Tired of Playing Fowl on Thanksgiving?

You will absolutly fall in love with this Umami stuffed butternut squash so much, it just might persuade you to reconsider poultry this holiday season! Not only is it vegetarian… it’s fancy! 

You’ll Need: 

1 cup fresh pecans, chopped

1- foot long butternut squash

1 Japanese eggplant about 8-10 inches in length

1 zucchini, about 10 inches in length

1 white onion, cleaned and roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, divided

1 shallot, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, coarsely chopped

1 celery rib, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sundried tomato packed in oil, squeezed of excess oil

1 tablespoon good quality olive oil

1 bunch fresh thyme, divided

8 oz. unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or honey

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

2 eggs

1/2 cup Japanese bread crumbs

1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine and divided

1 teaspoon ground sage

Kosher salt and white pepper

Here’s How:

Preheat oven to 325′ F Degrees. Toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until fragrant and slightly darkened, 10–12 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 400′ F Degrees. Drizzle the baking sheet with good quality olive oil.

While the oven is getting up to temperature, carefully cut butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the interior, leaving about a 1/2″ border on all sides and creating a divot deep enough to fit the eggplant halves inside. Discard the stringy guts, reserving all the solid meat filling, and the seeds for roasting.

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out and reserve the interior, leaving about a 1/4″ border on all sides and creating a divot deep enough to fit delicious filling inside, which will go inside the butternut squash- follow me?

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, scoop out interior for the vegetable, leaving behind a fairly-wide mote down the center to fit the remaining filling.

Place squash halves cut side up, on a prepared baking sheet. Using a fork, be sure to pierce insides of squash and zucchini halves to release steam. Using a sharp knife, make shallow crosshatch marks inside of eggplant, being careful not to pierce through the skin. Season all with salt and pepper butter and a drizzle of maple syrup or honey then set aside.

In the bowl of your food processor, combine the garlic, shallot, onion, mushrooms, celery, squash, and eggplant filling. Working in batches, if needed, pulse the food processor until finely chopped but not to a paste. Add sundried tomatoes and pulse one final time.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetables from the processor, and a few thyme sprigs and the ground sage. Cook until the mixture begins to brown, and almost all the moisture evaporates- about 5-8 minutes. Taste, and adjust season with salt and pepper. 

Remove from the heat to a large bowl and allow the vegetable mixture to significantly cool. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard. Crack in the eggs, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, panko, a small handful of chopped parsley, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Using an ice cream or portion control scoop press about 3/4 cup vegetable mixture into each half of the butternut squash until the interior is fully coated using the back of the scoop or spoon press the combination into and up the sides making room for the eggplant to fit. Sprinkle with the toasted pecans and then add the eggplant cut side up and repeat the filling process, including the pecans. Now add the zucchini and repeat to fill with vegetable mixture, continue the nesting process with each halve until you have filled the whole butternut squash with all the vegetable halves layered with stuffing- just like your famous lasagna.

Using kitchen twine. Slip under one squash half, then top with the second squash half, so that the cut sides face each other. Now press together and tightly tie the twine around squash to secure it for the oven. 

Brush the exterior of the stuffed butternut squash with melted butter and maple syrup then season again with salt and pepper. Wrap the squash tightly in aluminum foil and place it in the center of a low-sided baking dish to prevent it from rolling. 

Roast the squash until it is tender to the touch, about 90 minutes to 2 hours. 

Remove foil and let rest at least 10-20 minutes.

Remove twine and place it on a cutting board. Cut into 1″ thick disc with a serrated knife, transferring to serving plates as you go. Spoon warm herbed or salted butter over slices, garnish with more pecans and serve with warm maple syrup.

Happy holiday!

Authentic Fried Israeli Falafel 

Here I am, an Italian-American trying to grasp the depths of an authentic Israeli Falafel recipe. Here is how I did it. I’ve turn to my favorite Falafel expert, and adapted from Joan Nathan’s book The Foods of Israel Today. Amazing book ! Read what Joan has to say about the authenticity of Falafel. 

Joan writes

“Every Israeli has an opinion about falafel, the ultimate Israeli street food, which is most often served stuffed into pita bread. One of my favorite spots is a simple stand in the Bukharan Quarter of Jerusalem, adjacent to Mea Shearim. The neighborhood was established in 1891, when wealthy Jews from Bukharan engaged engineers and city planners to plan a quarter with straight, wide streets and lavish stone houses. 

After the Russian Revolution, with the passing of time and fortunes, the Bukharan Quarter lost much of its wealth, but even so the area retains a certain elegance. There, the falafel is freshly fried before your eyes and the balls are very large and light. 

Shlomo Zadok, an elderly falafel maker and falafel stand owner, brought the recipe with him from his native Yemen.

Zadok explained that at the time of the establishment of the state, falafel — the name of which probably comes from the word pilpel (pepper) — was made in two ways: either as it is in Egypt today, from crushed, soaked fava beans or fava beans combined with chickpeas, spices, and bulgur; or, as Yemenite Jews and the Arabs of Jerusalem did, from chickpeas alone. But favism, an inherited enzymatic deficiency occurring among some Jews — mainly those of Kurdish and Iraqi ancestry, many of whom came to Israel during the mid 1900s — proved potentially lethal, so all falafel makers in Israel ultimately sopped using fava beans, and chickpea falafel became an Israeli dish.

The timing was right for falafel in those early years, with immigrants pouring in. Since there was a shortage of meat, falafel made a cheap, protein-rich meal — and people liked it.

Rachama Ihshady, the daughter of the founder of another favorite Jerusalem falafel joint, Shalom’s Falafel on Bezalel Street, told me that her family recipe, also of Yemenite origin, has not changed since British times. 

Using the basics taught to me by these falafel mavens, I have created my own version, adding fresh parsley and cilantro, two ingredients I like and which originally characterized Arab falafel in Israel. 

Give me mine wrapped in a nice warm pita bread, swathed in tahina sauce an overflowing with pickled turnip and eggplant, chopped peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, amba (pickled mango sauce) — and make it harif, Hebrew for “hot.” The type of hot sauce used, of course, depends on the origin of the falafel maker.”

With all this research I decided to adapt Jones recipe without cilantro to suit more my own liking. Feel free to add it or omit. 

Joan Nathon’s Falafel Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup dried chickpeas

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro ( optional) 

1 teaspoon salt

1/2-1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper

4 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon baking powder

4-6 tablespoons flour

Soybean or vegetable oil for frying

Chopped tomato for garnish

Diced onion for garnish

Diced green bell pepper for garnish

Tahina sauce

Pita bread ( see my recipe here

Method:

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.

Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed.

Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts, or use a falafel scoop, available in Middle-Eastern markets.

Heat 3 inches of oil to 375ºF in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stuff half a pita with falafel balls, chopped tomatoes, onion, green pepper, and pickled turnips. Drizzle with tahina thinned with water.

Notes

Egyptians omit the cilantro and substitute fava beans for the chickpeas

Tahina (also called tahini) is an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds. It is available in Middle Eastern markets and at Amazon. 
To garnish your falafel in true Israeli style, try adding one or several of the following condiments: harissa hot sauce, pickled turnip (both also available at Amazon or ethnic grocer – add mango amba (pickle), or sauerkraut.

Me- I like to add chopped Cucumber, onions, tomatoes and lots of tzatziki and hot sauce ( see my tzatziki sauce recipe here) I know – don’t say it! My toppings are not authentic, but an awesome combination of a Italian-Greek-American twist ! 

Tzatziki Dipping Sauce     

English pronunciation ( Taet-Zeek -Key) 

Tzatziki is a sauce, or a dip. Made up of a combination of cucumber, fresh yogurt, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice or vinegar- and fresh herbs. So delicious and refreshing. I like to use it on everything. I especially love to dip raw vegetables in it, and sometimes use it for salad dressing.

My kids love it and it’s a great source of protein on its own. I love Tzatziki on grilled meats, on Falafel and in Gyros too. I grew up with a portion of a Greek family, and this was a highly coveted culinary staple at most family gatherings. 

Ingredients:

1/2 large seedless cucumber, unpeeled, grated and set to drain- or rush the process by tossing in 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups plain full-fat Greek yogurt

2 large garlic cloves, finely minced

2 Tablespoons extra virgin good quality olive oil

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice 

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or Himalayan salt

1/4-1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 -2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill

Method

Grate the cucumber, gently salt and toss – set to drain through a fine mesh sieve overnight in the refrigerator or allow to sit for 10-20 minutes and squeeze and excess liquid from cucumber wash off salt residue and squeeze dry using a clean kitchen towel. 

Add prepared cucumber to a small bowl and combine with the yogurt, garlic, oil, lemon juice and white pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or as long as you can. 

Remove from refrigerator and add chopped fresh dill to the mixture and stir to combine. Check and adjust seasoning. 

Serve chilled with pita bread, fresh cut veggies for dipping or use as a side for grilled meats. 

Chef Notes

Cucumbers inherently release an abundance of water when cut. Make sure your grated cucumber is well-drained before adding to the remaining ingredients or your recipe will become watery and flavorless. If you have time, can drain it in cheesecloth or a fine mesh sieve overnight. If you’re in a rush, you can salt the cucumbers let sit about ten minutes, rinse and use your hands to squeeze the remaining liquid out of the cucumber.

The longer the garlic rests in the yogurt, the less bitter it will become and the better it will taste. For best results, combine all of the ingredients except the cucumber and allow it rest overnight in the refrigerator overnight- while your cucumber is draining.

Add the fresh dill at the last minute so it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the flavors.