A Cherokee chef turned to tradition for this stuffed squash recipe

Todd A. Price
Southern Kitchen
Nico Albert, a Cherokee chef based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, prepared a stuffed squash using an heirloom Cherokee tan pumpkin.

Cherokee chef and caterer Nico Albert, who runs Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is dedicated to discovering and sharing delicious dishes from Native American tribes. In this recipe for stuffed squash, Albert adapted the traditional technique of cooking vegetables buried in coals.

Albert digs a hole and burns hardwood into coals. Commercial charcoal could be used instead to simplify the process. Instead of using a hole, the squash could also be ember-roasted, nestled directly in the coals on the bottom of a standard grill.

The recipe is easily adapted to other ingredients. When she can get it, Albert uses a Cherokee tan pumpkin, an heirloom variety with bright orange flesh and a sweet scent reminiscent of watermelon. Most of the time, however, she uses more common squashes like acorn. The stuffing is also easily adapted. It is a good way to use up small amounts of leftover beans, rice, corn or other vegetables.

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Serves: 2 as a main course or 4 as a side

Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients

1 medium-sized, uncooked acorn squash

2 cloves roasted garlic

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup cooked pinto or black beans

1/2 cup cooked wild rice

1/2 cup cooked hominy

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 cup wild onions, finely chopped (can substitute scallions)

2 teaspoons sumac

Salt and pepper

Dandelion petals or other edible flowers

Instructions

Dig a hole in the ground roughly a foot wide and 8 inches deep. Build a fire with hardwood logs and let the wood burn into coals while the rest of the dish is prepared. Alternately, light a chimney of charcoal and let it ash over. The dish could also be prepared over coals in a grill.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds from the middle of the squash. Season the inside of the squash with salt and pepper to taste.

For the stuffing, in a large bowl mash the roasted garlic with the olive oil into a paste. Add the beans, wild rice, hominy, celery, wild onions and sumac. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix the stuffing together.

Pack the stuffing into one half of the squash, rounding it on top so it will fill the other half. Put the other half of the squash on top of the first, and wrap both in heavy-duty aluminum foil (use two layers of foil if it is not heavy-duty).

Place the foil-wrapped squash directly into coals and pile coals on top to bury the squash. If the squash cannot be buried and must rest on top of the coals, turn it once during cooking.

Let the squash cook for 40 minutes. Gently squeeze the squash with tongs. If it gives, then the squash is ready. Remove the squash from the foil and garnish with dandelion petals. (Note: If the dandelion petals are foraged, make sure they are from an area that was not treated with chemicals or peed on by dogs.)

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