Sunday, November 18, 2007

Step away from the turkey: it's not too late for a non-murderous Thanksgiving

As an ex-vegetarian who is seriously contemplating getting back on the wagon, I feel that this is an opportune moment to remind you that you don't need to munch on turkey tomorrow. You don't need to munch on the vile faux-corpse of a Tofurkey either, because I'm going to give you a recipe for something better. (Stuffed squash, which I'll get to in a moment).

Long-time readers know that I've always been ambivalent about posting meat recipes here — I don't think I've ever posted a single recipe involving beef or pork, for example. Birds and sea creatures haven't fared as well, and their surviving friends and relations are hereby forgiven if they ever wish to wave their wings, claws, tentacles, or wee little fins at me in a menacing manner.

Readers will also know that when I see beady little eyes peering in my window I'll hand over nuts without hesitation, not because I am fattening the little cuties for pâté but because I like having them around. They will also know that my adoration of the spaniel pictured below is limitless, even when he's trying to eat wood chips or lint or curtains or other unworthy things.

little someone

I don't think it's outlandish to assume that he perpetually wags his tail in part because he trusts that he won't be roasted, grilled, or pan-seared. Shouldn't all creatures feel the same? They get their hearts broken by stupid plastic boyfriends just like we do, you know. And like us, they crave justice and rarely get it.

Obviously there are lots of reasons not to eat meat, and I won't prattle on about them now because that's almost certainly not what you're here for. Let's just say that I was a vegetarian for many years and am very sympathetic to the point of view that there are many arguments against eating meat, and no good arguments in favor of eating it.*

Are you annoyed with me for raising this issue at this time of year? Everyone has got to draw a line somewhere. Otherwise you'll end up like der Karl, thinking that a plate of horse meat carpaccio is as appealing as Hedi Slimane trousers.

Besides, a series of recent concerts reminded me of my long-dormant suspicions that happiness awaits in a new career as the leader of a Morrissey cult. An enterprise in which I am doomed to failure if I haven't gone back to veg. I'm going to get started on preparing the pamphlets I'll distribute at the next symposium, on the assumption that I'll surely have come 'round by then.

I was going to make a silly joke and caption this "a rare recent photo of Morrissey and Mike Joyce," but sensitive types may consider such a comment libelous against dear, blameless turkeys.

Photo from

Anyhow, on to the recipe. I've been making this for years, with a few changes. The first being to omit the dried cranberries. They're almost always sold sweetened, too sweetened, and there's just something awful about dried fruit in one's dinner. It's very 70's. If you truly like the idea of dried cranberries I urge you to play up the 70's theme in a big way so as to make clear it's not an accident — decorate your table with images from Our Bodies, Our Selves and the Black Panther Coloring Book, and offer drugs to all of your guests in the main room, instead of sneaking off to the drug room with the hip-looking ones.

Other changes to the recipe: Fresh herbs. There is simply no excuse for dried, which taste dusty and have an awful texture. Also, I usually replace the onion with leek, which is more subtle-tasting and more colorful, and the water with white wine or stock, and the whole wheat bread with sourdough or whole-wheat sourdough. I also usually add some nuts, if the squirrels haven't eaten them all. I never measure any of this stuff so if something doesn't feel right, decrease or increase it as you see fit.

baby leeks herbs, herbs, herbs

On the left, baby leeks, which I got from the same people who sell ramps at the Union Square greenmarket when those are in season; on the right, a pile of herbs.

Finally, note that the original recipe I linked to above calls for microwaving the squash before you stuff it. I haven't got a microwave so I roast it, but I have microwaved it at other people's houses and it's fine that way too. Consult the link if you need directions for that.

stuffed squash

Serves 4; yes, you can halve or double the recipe

2 small- to medium-sized acorn squashes (or dumpling squashes or small kabocha), halved lengthwise and seeded
5 tablespoons butter (1 tablespoon of which should be softened to room-temperature)
salt and freshly ground pepper
approximately 1 cup finely sliced leek, white and pale green parts
1/3 to 1/2 cup white wine, dry vermouth (Noilly Prat is good), or vegetable stock
8 ounces fresh wild mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
2 to 4 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs — a combination of sage, thyme, rosemary and lovage is nice
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, preferably sourdough or whole wheat sourdough — I use fresh bread and break it into small, irregular pieces in the food processor
1/4 cup lightly toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put the squash halves on one or two baking sheets, cut side up, and rub the tablespoon of softened butter on the insides until they're evenly coated. Season them with salt and pepper and roast them until they're very tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. (You can do this in advance and refrigerate the roasted squash until you're ready to proceed with the recipe, but let it warm up a bit at room temperature before you go ahead with the final cooking).

Increase the oven temperature to 425°F (or preheat it if you roasted the squash in advance).

Melt the rest of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and the mushrooms and sauté until they soften, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the herbs and the breadcrumbs and sauté a few minutes more, until the crumbs begin to brown. Stir in enough wine or stock to moisten the stuffing. (It shouldn't be dry-looking but you shouldn't be able to see liquid in the pan, either.) Stir in the nuts and season the stuffing with salt and pepper.

Mound the stuffing into the squash halves and bake them until they are crisp on top, about 10 to 15 minutes.

stuffed squash

* "Animals taste good" is a conclusion, not an argument! It's a conclusion that reflects one's point of view on various ethical and social issues, which you free to discuss in comments on this post, or not. Up to you.