Let me start by saying Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’m a planner, and I begin to think about the menu weeks in advance. I obsess over the details and try to pick the perfect balance between sweet and savory, raw and cooked, and healthy and not-so-healthy dishes to please all palates. I’m a firm believer that Thanksgiving is all about the indulgences ― the butter, the cream, the carbs, the sweets ― give me all of it.
But it’s not all about me. I know others have dietary restrictions and try to be mindful of that when writing the menu. As our family continues to grow, there’s always a new face at the Thanksgiving table with new nutritional preferences. My mom hands out invites like she’s the mayor of our town.
As much as I plan and obsess, without fail every year there always seems to be someone who exclaims they are dairy-free or gluten-free or vegan or vegetarian, and I’m left scrambling to find something for them to eat.
This year I’m trying something different. I’m going to make one dish that fits all my guests’ restrictive criteria (though with so many food allergies out there, it’s possible this won’t fit all your guests’ needs ― make sure you ask them about their restrictions). If anyone shows up, I know all my bases are likely covered and they have something delicious to eat.
I’m taking all the traditional flavors of a delicious, carb-loaded bread stuffing and turning it gluten-free by substituting quinoa. And it’s vegan, too. Are you ready?
We start by sautéing aromatics like onion, garlic and celery as the base. Next goes in some hearty, meaty baby portobello mushrooms to replace traditional sausage. We add a trio of herbs ― sage, parsley and thyme to really make it shine. Lastly, we add in the quinoa, toast it for a few minutes to release the nutty aroma and cook it in vegetable stock to add another layer of flavor.
After the quinoa has cooked, we gently fold in toasted walnuts (leave out for guests with nut allergies!), Granny Smith apples and dried cranberries. Adding the apples after the quinoa has cooked ensures they don’t turn to mush and will hold their shape and texture. After that, we stuff the mixture into roasted acorn squash halves and bake for a few more minutes and, voilà, you’re done. Pretty easy, right?
The best part ― it’s filling enough as a main for your Great-Aunt Hilda who’s vegetarian or a great side for your mother-in-law who is now gluten-free.
Get the recipe below to ensure a stress-free Thanksgiving with your loved ones.
Quinoa Stuffing-Filled Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash, cut in half and seeds removed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound baby portobello mushrooms, diced
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Season squash halves with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add cut-side down to a parchment-lined sheet tray and cook for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and garlic, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Turn heat to medium-high and add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to pan along with mushrooms. Cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and they are nicely caramelized, about 7 to 10 minutes. Season with salt.
4. Add fresh herbs and quinoa. Toast quinoa for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt, and add vegetable stock, bring to boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Remove cover and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add apples, cranberries and walnuts. Taste for seasoning.
6. Flip cooked squash halves over so the cut-side is facing up. Divide the filling among the halves. Return to oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until squash is evenly browned and cooked through. Garnish with additional walnuts if desired.