A vegetarian centerpiece worthy of a holiday table

This festive Acorn Squash with Quinoa, Shiitakes and Cranberries makes a festive vegetarian holiday entree. (Courtesy Lynda Balslev)

Every holiday meal deserves a festive centerpiece. While a turkey is the usual stunner, there’s room for more than one showstopper. An elaborate vegetarian dish can be equally decorative, providing a colorful and festive platter for both vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

Winter squash are natural, vibrant vessels ideal for stuffing with wholesome grains, dried fruit and nuts. There are many squash varieties that love to be stuffed, including butternut, acorn and kabocha. If the squash are small, you can serve them individually with their tops as a lid, or if they are large, you can halve or quarter them and spoon the filling over the centers, relying on the serving platter to catch the overflow.

Acorn squash are tidy vessels for this recipe. When cooked until very tender, their shell is edible. They can easily serve one as a main course or be split to share. Shiitake mushrooms add a satisfying meat-like texture to the veggie filling and provide savory, umami depth of flavor. Choose your favorite grain, such as quinoa, rice, farro or bulgur. The squash can be roasted and stuffed in advance of serving for easy entertaining.

Lynda Balslev is a Marin cookbook author, food and travel writer and recipe developer.


Stuffed Acorn Squash With Quinoa, Shiitakes and Cranberries

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish


2 acorn squash, halved horizontally

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Maple syrup, for brushing

6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, halved if large, then thinly sliced

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 cups precooked grain, such as quinoa or brown rice

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley leaves, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest


Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

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