Monday, October 19, 2015

Mexican-Inspired Spaghetti Squash

Ebony canned black beans,
Ruby-hued tomato,
Make a sauce, bake the squash;
Thrill me with a marrow.
(With apologies to Crosby, Stills, and Nash)

Now that autumn is officially here in New England, the markets are overflowing with various types of squash, and we love them all: from the last zucchini and patty pans of late summer to the butternuts, acorns, pumpkins, and mighty blue hubbards that help make the colder months more palatable. 

As its name suggests, spaghetti squash is set apart from its brethren by its distinctive (and admittedly rather weird) texture; when roasted or baked, its flesh comes away from the skin in long, thin strands, and is often substituted for noodles by the health-and/or-carb-conscious-and/or-gluten-intolerant-and/or-averse. It also differs from its seasonal cohort in that it doesn't have much flavor, so many people think of it as bland and watery. But I've found that these very qualities make it an ideal candidate for stuffing: simply combine the strands of squash with more assertive ingredients, stuff the whole business back into the shell with a tasty topping, and bake.

I'm planning to mess around with other flavor profiles for the filling as the season progresses;  mediterranean and good old-fashioned sage & onion both seem like good candidates. But for today's recipe I used the type of filling I'd usually make for tacos or enchiladas to transform a boring old squash into a delicious, filling - yea, verily, even exciting - meal.

Mexican-Inspired Spaghetti Squash
~ 1 largeish spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 4 large scallions, sliced
~ 1 small carrot, diced
~ 1 small green bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh tomato (I used quartered grape tomatoes)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano, cumin, chili powder, marjoram, smoked paprika
~ ½ tsp. each: cinnamon, thyme, white pepper, cayenne
~ Dash nutmeg
~ 1 cup cooked black beans (homemade or canned)
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh cilantro
~ ½ cup shredded vegan cheddar (I used Daiya)
~ ¼ cup nutritional yeast
~ ⅓ cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. hot sauce (I used Frank's)
~ ½ tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ Guacamole, salsa, and/or vegan sour cream to serve (optional)

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cut sides of the spaghetti squash with salt and pepper and place them cut side down on the pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.
~ In a large skillet, sauté the scallions, carrot, and green pepper over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, corn, tomato, dry seasonings, and black beans. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have broken down a bit and everything is fragrant.
~ With a fork, scoop out the "spaghetti" strands from the cooked squash and add them to the skillet. Stir in the fresh cilantro and combine thoroughly.
~ Pack the filling - yes, all of it! - back into the stopped-out squash halves and nestle them snuggly in a rimmed baking dish coated with cooking spray. You can press down with a spatula or wooden spoon to get it all in there.
~ In a small saucepan, combine the cheddar, nutritional yeast, hot sauce, and Liquid Smoke and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the cheese melts and you have a thick sauce.
~ Carefully distribute the cheese sauce over the filled squash halves and sprinkle with a little paprika.
~ Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until the topping is brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing; if you like, you can top each serving with a dollop of guac, salsa, and/or sour cream. (I got three helpings - so six in total - from each half, and served it along with rice pilaf and a big salad. Everyone at my house was happily full!)

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