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August is deep into summer squash season, and I’m always looking for fun new ways to prepare them as we usually have so many. I was playing around with the Apollonia blend, which I love using in savory dishes, and came up with an easy and delicious braised squash recipe. Apollonia supplies bitterness and warm aromatics, and hawayej grounds the sauce with its rich cumin notes. Grey squash are a tender and sweet variety common in Mexican, Lebanese, and Korean cooking. Eating them in this dish is like taking a bite of summer sunshine.
8 small grey squash (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons salt-packed capers (to sub brined capers, rinse them well, then add 2 tsp salt)
1/2 cup zante currant raisins (or sub regular thompson rasins)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 can tomato paste
Preheat your oven to 300°F. Trim the flower end and a bit of the stem off each squash (you can leave most of the stem it will soften). Make 3 diagonal slits in the side of the squash, rotate, and repeat until you've made 9 total. These allow the flavors to get inside the squash.
Add olive oil to a heavy bottom pot (large enough to fit the squash in one layer) over medium heat. Cook the onions until softened and translucent, then add the capers (no need to rinse, their salt becomes part of the dish) and Apollonia. Cook for two minutes more, then add the raisins, tomato paste, pine nuts, and Hawayej and stir well to combine. Add a couple tablespoons of water or stock, stir well to make a thick sauce (a pudding like consistency is perfect), and nestle the squash in.
Transfer the pot to your oven and bake for 90 minutes or until the squash is soft. Alternatively (I prefer this as you don't need to use the oven on a hot day), place the pot over a flame tamer on a burner set on low and cook for 1 hour, then turn each squash over and cook for 1 more hour. If you have a grill you can also do this in a covered pot in the grill, just keep the temp around 300°F and place the pot over indirect heat. You can even cook this in a crock pot or rice cooker, just transfer the paste to your cooking vessel, nestle in the squash, and cook until done. The squash juices will combine with the other ingredients to make a rich sauce.
Serve with fluffy rice, plenty of the sauce, salt to taste, and if you like, a little bit of yogurt and/or fresh herbs (cilantro is great).
Change up your vegetables: try japanese eggplant, yellow squash, or green zucchini prepared the same way as the grey squash, or unsliced fennel or okra. The sauce base is also a nice change of pace for a ratatouille as the flavors are totally different. Once fall rolls around try cabbage, cauliflower, whole green tomatoes, and hard squashes.
This recipe is vegan as is, but is also great with ground beef. Brown one pound of chuck, drain the fat, and add to the sauce before you begin your braise. Great with rice, soft poached eggs, or over toast.
Food image and recipe © Christian Leue
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