Stuffed pumpkin for your meatless holiday meal

Holiday meals are traditionally built around one signature entrée, typically a grand piece of meat: turkey at Thanksgiving, perhaps roast beef or a goose at Christmas.  Lamb goes with Easter and is also an important part of other celebrations around the Mediterranean.  A luau features roast pig.  The point is: meat is the centerpiece.  But what if one or all of the celebrants are vegetarian?  Do you just serve up some grain and vegetable casseroles and call it a day?

Some enterprising foodies have tried to remedy the situation with fake meat concoctions like “tofurkey”.  Being opposed to fake meat, I’m not on board with that kind of thing.  What to do?  The type of dish that comes to mind for cold weather celebrations is stuffed pumpkin.

I’ve written about this before, and I have a new twist.  First, I’m using pie pumpkins, not huge Jack-o-lantern pumpkins.  Pie pumpkins are much smaller, and the flesh is denser, with a better texture and more flavor.

Pie pumpkins

These pumpkins were about 8-10 inches in diameter.  You might imagine that pie pumpkins are used to make the canned pumpkin that many of us use for pumpkin pie.  But in fact, it’s typically not pumpkin at all; it’s a special variety of squash called Dickinson.  

When it comes to stuffed vegetables, recipes usually call for a grain based stuffing, like rice or quinoa or farro.  But I wanted something different.  My idea was to use kernel corn, prepared in a variation on the Mexican street style known as elotes.  The result ends up being flavorful and a bit spicy, which nicely complements the mild flavor of the pumpkin.

Give the outside of the pumpkin a little rinse and dry.  Then, using a sharp strong knife, carefully cut a generous hole around the top to remove the stem end.  Then with a large metal spoon, clean out the seeds and fibers that cling to them.  You want the interior of the pumpkin to be quite smooth and clean.

cleaned out pumpkin

OK your pumpkin is ready.  You can put the top back on and refrigerate if your stuffing isn’t ready, or you’re making more than one and need to clean more pumpkins.  I’d say one stuffed pie pumpkin easily feeds 3-4 people.  Or maybe just one hungry teenager.  But keep in mind, at a holiday meal, you probably have other dishes.  And plant-based dishes can be very filling.  So you absolutely don’t need a whole pumpkin per person.

When you’re ready to stuff the pumpkin, heat the oven to 350º.  Here’s how I made the Mexican street corn-style stuffing:

Ingredients for one 8-10 inch pumpkin

  • 12 oz package frozen kernel corn, thawed
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion (you could also use scallions)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, or one 15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained.
  • juice of one lime (plus lime wedges for garnish)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 tsp mild ground chili, or to taste.  For spicier flavor, substitute ground chipotle for some of this.
  • 1 cup crumbled feta or soft cotija cheese for garnish
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, lime juice, jalapeño and ground chili together in a bowl.  

In a large sauce pan, combine the corn, beans, onion and tomatoes.  Cover and heat gently, just until the vegetables start to steam a bit.  Remove from heat.  Add the mayonnaise mixture to the heated vegetables and mix to coat. Dish the vegetable mixture into the pumpkin.  Replace the top and put the pumpkin in a small baking pan.  Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan.

Place in the heated oven and bake for 40-60 minutes, until a fork goes easily into the pumpkin, but before the pumpkin starts to soften so much that it slumps.  Start checking at 35 minutes.  When you poke it with a fork, you should feel some resistance as the fork goes into the pumpkin.  

Remove from the oven and take off the top.  Sprinkle half of the cheese onto the top, gently pushing some of it down into the stuffing.  Garnish with some of the chopped cilantro.  Display the cooked pumpkin(s) on a platter at your holiday table.

Serve with the rest of the cheese and cilantro and lime wedges on the side, along with salt and pepper.

As you dish it out, be sure to scoop some of the cooked pumpkin along with the stuffing.  Or you can slice through the pumpkin top to bottom, to make serving wedges, place a wedge on a plate, and arrange stuffing on the top of each wedge, then garnish with more cheese.

As with any recipe, seasoning to taste is important.  You might prefer more or less garlic, chili, lime or cheese.  Or you might prefer other types of fresh chili instead of jalapeño.  

This recipe is vegetarian, not vegan.  The sour cream, cheese and mayonnaise would not be suitable for vegans.  You could make the pumpkin without these ingredients, but the stuffing would end up being less rich and creamy.  One option would be to substitute one can of coconut cream (not coconut milk!).  The flavor would be different, but it should work out just fine, giving the dish a bit more of an Indian/South East Asian flavor.

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.