I was at our local outdoor market when I saw a couple boxes of produce out of place next to the rice cakes, red bean pastries and bread of a baker’s stand. There were three boxes of small green squashes. I’ve never cooked with squash before, and it isn’t something I would order at at restaurant, but the smallest squashes were adorable and I thought Anna would like them. Plus it was two mini squashes for 1000 won, pocket change.
The next day Anna and I brainstormed ideas for stuffed squash on the subway trip to an expat Thanksgiving, but it took a week before we had a chance to try them out. There were a couple moments where I was sure my experiment was doomed, but I was reassured just by the rush of deep smells as I lifted off the top of the steamer. The two tightly packed balls came out beautifully.
The squashes are stuffed with poor-man’s pureed carrot seasoned with pine nuts, cinnamon-sugar bacon and garlic. It comes out warm and sweet with enough depth of flavor to have you scraping the last bits of squash off the dark green rind. The juicy stuffing is absorbed into the squash and keeps it moist while steaming, and the seeds are saved and cooked up as a colorful and crunchy topping. If you can find individual-sized squashes this makes for a great first course or side dish. If you don’t have your own cinnamon-sugar bacon, look for sweet cured bacon and add a dash of cinnamon to the mix. And outside of the bacon this is a really healthy recipe. Virtually no oil, very little salt and lots of fresh veggies.
Serves 2 as appetizer/side dish
2 mini squashes – about the size of a cup measure
1 strip thick cut home-cured cinnamon-sugar bacon
1 1/3 cup chopped carrots
4 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp pine nuts
1/3 medium onion, grated
pinch coarse salt
Seeds from squashes
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Put the chopped carrots in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes until soft.
2. Cut off the very top of each squash. You shouldn’t cut it in half or even far enough down to be able to see the pulp. Hit the center of the hard yellow meat with the wrong end of a spoon to break a hole into the seedy center. Scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Set aside the seeds and discard the pulp.
3. Fry up the bacon (preferably with extra to snack on). Pat dry and finely chop once cool.
4. Grate the garlic and onion into a small bowl.
5. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan. Finely chop.
6. When the carrots are cooked, drain them of water and return them to the pot. Mash them finely with a fork unless you have a blender. In which case, blend them. Add the carrots to the garlic and onion. Add the bacon, pine nuts and a pinch of salt. Mix.
7. Stuff the squash with the mixture. There will be a lot of juice from the mixture. Like a lot. Do not squeeze it out or drain it off, it will keep the squash moist. Place in the steamer and steam for 20 minutes or until the squash flesh is soft. Keep a close watch of the squash, you don’t want it to over cook and become dry. The flesh should turn from yellow to a solid green. If it begins to crack or become flaky it’s done, and you should take it out immediately.
8. Finish with the squash seed garnish (below) and serve immediately.
Sauteed squash seed garnish
1. Thoroughly wash the seeds. Use a strainer to repeatedly wash and pick out pieces of squash and pulp.
2. Lightly coat a small frying pan with olive oil and sauté the seeds over low heat. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cumin. As we often say, use an oven if you have it. Roast them on a cookie sheet with the spices sprinkled on top. Otherwise improvise along with us.
3. Cook until dark brown and preferable crispy. It’s tricky to get them crispy on the stove without burning them, but they will be good no matter what.
4. Garnish finished squash with the seeds.
As I’ve done with my other food experiments, here are a couple lessons I learned while making this dish.
1. Grating onions is a sure-fire way to clear out your tear ducts. So if they’re blocked, pull out the fine-toothed grater.
2. I throw a lot of garlic in things, but I was sure I had finally gone too far on this one. I tasted the carrot mix, which has the raw grated onion and garlic in it, and was almost knocked off my feet. I reassured myself that after cooking and soaking into the squash it would mellow out, but I didn’t really believe it. I was preparing exit strategies and back up plans both to be able to eat the squash and to make something else for dinner. Thankfully it worked. Phew.
3. The carrot mix was far juicer that I was expecting. As an experiment I squeezed out a lot of the juice from one squash and packed in extra mix while the other got a juice-laden mix. As you might expect, the one with more juice had moist squash flesh while the other was too dry. Embrace the juice.
4. Raw squash is seriously hard. Like rock hard. I guess that is what you get for being a squash newbie. There’s always more lessons to learn.
Us playing with our food and more squash photos on Flickr.