Kabocha Theater

Thanksgiving. America’s Feast Day.

Serene Tureen, and Veggie Stuffing
Serene Tureen (left) and Veggie Stuffing

It was yesterday. Before I forget what my notes mean, here are two of the dishes whose recipes I’ve been tinkering with for years and now have just about settled on.

We don’t eat meat — well, a piece of salmon every often — so we keep experimenting with the holiday meal — no turkey so the entree is one of the sides. The sides are more fun, anyway.

As a gluten lover, I love a hearty bread dressing, though only have it a couple of times a year. Thursday’s version may be the keeper; I used two source recipes. To revise stuffing to make it work as an entree would change its character too much. Yet baking and serving stuffing in a large pie pumpkin (or a small jack-o-lantern pumpkin) looks great and mimics the turkey stuffing tradition. Using a large casserole dish, instead, is fine as always.

What has held up well as an entree in recent years is a hearty soup, served in, yes, a pumpkin. It looks like a centerpiece, tastes like a centerpiece and holds most of the vegetarian meal’s protein.

I first found Pumpkin Tureen in Mollie Katzen’s classic cookbook Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Her recipe and presentation are clever. To me, it falls on the bland side, unusual in her main books (which form the heart of my food library). My Beloved isn’t crazy about the Swiss cheese it calls for. Neither of us like the mouth-feel of soups using bread as a thickener.

Pumpkins vary. It may not be easy to find a 5-7 pounder weeks after Halloween, and you don’t know until you cut out its lid and start pulling out the seeds the size of its cavity. These recipes thus are designed to make a bit more soup and stuffing than might be needed; the excess is easily cooked separately.

November 2013 Update: Both vegetarian recipes below have been “veganized,” with dairy and egg products removed.

Serene Tureen

  • 1 large pie pumpkin, about 6 pounds, not smaller than 4 pounds, OR kabocha or similar globe-shaped winter squash
  • 1 Tablespoon olive or other vegetable oil or vegan margarine
  • 1 14-15 oz. can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained, then mashed or pureed
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups plant milk (such as soy or almond), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water with 1 teaspoon low-salt vegetable bouillon stirred in
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash pumpkin. Cut out the lid to about 4 inches wide, at an angle so it won’t fall through, similar to a jack-o-lantern. With a strong spoon remove all seeds and fibrous material. Using fingers, rub oil or margarine on the underside of the cap and the inside of the gourd. Loosely wrap the lid with foil (it will shrink while cooking and so may fall through). Place the pumpkin on a lightly greased, sturdy pie plate.

Heat small skillet on medium; add a little oil and lightly saute diced onion 5 minutes. Add garlic, saute 30 seconds and take pan off the heat.

Mix cornstarch with cold water. In a large mixing bowl, pour in the milk and broth. Stir in the spices then the cornstarch slurry. Stir in the bean puree, onions and garlic.

Ladle the well-stirred soup into the pumpkin. Place the foil-covered pumpkin top on top of the gourd.

As for the reserve soup that doesn’t fit: Refrigerate or freeze. It can be simmered gently, 10-15 minutes, at another time for a simple soup.

Veggie Stuffing and Serene Tureen
Veggie Stuffing in kabocha squash (right) and Serene Tureen

Place the filled pumpkin, sitting on its pie plate, in the oven. Cook 2 hours; test doneness by removing the lid then carefully sticking a knife point into the pumpkin flesh without piercing the rind — when cooked enough the blade will insert easily, with only a little resistance.

To serve, spoon out the soup and scoop off some pumpkin flesh into bowls.

Serves four as a main course, more people as a side.

Veggie Stuffing – dressing

This bread dressing recipe is mainly inspired by the November-December 2010 edition of Cook’s Illustrated. But I also relied on the straightforward recipe on the label of McCormick Poultry Seasoning, the 0.65 oz. size (the tiny jar so I’ll use it up before it goes stale). Why not fresh herbs? I may do that next Turkey Day; here, I wanted a taste like what we grew up with, hence dried spices in jars.

  • 8-10 fresh slices 100% whole-wheat bread (10-12 oz.), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup celery, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons poultry seasoning (mainly thyme, sage, marjoram and rosemary, if you want to blend your own)
  • 2 cups warm water with 2 teaspoons low-salt vegetable bullion stirred in
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
  • Optional: 1 large pie pumpkin, about 6 pounds,  OR kabocha or similar globe-shaped winter squash

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Spread bread cubes in single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet — it does not need greasing — and bake 45 minutes, gently stirring every 10 minutes.  The cubes should be dry on the exterior but still have a little give — not crunchy croutons. This step can be done in advance.

Optional step: As with the soup above: Wash pumpkin. Cut out the lid to about 4 inches wide, at an angle so it won’t fall through, similar to a jack-o-lantern. With a strong spoon remove all seeds and fibrous material. Using fingers, rub oil or margarine on the underside of the cap and the inside of the gourd. Loosely wrap the lid with foil (it will shrink while cooking and so may fall through). Place the pumpkin on a lightly greased, sturdy pie plate.

Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees. Heat large skillet on medium. Add oil then onion and celery — saute 7 minutes. Add garlic, salt, pepper and poultry seasoning and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes. Add broth to skillet and stir, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute.

Place dried bread cubes in large mixing bowl. Gently stir in vegetable saute, apricots and nuts, then gently stir in broth.

Veggie T'giving
Veggie Thanksgiving Feast. Note how some pumpkin flesh was spooned into the soup. The garnish is chopped cilantro, but parsley is fine, too.

If using the pumpkin, spoon in the dressing to the top but do not cram in. Place the foil-covered top on gourd and bake 2 hours. Place remaining dressing into lightly greased medium casserole and bake 30 minutes, either covered or uncovered. (Uncovered dressing will crisp at the top, which some like.)

If not stuffing a gourd, spoon all of the dressing into a lightly greased large casserole. Bake 30 minutes, covered or uncovered. This recipe makes 6-8 servings.

The Rest of the Meal

What’s on the rest of a Pollock plate? Canned cranberry sauce, because we like it. Green bean casserole, according to the label of its main ingredients, because we always have. A lettuce salad, to brighten the palate. Rolls or cornbread, to help us overload on starch. Dessert, which I’m not sharing here because it was merely OK.

Why post these recipes after Thanksgiving? I had to cook them one last time to be sure they’re about where I want them. Besides, they’d be good during Hanukkah or on Christmas.

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