Due to the unprovoked, criminal and seemingly endless brutal war of annihilation against Ukrainian civilians by Vladimir Putin and his army and the worsening humanitarian crisis, please consider helping by following the link below. There are a number of reputable aid agencies from which to choose. Many of these agencies will also help victims suffering the devastating effects of natural disasters.
Sweet savory, comforting and downright delicious. Kabocha Squash Lentils Rice and Caramelized Onions. Any of the elements of this wonderful dish would be great on its own or as part of another dish. And the entire dish can be prepped ahead and cooked one hour before you are ready to eat or cooked ahead and gently rewarmed. How convenient.
Kabocha Squash Lentils Rice and Caramelized Onions is easily riffable and can be entirely vegan if you choose one of the other toppings than the one pictured or use a vegan cheese. I seasoned my vegetables with baharat, a warm Middle Eastern spice blend that is perfect for all of the fall and winter comfort foods. But you could just as easily use ras el hanout, hawaij or even pumpkin spice blend. Any one of these would give you delicious results.
Until a couple of years ago, winter squash for me meant either butternut or acorn squash. I was, frankly, a little afraid of all of those interesting, and often misshapen squashes I would see at the farmer’s market and grocery store. I simply had no idea how to cook them. And then came the pandemic. You all remember that, right? Suddenly, I was seeing all of these squash options and figured that there were more things to be afraid of than an unfamiliar vegetable. My world expanded and I have never looked back.
Kabocha squash is a winter squash that is also known as Japanese Pumpkin. It is a knobbly looking squash that when roasted is incredibly sweet. When my husband started eating this dish, he asked what sweetener I had used and was surprised when I answered “None.” I only used EVOO, baharat and a bit of salt.
Kabocha Squash Lentils Rice and Caramelized Onions is a wonderful vegan meal and the lentils and brown rice make a complete and filling protein. This recipe makes extra filling on purpose. You can use the leftover lentils and rice and add a vegan or other sausage and you have a totally different meal that only requires a green salad and some good bread. And since making perfect caramelized onions isn’t difficult but does take time, I always make a big batch and it lasts for a long time in the fridge, covered with EVOO. We love it on pizza and flatbread, but it’s also great with Sabich and Sephardic slow-cooked eggs known as Huevos Haminados.
The next time you are looking for that perfect autumn meal that will drive away the damp and chill, give Kabocha Squash Lentils Rice and Caramelized Onions a go.
Yield: 4 servings with extra filling
2 Kabocha Squash
About 1 teaspoon baharat spice blend (this will depend on how many squashes you actually choose to make)
Sprinkling of kosher salt
EVOO for drizzling
For Lentils and Brown Rice
1 cup brown lentils (I like Pardina Lentils, also known as brown Spanish lentils. They hold their shape well and have a creamy, nutty flavor.)
1 cup brown rice, preferably short-grain, but any kind will do
3 cups of water or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt
1.5 rounded teaspoons baharat spice blend
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
a generous handful of fresh herbs chopped (I used dill, parsley and cilantro)
For Caramelized Onions
5 or 6 large white or yellow onions
1/4 cup EVOO
Optional toppings for serving
Labneh or plain yogurt
Feta cheese, crumbled
Grilled Haloumi Cheese
For Caramelized Onions
Peel, halve and thinly slice all of your onions. Warm the EVOO in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet with high-ish sides. Cast iron is great for this.
Add the onions and using tongs or large spoon, gently stir the onions to coat with the oil. Cook over low heat, only stirring (or turning over) the onions occasionally until they are deep brown and almost spreadable. Be patient and don’t rush this. The result is worth it. The cooking time can take up to 3 hours, which is why I make a big batch and always have it in my fridge. As long as there is a layer of EVOO covering the onions, they will last a very long time in the fridge and even just a small amount lends incredible flavor to any dish you use them in.
For the Kabocha Squash
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Oil the bottom of an oven-proof pan that is large enough to hold the cut halves of squash. I actually only made one squash for the two of us, but the filling recipe could easily feed 4 or even 6, so make as many squash as you like.
Using a large, sharp knife, cut the squash in half vertically starting with the stem at the top. Scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff in the cavity of the squash. Sprinkle the cavity and rim of the cut squash with salt and a generous sprinkling of spice blend.
Place the squash, cut-side down, on the oiled pan and roast for 40 minutes. Turn the squash over and continue roasting for another 20 minutes. If you are worried that the squash is becoming too brown, loosely cover them with aluminum foil. The squash should give easily when cooked. These can be kept in a warm oven with the heat turned off and covered for up to an hour. They can also be rewarmed. I would add a bit more EVOO if rewarming.
For the lentils and rice
Rinse and drain the rice and lentils. Pick over the lentils to be sure that there are no small stones or other debris. (This will entirely depend on where you buy your lentils.)
Bring the water or vegetable stock to a boil with 2 Tablespoons of EVOO, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric and 1.5 rounded teaspoons of baharat. Add the drained lentils and rice and bring the mixture back to a boil. Cover the pot tightly and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes. Then turn off the heat. Uncover the pot and give everything a fluff with a fork. Recover the pot and allow the mixture to steam for about 10 minutes. Add in the chopped herbs, reserving a little for garnish.
When you are ready to serve, assemble your dish. Fill the squash cavity with the lentil rice mixture and top with some of the caramelized onions. Then the rest is up to you. Add a simple tahini dressing to keep it vegan or some feta crumbles for a vegetarian version. To eat this yummy dish, smush the squash flesh and mix it with the other ingredients. It might not look elegant, but the taste is wonderful.