In the Bay Area the onset of autumn is not so dramatic. In September and October the days gradually get shorter while the air gets c571286722a993e21d661da522de09a0d-2ooler. During the summer, salads, and quick meals are the normal fare, but autumn is the time to get ready for more substantial and warming menus. Stuffed and baked squashes are some of my favorite fall entrees.

I was not familiar with many squashes when I first came to the United States. Baked squash tasted rather plain to me, even after adding plenty of butter, salt, and pepper, as was suggested. Once I had a delicious baked squash stuffed with wild rice in a New York restaurant, which inspired me to create the following colorful dish. It is a substantial entree for any autumn meal, and also an attractive vegetarian centerpiece for a harvest party.

Many types of winter squash appear in the market in September and October. Some are large and take a long time to bake; others are small enough to cook in less than an hour. I prefer the kinds with green rind and sweet orange flesh. Acorn, sweet dumpling, buttercup, kabocha, and butternut are especially suitable for this recipe.

The wild rice used in the stuffing is available seasonally in supermarkets, and year-round in most health-food stores. Wild rice is actually not rice, but the seed of an aquatic grass native to the Great Lakes region of the United States. It has been harvested by hand by Native Americans for centuries. Wild rice has a unique nutty flavor, and is very nutritious, containing more protein and fiber than brown rice. Both wild rice and brown rice have to be cooked slowly, so it is easy to cook them together. Some health-food markets sell them pre-mixed. In this recipe I use Indian spices, but the dish can take on other ethnic identities with different herbs.

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STUFFED SQUASH

3 small winter squashes such as acorn, sweet dumpling, butternut, buttercup, or kabocha

1 cup firm tofu, drained and crumbled, or 1 cup shredded jack or mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup wild rice and 2/3 cups brown rice, or 1 cup combined mix
3 tablespoons finely chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ teaspoon each turmeric, cumin, and coriander powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon salt
juice of one lemon
olive oil as needed
3 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro

First cook the rice: Boil two cups of water in a pot. Rinse brown rice and wild rice and drain well. Add to the boiling water and bring to a second boil. Lower the heat, stir with a fork, and cover. Cook covered over low heat until the grain is soft when pinched. After 35 minutes, check if done. If the grain is still hard and there is no water left, add a few tablespoons of water and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes or until done.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the squash. Cut the squash into halves with a sharp serrated knife. Scoop out and discard seeds and fibers. Lay the squash halves in a vegetable steamer basket (or two baskets) with open sides down. Set the basket in a pot with two cups of water. Cover and steam the squash for 30 minutes or less, until it is just soft enough to scoop out most of the flesh inside. Allow the squash to cool for a few minutes. Then gently scoop out most of the pulp, leaving at least ½ inch to support the shells. Set the squash shells aside.

Set the oven at 350 degrees. (Using an oven was new to me as most cooking is done on stovetops in India. However, baking is a good excuse to warm the house during the cold season.)

Chop the squash pulp finely. In a mixing bowl combine the pulp with the rest of the ingredients, except the oil and cilantro. Rub the inside and outside of the squash shells generously with olive oil. Fill them with the squash pulp mixture and place in an oiled baking dish. Drizzle some oil on top, and bake the squash in the oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

When ready to eat, transfer the squash shells to a platter. They make a beautiful presentation. Later you can cut them into smaller pieces to serve. Instruct the diners to scoop out a combination of pulp and stuffing from the shell with each spoonful. Serve with freshly made sweet-and-sour chutney (recipe below) on the side.

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VARIATIONS OF STUFFED SQUASH

1. Cook white basmati and red lentils together instead of the wild and brown rice and follow the recipe.

2. Replace the Indian spices with minced Italian herbs such as fresh oregano, basil, and parsley.

3. Use Spanish rice cooked with tomato sauce and a Mexican chili blend (available in Mexican grocery stores) instead of the brown and wild rice mixture.

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SHANTA’S TROPICAL CHUTNEY

I am proud to have created this recipe in California where dried tropical fruits are abundant.

1 cup chopped, dried tropical fruits: any combination of mangoes, papayas, pineapples, peaches, or apricots

1 cup hot or warm water
1 cup yellow raisins (sultana)
2 tablespoons fresh, grated gingerroot
juice of one large lemon or lime
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
water as needed

Soak the dried fruit in warm water and set aside for half hour or longer to soften. Then combine all ingredients, including the water in which the fruit pieces were soaking, in the jar of a blender or food processor. Puree the mixture finely, adding more water as needed to make a pudding-like consistency. Allow the chutney to stand for a few minutes before transferring it to a serving bowl or a glass jar for storage. This chutney will keep for several weeks if refrigerated.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine lives in San Francisco where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health food store. Her daughter Serena Sacharoff is an illustrator and art student.

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