This is a great recipe to make for a holiday dinner- there’s something so pretty and festive about these little squashes, and they’re really easy to make. (And, they're totally gluten-free!)
The lamb is cooked with traditional Moroccan spices- cinnamon, paprika, and cumin- and studded with fresh mint, pine nuts and dates. The blend of savory, spicy and sweet flavors, as well as the different temperatures and textures, is what really makes this recipe a winner. Acorn squash can be pretty bland and a little stringy, but roasting it at a high temperature and then stuffing it with lamb makes it the least boring vegetable you’ve ever had. Topping each squash with a big dollop of yogurt, pomegranate seeds and mint doesn’t hurt, either.
You can even assemble everything ahead of time to keep things simple. Just roast the squash and make the lamb mixture before anyone arrives, and set the stuffed squashes aside until dinner. Then pop them back in the oven about fifteen minutes before you want everyone to sit down. All you need is a simple salad on the side and a big glass of wine, and you’re good to go.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Turn each squash on its side and slice an inch off the stem end, removing and discarding the stem. Using a spoon, scoop of the seeds and flesh. Slice 1/4” off the bottom end of the squashes so that they sit with the stem up without wobbling. Scoop out the seeds and “stringy parts."
Place the 4 squashes on a sheet pan stem side up. Brush with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with ¾ teaspoon salt. Roast for 40 minutes, until the flesh is tender when pierced with a sharp knife.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, cinnamon, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Raise the heat to medium, and add the lamb and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Cook for 6-8 minutes, crumbling with the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned. Add the tomato paste, dates, pine nuts and the 3 tablespoons mint, and cook for 2 more minutes. Set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375. Using a soup spoon, scrape about two tablespoons of flesh from each squash (you should have ½ cup altogether) and add it to the sauté pan with the lamb. Mix to combine.
Spoon the lamb filling into the hollowed out squashes, filling each one to the top. Roast for 15 minutes, or until heated through. While the squash is cooking, combine the yogurt and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Serve hot with a dollop of seasoned yogurt, the reserved mint, and the pomegranate seeds.
I do recipe testing and social media for Ina and love to cook for my friends on the weekend. Ina has given me lots of tips for easy cooking and entertaining, and I'm excited to share them with you here!