Vegetarian centerpiece is worthy of a holiday table

Stuffed Acorn Squash With Quinoa, Shiitakes and Cranberries (Courtesy of 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 meatlike 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.

Stuffed Acorn Squash With Quinoa, Shiitakes and Cranberries

Active time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 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.

Brush the squash flesh with oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking tray lined with parchment, cut sides down, and roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the insides with maple syrup. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While the squash halves are roasting, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they release their juices and begin to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the shallots and saute until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the orange juice to deglaze the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cooked grains, cranberries, pecans, parsley, orange zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired.

Fill the squash halves with the grain mixture. (The squash may be prepared in advance to this point. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking.)

Arrange the squash on a baking tray. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes to heat through. Serve warm garnished with parsley.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at

Leave a Comment