The North American Vegetarian Society has designated October 1st as World Vegetarian Day and October as Vegetarian Awareness Month. Vegetarians are encouraged to share their knowledge and skills with other to make a sustainable vegetarian diet more accessible and non-vegetarians are urged to minimize meat consumption, and try some new meatless foods.

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There is no better way to celebrate vegetarian awareness than by exploring the bounty of winter squash. Winter squashes are easy to store due to their hard skin and they have substantial nutrients.

When I came to the United States I was unfamiliar with many of the winter squashes popular here, such as “acorn,” “butternut” or “kabocha,” but I was impressed with their many colors and large sizes.

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of  Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.

Butternut Squash Curry
(makes six servings)

Ingredients
1 small or 1/2 medium butternut squash
(to yield three cups when cut into chunks)
2 to 3 red or red or gold potatoes (to
yield 2 cups when cut into chunks)
1 teaspoons fresh garam masala, a spice
blend made from 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds,
1 small cinnamon stick and 4 whole cloves
(you will have some left-over)
6 medium or 4 large tomatoes, boiled for
a few minutes, then peeled and chopped
to yield about 4 cups (canned tomatoes
can be substituted)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon each turmeric, coriander and cumin powders
½ teaspoon or less cayenne powder
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup green bell pepper or Anaheim
pepper, chopped
½ cup water
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Method

Cut the potatoes in half, and boil them until the skins loosen and they are partially cooked, but still quite firm. Drain the potatoes, peel them, cut them into bite size chunks and set them aside.

Using a serrated knife, cut the squash into three or four pieces. Remove all seeds and strings from inside. Steam the squash pieces in a vegetable steamer for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, until the skin loosens but the flesh is still firm. Cool, peel, cut into large bite-size chunks, and set aside.

Do not overcook the squash or potatoes at this stage, as they will be cooked more later, and if they are overcooked they will dissolve into the curry instead of staying firmly as chunks.

To make the spicy tomato sauce, first prepare the fresh garam masala by grinding cardamom, cinnamon and cloves using a mortar and a pestle or a spice mill. This recipe uses only a teaspoon so you will have some garam masala left over.

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium flame and add the onions. Stir fry for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Then add the garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, breaking up any lumps. Add a teaspoon of the garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cayenne and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring frequently.

Then add the potato, squash and bell pepper to the sauce and mix thoroughly. Cover, lower the heat and cook the mixture for 10 minutes. Then uncover, add 1/2 cup of water, and cook for a minute while stirring. Then, cover and let the curry cook for another five minutes. Check to see that the squash and potatoes are soft and fully cooked. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve this colorful curry with a flat bread such as chapatis or tortillas or with brown rice.

Stuffed Acorn Squash with Brown Rice and Nuts
(makes six servings)

Ingredients
1 cup brown rice (see the cooking
directions below).

2 small acorn squashes, cut in half, seeds
and strings removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup pine nuts or slivered almond
slices, toasted lightly for a few minutes in
½ teaspoon of oil
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
2 to 3 tablespoons each finely chopped
cilantro and green onions
¼ or ½ cup any type of hard cheese,
shredded

Method
Prepare the rice as follows: Bring 2½ cups of water to boil. Rinse and drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to moderate, and cook the rice for 45 to 55 minutes until soft. You will not use all the rice for this recipe. Refrigerate the left over rice for future use.

Set the oven to 375 degrees. Line a shallow baking dish with ½ cup water. Rub some oil on the surface of the squash and place them cut side down in the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes until the meat is soft. Cool for a few minutes. Carefully scoop out most of the pulp with a spoon leaving enough meat to keep the squash “bowls” intact. Place the pulp in a mixing bowl. Set the squash halves aside.

Combine the squash pulp, two cups of rice, nuts, turmeric, cilantro, green onion, nuts, salt, cayenne, lemon juice and remaining oil. Spoon the mixture into the squash halves. Top with the optional  cheese. Turn the oven up to 450 degrees. Place the stuffed squash  in a dry, shallow casserole dish or a cookie sheet, and bake them for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is slightly brown (or the optional cheese is melted).  Advise the diners to scoop out the filling as they eat, leaving the shells behind.

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