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Jack-Be-Little Pumpkins Stuffed with Spiced Tomato-Lentil Sauce

black beluga lentilsThe vendors at the farmers' market where I loaded up on adorable Jack-Be-Little pumpkins were amazed when I told them my plans: decorate from Halloween to Thanksgiving, then eat the nectarine-sized pumpkins. "You can eat these?" they asked. Can and should. They have an earthy, savory goodness appreciated by those who love mushrooms and artichokes. If that's not you or you don't have any tiny pumpkins, use an acorn squash or half a pie pumpkin. See notes below for making the switch.

Such a bargain, too! You'll get six weeks of decoration followed by a fine-dining appetizer or side dish for about $1.50 per person.

Active time: 40 minutes. Total time: 1 hour. Serves 4, but easy to divide or multiply.

Recipe ingredients

4 Jack-Be-Little pumpkins (or 1 acorn squash or 1/2 small pie pumpkin)
2 teaspoons corn oil

Spiced Tomato-Lentil Sauce

1/2 cup organic Black Beluga lentils or French green lentils (90 grams)
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon corn oil
1 onion
one 28-ounce can Muir Glen organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes or other diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Garlic cashew-cream sauce

1 clove garlic
1/2 cup cashew cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice if using cashew cream

1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)

Recipe method

  1. Pick over lentils and cook with water and salt for about 30 minutes, until completely tender but still holding their shape. (If you thought ahead and soaked the lentils, check for doneness after 20 minutes.) See Basic Beans recipe.

    organic black beluga lentils from Purcell Mountain Farms

  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mince both garlic cloves and set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cut onion in half stem to root. Put each half in turn cut-side down on a cutting board, cut lengthwise again, then slice very thinly across. Add sliced onion to the oil and cook until quite browned, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently, especially towards the end, when the onion may go from savory brown to bitter black in a flash.
  3. Cut the top off the pumpkins as you would for a Jack o' Lantern. Remove seeds and stringy fibers using a melon baller or the handle end of a spoon. Cut the strings off the cap, leaving as much pumpkin flesh as possible. Oil the inside of each pumpkin, the bottom of the cap, and the stems. Put pumpkins and caps in a pan or on cookie sheet, with caps lying on their sides, then bake for about 30 minutes until fork-tender. (Test the pumpkin gently from the inside, being careful to not pierce the skin.)

    cleaning a tiny Jack Be Little pumpkin with a melon baller

  4. Open tomato can and add spices. When onions are browned, add half the garlic and stir once. Add tomatoes and spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally.
  5. Mix cashew cream, remaining garlic, and salt. Chop mint leaves if using and stir into cashew-cream mixture.
  6. When pumpkins are tender, put on individual plates or serving platter. Fill each pumpkin with tomato-lentil sauce, top with a dab of cashew-cream sauce, then gently crown with pumpkin lid.
  7. Serve at once. When eating, scrape a little pumpkin flesh up with each spoonful of sauce. Use any extra tomato sauce on pasta and any extra yogurt sauce on burritos or baked potatoes.

    stuffed pumpkin appetizer

Recipe tips and notes

  • Make-ahead tip. Make the tomato-lentil sauce up to three days ahead. Just reheat before stuffing the pumpkins. The cashew-cream sauce gets more garlicy and less minty overnight, so it's best made just before serving.
  • Black Beluga lentils are tiny and rich in mushroomy umami flavor. Like French green lentils, they hold their shape while cooking. One pound of lentils is enough for five batches of sauce.
  • If using acorn squash, cut squash in half from stem to tip, scrape out seeds and fibers, then cut again in the same direction. Bake squash quarters cut-side up for about 40 minutes until fork-tender. If using pie pumpkin, prepare the same way as for an acorn squash, serving smaller wedges of the pumpkin, such as one-eighth of a Sugar Pie pumpkin per person, as shown below.

    pie pumpkin with spiced tomato lentil sauce

  • Cooking for one or two. The single-serving size of these pumpkins is a welcome contrast to the gigantic food served on the groaning boards immortalized by Norman Rockwell. Cut the sauce recipes in half, using a 14-ounce can of tomatoes.
  • This recipe is based on the Afghan delight sweet pumpkin with meat sauce (kadu or kadoo). My version of the sauce uses much less oil and uses tiny lentils instead of ground meat.
  • Thanks to Amy Goldman, fanatical author of The Compleat Squash, for the idea of stuffing Jack-Be-Littles.
  • More Cook for Good pumkin posts: Pumpkin Taste Trials, Candy Roaster Pumpkin Cooking Tips, Pumpkin Butterscotch Pudding.

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