms
1/4 cup unsweetened dried cranberries, finely chopped
1/4 cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups black forbidden rice, cooked (see steps for cooking instructions)*
1 tbs thyme (fresh or dried)
1 tbs sage (fresh or dried)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Sea salt and black pepper
// STEPS //
- Preheat oven to 400-degrees Fahrenheit and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Take squash halves and place cut side up on baking sheet. Brush squash with coconut oil and season with a dash of sea salt and black pepper. Pop into oven for 35 minutes.
- While squash is cooking, prepare filling.
- For the rice:
- Rinse rice under running water extremely well. Add 1/2 cup rice and 1 cup filtered water to a pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Keep cover on and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from heat and fluff with a fork, set aside.
- In a medium pan, saute apple, celery, carrots, onions, and spices with 1 teaspoon coconut oil over medium high heat until onions are translucent.
- Add chicken sausage to the pan and cook until lightly browned (sausage is already fully cooked).
- Once browned, combine chicken sausage with black rice and stir in cranberries.
- Remove acorn squash from oven and fill each squash with a substantial portion of rice stuffing. Top with a tablespoon of chopped walnuts and pop back into the oven for about 15 minutes.**
- Serve immediately and prepare to wow your spouse, family, and/or dinner guests!
// NOTES //
*Want to make it low carb or paleo? Simply use less rice or omit it altogether! Remember these recipes are here to inspire you and help you but you’re free to swap and sub as you need!
**If you have leftover stuffing, save it for a quick lunch. I love adding it to salad or adding a few cups of roasted vegetables. You can also add it to a box of vegetable or chicken stock and make a soup!
I know this recipe looks kind of fancy, but I promise it’s probably one of the easiest things to make ever.
How do I know this?
Because I made it and if a reluctant cook like me can do it, I promise that you can, too. That said, the only part that is somewhat challenging is cutting the acorn squash in two. I have zero upper body strength but I have successfully done it myself in a pinch. Be sure to use a super sharp knife and keep a steady hand and you should be all good!
Or, you can always ask them to cut it at the market. I’ve also done that before! No shame!
PS: Remember when I said I might share the decadent-yet-healthy recipe originally scheduled for last week, this week? Obviously I decided not to do that since there is nothing decadent about this recipe BUT next week I promise, it’s coming atcha…Just in time for the Halloween season!
PPS: I officially launched my online nutrition coaching services a few weeks ago. Check it out and if you or someone you know is looking for help elevating their wellbeing and nutrition (a.k.a. get glowing skin and feel AH-mazing) through optimizing their gut health, please consider sending them my way!
PPPS: What’s your favorite winter squash and how do you like to eat it? I hope you’ll give this one a try and let me know when you do by tagging me @honestlynourished and using #honestlynourished