Years ago, when friends of mine had young children, they’d describe Halloween-themed dinners they’d cook for their kids. There would be desserts of decorated cakes and cookies of course, but the main meal was just as creative. Most often it was pumpkin-based, soup garnished with candy-like corn kernels and black beans or pumpkins stuffed with colorful vegetables and grains and baked. Though I don’t have little kids around to cook for, I’m inspired to embrace the season and make some Halloween dinners for grown-ups.
While there were no pumpkins in my kitchen garden, there were butternut and blue kuri winter squash, both excellent substitutes.
Experimenting with the butternut squash first, I halved it, removed the seeds and baked it, cut side down, on a sheet pan at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes.
After it cooled, I removed most of the squash from the center of each half, leaving a half inch border of squash to add another flavor the filling. I saved this extra squash for a future meal.
While the squash was baking, I made a filling, boiling black beans I’d soaked earlier in the day, cooking some red quinoa, sauteing onion and garlic. Then I added corn and poblano peppers from the freezer to the onion and finally added the black beans and quinoa and a little grated jack cheese. The result was a colorful and tasty filling for the squash. After piling it into the squash shells, I baked it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes to warm it through. To garnish it, I made some cilantro pesto. Next time I’d squeeze on some lime to match the sweetness of this pretty meal.
I stuffed the blue kuri squash as well, filling it with a mixture of cooked rice and sauteed sausage, onions and poblano peppers and jack cheese. This filling mixture would have made a fine any-season casserole on its own but slicing the blue kuri squash in half around the middle, baking it as I did the butternut squash and removing enough of the flesh to make two bowls for stuffing, created a Halloween-worthy presentation.
I like the way both of these stuffed squashes remind me of my friends’ Halloween meals, but these dishes would work for any of the other holidays coming up.
Finally, I turned to the most playful of these Halloween meals: little pumpkin-shaped hand pies. The recipe that inspired me calls them jack-o-lantern empanadas. Either name works. The key appeal for my grown-up trick-or-treater is the pastry. The delicious filling is also a great way to use leftover winter squash and black beans. And they really are pretty cute. I may even make them again for Halloween day, or make them another time, minus the scary faces.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 cup frozen corn
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper (I used roasted and frozen poblano peppers)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin (I used roasted and pureed butternut squash)
- 1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained (I used dry black beans from the garden, soaked and boiled)
- 2 teaspoons chili powder (the poblano peppers provided enough spice so I omitted chili powder)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 packages (14.1 ounces each) refrigerated pie crust (I made my usual pie dough)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Preheat oven to 425°. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add corn, onion and pepper; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in pumpkin, black beans and seasonings; heat through. Cool slightly.
- On a lightly floured surface, unroll pie crust. Cut pumpkins with a 3-in. floured pumpkin-shaped or round cookie cutter, rerolling crust as necessary. Place half of the pumpkin cutouts 2 in. apart on parchment-lined baking sheets; top each with about 1 tablespoon pumpkin mixture. Using a knife, cut jack-o’-lantern faces or slits out of the remaining cutouts. Place over the top of the pumpkin mixture; press edges with a fork to seal. (I made some 4-inch as well as some 3-inch cutouts.)
- In a small bowl, whisk egg and water; brush over empanadas. Bake until golden brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from pan to wire racks.