‘Celebrate’ Thanksgiving With Sumptuous Squash

Acorn squash stuffed with jeweled Israeli couscous is one of the delicious autumnal recipes from the new cookbook, “Celebrate.”

When I was in college, living over 1,000 miles away, nothing made me feel closer to home than attending one of the weekly Shabbat dinners hosted by the Jewish organizations on campus. Every week I would meet someone new, and because we had broken bread (or challah) there was an instant bond between us.

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This sentiment — that food brings people together — is what permeates the pages of Elizabeth Kurtz’s newest cookbook, “Celebrate: Food, Family, Shabbos” (Emunah of America, 2015). In this book, Kurtz, the creator of Gourmet Kosher Cooking, celebrates the love shared between family and friends over a delicious Sabbath dinner.

The first section is devoted to nine intriguing challah recipes (I have to try the vanilla challah with cinnamon swirl filling), which leads you into impressive dips and small bites like salmon ceviche and fresh tuna, chickpea and rosemary salad. Looking through the soup chapter, I almost forget I’m holding a Jewish cookbook — the good-as-a-latte wild mushroom soup sounds so original and modern — and in the sections following, the recipes are just as tantalizing, though consistently on the lighter, healthier side.

Kurtz doesn’t discriminate against other holidays, either. Beside each recipe, there’s a variation for Passover, so you can indulge in that meringue-crusted chocolate cake sans chametz. And the recipes would be great for almost any occasion you could think of.

Many of the recipes in “Celebrate” have an autumnal feel; they’re built around seasonal ingredients like kale and cauliflower, and two that always make me think of Thanksgiving, squash and pumpkin.

For the past few years, I’ve been serving different versions of roasted acorn squash recipes at my Thanksgiving dinner, so when I saw Kurtz’s version, which is stuffed with Israeli pearl couscous, mushrooms and dried fruit, I knew I had to try it. If you substitute the chicken broth for veggie stock (as I did), this is a delicious and filling vegetarian side dish perfect for the holiday.

The other recipe I tried made me think that I may not be serving pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year.

That’s because Elizabeth Kurtz’s pumpkin soufflé, which is the lovechild of a loaf and a pudding, is a delicious alternative to the traditional. I was a bit intimidated at first by the word “soufflé,” but home cooks fear not – this treat is surprisingly simple to make.

I recommend doubling the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and baking a few minutes longer than what Kurtz specifies.

Both recipes — and the book in general — scream “Celebrate.”

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Jeweled Israeli Couscous

Larger than traditional couscous, Israeli couscous cooks and tastes more like a small pasta. I love the presentation of this dish, which uses squash halves as natural serving vessels for the colorful couscous. It has bursts of color from the dried fruit, parsley, and acorn squash and extra bursts of flavor from the garlic and orange zest. After you zest the orange, be sure to use the fresh juice in the recipe for its bright, clean flavor.

Serves 8

Squash:
4 acorn squash (about 1½ pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Filling:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 (8.8-ounce) packages Israeli couscous
2 3/4 cups pareve chicken broth or chicken broth
2 teaspoons orange zest
¼ cup orange juice
¼ cup diced dried apricots (optional)
¼ cup craisins (optional)
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup pinenuts, toasted

1) Preheat oven to 425˚F. Place acorn squash, cut-side up, on two baking sheets. Brush the flesh of the squash with canola oil, sprinkle with brown sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until just fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

2) Heat a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, cook onion until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook an additional 4 minutes. Pour in couscous and stir for 2 minutes, until it begins to smell toasty and nutty.

3) Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes, or until liquid is fully absorbed. Add orange zest, orange juice, apricots, craisins, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook an additional minute for the orange juice to absorb. Add pinenuts.

4) To serve, spoon couscous into squash halves. Rewarm in oven if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead
Can be prepared 1 day ahead of time. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature or rewarm, covered, in a warming drawer or 300˚F oven.

Recipe from CELEBRATE: Food Family Shabbos By Elizabeth Kurtz, Emunah of America/distributed by Feldheim, October 2015. Hardcover/$34.95.

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