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Ingredient Challenge: Black-eyed Peas, Chestnuts, and Crimson Gold Apples

By Dennis Linden

This dish is not only rich and filling enough to be a whole meal by itself, it also comes in its own convenient, throw-away bowl!
Image of Stuffed Acorn Squash
This month’s Guest Chef combines her challenge ingredients with an exotic mix of spices that provides a great culinary lesson in how to turn an ordinary winter squash into a whole meal that will satisfy the heartiest of appetites. Chef Shachi Mehra will soon be opening a new Indian restaurant, ADYA, in the Anaheim Packing District. ADYA will focus on fresh, local produce and the bright flavors of Indian street food. Chef Shachi’s culinary heritage is demonstrated deliciously as she uses a supporting cast of many flavorful spices and seasonings to conjure up a very tasty stuffed acorn squash recipe that was as interesting to prepare as it was enjoying the results. This dish is not only rich and filling enough to make for a standalone meal by itself, it also comes in its own convenient, throw-away bowl!
Image of Chef Shachi
While there are a lot of ingredients in Chef Shachi’s recipe to organize and the squash needs to be twice-baked, the prep can be simplified a bit by making the stuffing mixture first. This component can be done hours or even a whole day ahead of time; in fact, it probably should be, especially when serving this dish to a group. This stuffing mixture, with some eighteen ingredients, must be built in layers that need culinary concentration to construct. So, if serving this dish to guests, prepare the stuffing and do the first bake of the squash beforehand, in the quiet of your own kitchen, and then simply pop the halves of stuffed squash in the oven for the finishing bake without skipping a beat as the happy host!
Image of Chestnuts
Of course, for culinary purest, there are hours of soaking needed for the Black-eyed Peas and many more hours of prep to cook and peel the Chestnuts before even getting started. Or opt to use Melissa's Steamed Black-eyed Peas and Cooked & Peeled Chestnuts that are both ready to eat right out of their vacuum-sealed packages! I also tried this recipe using a tub of Melissa’s uncooked Blackeyes; no difference in texture from our steamed product was detected and both products saved lots of time without sacrificing taste. Spending hours on soaking this pea and/or preparing one’s own chestnuts is definitely over-rated!

Peas and apples, together? Why not! Especially when these two seemingly incongruous ingredients are seasoned with a collection of bold complimentary spices that are really the stars of Chef Shachi’s dish. The mix of exotic flavorings meld pleasantly with the hearty Cremini Mushroom, Black-eyed pea, apple and chestnut, all laced with hints of tomato –the combination makes for a rich and creamy texture with an occasional nutty crunch that has a comfort food warmth about it, Indian-style! The secret is in Chef Shachi’s special seasonings.

“Aleppo pepper is a mild chili flake that is used quite a bit in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes,” explained the chef. “It is known to have an almost fruity, smoky finish which makes it the perfect addition to this recipe. If you cannot find it, substitute any crushed sweet chili flakes mixed with a quality smoked paprika.”

The other seasoning mix that this recipe has added to my own spice rack is Garam Masala, which the chef describes as, “a blend of ‘warming’ spices used traditionally in Indian food as a finishing spice due to its strong aromatic qualities.” Shachi added, “Most households in India make their own blend, using a simple mix of some very common spices.” For those interested in making this traditional flavoring from scratch – or for those looking for something do to while those black-eyes are soaking (!) – Shachi includes a basic Garam Masala recipe within her challenge recipe. For the rest of us, I had no trouble finding Garam Masala in my own local gourmet culinary shop.
Image of Acorn Squash
While Chef Shachi uses a Green Acorn squash as a tasty vehicle for her wonderful stuffing, there are many other bowl-size varieties of winter squash available at this time of year that would offer an array of color and flavor options that would also complement Shachi’s filling. Even the Acorn Squash comes in creamy white, banana yellow or pumpkin gold. A slightly flatter “bowl” of the bright Red Kuri Squash would also add a nutty-sweet flavor; the painted Carnival Squash would bring a hint of sweet potato to the mix. Turn this dish into a smaller side dish by reducing the portions using the tiny Sweet Dumpling Squash. Another side dish presentation would be to stuff a 10 to 12-inch long Delicata Squash and then slice it into three or servings, letting the stuffing cascade onto the plate. Besides, just rummaging through all the weird shapes, colors and sizes in the retail winter squash bin, looking for just the right “bowl”, only begins the fun involved preparing and enjoying Chef Shachi Mehra’s delightful dish.

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Serves 4

For Acorn Squash
Image of Acorn Squash halves
2 each Acorn Squash, halved and seeded (see note)
4 teaspoons Olive Oil
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (sub a mix of any crushed sweet chili pepper and a good smoked paprika)
½ teaspoon Garam Masala (see recipe below)
Salt to taste

Chef Note:
For easier halving, pierce squash in several places, then microwave on High for 45 to 60 seconds. Use a large sharp knife to cut in half. Remove the seeds and stringy fibers with a spoon.
Image of Ingredients for Acorn Squash
For Black-eyed Peas Stuffing
Image of chopped ingredients
¼ cup Canola Oil
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2 Bay Leaves
1 Star Anise
2 teaspoon Cumin Seeds
2 Tablespoons Chopped Garlic
2 Tablespoon Ginger, chopped
1 large Perfect Sweet White Onion, chopped
1½ cups Cremini Mushrooms, diced
1 cup Crimson Gold Apples, diced (any sweet-tart apple variety can be substituted)
2 cups Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 Tablespoon Coriander Powder
1 (11 ounce package) Melissa’s Steamed Black-eyed Peas
2 cups Water
½ (6.5 ounce package) Melissa’s Peeled & Cooked Chestnuts, rough chopped
½ cup Cilantro, chopped
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
½ teaspoon Garam masala

For Topping:
Image of ingredients for topping
½ cup Panko Breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Tablespoon Cilantro, chopped
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil


Acorn Squash
Preheat oven to 350°- Rub each Acorn squash half with 1 tsp olive oil, season with a pinch of salt, Aleppo pepper and Garam Masala, place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering.

Add in cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, star anise and cumin, stirring continuously for about 30 seconds until they start to crackle, sputter and become fragrant.

Add chopped garlic, ginger, white onion and a pinch of salt.

Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions begin to caramelize and turn golden brown, about 7-8 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms and apples and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes, coriander powder and another pinch of salt.
Image of cooking filling
Turn heat down to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have completely broken down, and a sheen develops over the mixture.

Continue to cook until oil begins to separate, then add in Melissa’s Blackeyed Peas and mix thoroughly.
Image of adding black-eyed peas to filling
Add in 2 cups water and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by half.

Stir in chestnut pieces and another pinch of salt.

Simmer over low heat, mashing some of the peas with the back of the spoon, until most of the liquid has cooked away.

Remove from heat and stir in the chopped cilantro, ½ tsp Garam masala and Aleppo.

In a medium bowl, mix together panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, chopped cilantro and olive oil.

Final Bake
Fill each half of baked squash with Black-eyed Peas mixture, then top each with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is browned. Serve immediately.

Garam Masala Recipe

2 Cinnamon Sticks
3 Bay Leaves
6 Tablespoons Cumin Seeds
8 Tablespoons Coriander Seeds
1 Tablespoon Green Cardamom
1 teaspoon Whole Black Pepper
5 each Cloves
1 each Dried Red Chili Pepper Pod
1 teaspoon Mace
2 each Black Cardamom Seeds
½ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

Toast all spices except ground nutmeg in a large pan over very low heat until just a shade darker and very fragrant. Remove from heat and add in nutmeg. When cool, grind fine using a spice or coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

If using for a spice rub, the spice can be coarsely ground
Image of Stuffed Acorn Squash
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