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Stuffed acorn squash with lentils, pecans and brown butter is a standout vegetarian holiday main

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Lentil and Pecan-Stuffed Acorn Squash
Active time:45 mins
Total time:1 hour 20 mins
Servings:6
Active time:45 mins
Total time:1 hour 20 mins
Servings:6
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This will be a Thanksgiving like no other. For some of us, it will mean gathering with friends and family we missed seeing last year, when we broke with tradition and scaled back, cooking a smaller-than-usual meal for a locked-down household. This year, too many of us are marking the occasion with an empty seat at the table, representing a loved one we lost, making the return to a semblance of normalcy bittersweet.

My own plans are far more up in the air than usual, since my husband and I are still grieving the departure of our foster child, and we haven’t had the energy to make any of our usual plans to host a dinner — or take something to a friend’s. But one thing hasn’t changed: my annual effort to find a doable recipe for an impressive vegetarian main course.

Abra Berens’s beautiful new book, “Grist,” provided just the inspiration I needed, in a recipe for acorn squash halves stuffed with a lentil-pecan mixture, bathed in a sage-infused brown butter. Unlike some stuffed-squash recipes, which leave the flesh intact, here you roast the squash first, then scoop out much of the cooked flesh, leaving shells much like you do when you’re making twice-baked potatoes. That squash flesh gets mixed with the lentils, nuts and brown butter, along with a good dose of orange juice and zest for brightness. On goes some Parmesan for another round in the oven, and fried sage leaves become the crowning garnish.

As always, the dish is designed to satisfy any eater at your table, as a main or a side. Possibly even better: If your Thanksgiving plans are as unformed as mine are, this can be the centerpiece of any fall dinner, on a holiday or not, weeknight or weekend, for a crowd or just for you.

Choose your Thanksgiving menu: Simple or show-stopping recipes for your holiday meal

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Ingredients

For the sage brown butter

  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons/4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 10 fresh sage leaves
  • Fine sea or table salt

For the stuffed squash

  • 3 acorn squash (about 1 pound each; may substitute carnival, sweet dumpling or kabocha)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or another neutral oil
  • 1 small onion (4 ounces), thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • Leaves from 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine or hard cider
  • 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) lentils, any color except red
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 to 2 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1

Make the sage brown butter: Line a large plate with a clean dish towel. In a frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sage leaves and fry until dark green and no longer bubbling, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, lift the sage from the butter and transfer to drain on the dish towel. Sprinkle the leaves with salt. Scrape the butter, including the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, into a large bowl.

Step 2

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Make the stuffed squash: Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and stringy pulp. Discard the pulp, and save the seeds for roasting, if desired. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on an large, ungreased, rimmed baking sheet or cast-iron skillet and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until tender.


Step 3

While the squash is baking, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and reduce until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils and cook, stirring, until coated in the onion mixture, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the water, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat until the liquid is gently simmering and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.

Step 4

When the squash is cooked, remove it from the oven but leave the heat on. Let the squash cool until you can handle it easily. Use a spoon to scoop most of the flesh from the squash into the bowl with the brown butter, leaving a thin layer of squash flesh next to the skin so the squash shell stays intact.


Step 5

Add the cooked lentil mixture, pecans, orange juice and zest to the squash pulp, and mix until well-blended. Taste, and season with more salt, if needed.


Step 6

Scoop the squash mixture into the squash shells, sprinkle with the Parmesan and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until warm throughout. If desired, turn the oven to broil to lightly brown the cheese, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Garnish with the fried sage and serve warm or at room temperature.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (a stuffed squash half)

Calories: 501; Total Fat: 28 g; Saturated Fat: 12 g; Cholesterol: 50 mg; Sodium: 288 mg; Carbohydrates: 45 g; Dietary Fiber: 15 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 17 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from “Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes” by Abra Berens (Chronicle Books, 2021).

Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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