Stuffed Acorn Squash with Apex Food Company Indian Flavors
No matter what I am working with I prefer to choose brands that represent more than just a product. A genuine story with authentic values. Just the other day I was looking up a brand of Kombucha I saw while out in LA. The brand was Kombucha Dog and I was attracted to the bottle because of the dog on the label. When I went looking to see if I could find it anywhere here on the east coast I got side-tracked looking at the "our story" page. Michael, the owner and previous commercial photographer, began making his own kombucha and selling it with labels featuring shelter dogs in need of a home. As a dog lover I was captivated by this ingenious advertising campaign. I was ready to spend whatever I had to in order to support this company. Lucky for my bank account, they were sold out online.
So when a friend of mine connected me with a company making roots in my adopted hometown of Apex, NC, I was excited to hear their story. The Apex Food Company was started by a couple of female IT professionals, Anupama Singh & Neha Avasthi, who left big city lives to move to small town Apex. Originally from small villages in India, they grew up in a culture that celebrated food. Food that was cooked with love and passed down through the generations. When they created the Apex Food Company they wanted to bring their own family recipes to the already diverse food culture in America. In doing so they maintained a principle of using honest ingredients that reminisced the authentic unique flavors from their mothers' kitchens.
When I checked out their website I was even more impressed and intrigued by the health benefits of each of the Apex Food Company products. These women didn't just make something that tasted good, they sought to make something that would promote the health and vitality of their consumers while sharing a little piece of their culture and themselves.
For this recipe I chose to use the Piaz, a balsamic onion relish. This sweet and tangy relish is sweetened using jaggery, an unrefined sweetener coming from the sap of palm trees. The jaggery exudes a flavor profile resembling the cross between molasses and buttery caramel. Refined sugar is present in most sauces on the store shelves today. Refined sugars are also often to blame for many of today's health issues, including excessive gut inflammation. Runners are acutely aware of stomach symptoms as running can induce similar inflammation especially during high intensity runs. Being able to amplify the flavor of a dish in a way that doesn't sabotage the healthfulness is definitely a plus. The Piaz also contains balsamic vinegar and onions, two low calorie ingredients that impart an abundance of sweet and savory flavors. Balsamic Vinegar adds sweet tangy flavor to dishes while also lowering blood pressure and stabilizing blood glucose. Balsamic vinegar is a low glycemic food which can keep you satisfied for longer periods of time. For runners keeping blood sugar stable is extremely important for maintaining energy levels. When your blood sugar is spiking and crashing you feel a surge of energy and then a sudden drop, not good in the middle of a long run or race. For a runner that had a period of low blood sugar episodes, minimizing added sugars, and eating more whole grains and whole foods made a huge difference.
Onions are also very beneficial to runners. Onions contain high levels of the antioxidant quercetin which can help offset oxidative stress to body tissues and muscle fibers caused by intense exercise. They also have the ability to keep your heart healthy, strengthen your bones, and prevent digestive distress. Onions help the growth of good for you bacteria while keeping bad bacteria at bay. Almost every runner has seen their day with digestive distress so this is a huge benefit, especially for any that have been prescribed antibiotics or nsaids for pain relief.
When I decided to make stuffed acorn squash for dinner I had to use whatever I had on hand. I pulled out onions, garlic, gilberts kale chicken sausage, kale, fresh mozzarella cheese, and brown rice. To bring all of the flavors together the Piaz was the perfect addition. On a day when I had a 12 mile run with 8 miles at tempo followed by a 30 min core strengthening class and a long run to prepare for the next day, refueling efficiently was essential. This healthy, whole grain, veggie rich dish was perfect for helping my body recover and rebuild. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Yield: 4 Servings, Time from start to finish: 1 to 1.5 hours
- 1/2 cup brown rice
- 1 tsp olive oil
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup water
- 2 acorn squash (cut in half, seeds removed, and lightly oiled and sprinkled with salt and pepper)
- 2 Gilberts Kale Chicken Sausage (sliced and then halved)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups loosely packed chopped kale
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh mozzerella cheese + 4 slices to put on top
- Pinch of salt
- pinch of pepper
- 1.5-2 tbsp Apex Food Company Piaz (I didn't measure, just put a couple of spoonfulls and tasted)
- Preheat the oven to 375.
- Add about a tsp of olive oil to a medium sized sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Add rice and stir continuously to toast rice about 5 min. Rice will be fragrant and starting to lightly brown. Add the water and a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil and then cover and reduce the heat to low.
- Let the rice cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 30 min. Every once in a while check on the rice and stir it. Meanwhile prepare the squash. If needed cut a small slice off the bottom of each squash half so that they can sit flat while baking. Place the 4 halves flesh side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
- While the squash is cooking, heat about a tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and add the onions. Add a pinch of salt and stir the onions around. Cook the onions until they begin to brown and caramelize. Stir frequently to prevent any burning (may turn the heat down a little if they are burning to quickly). Add the garlic and cook stirring continuously for about a minute.
- Add the chicken sausage and stir. Cook stirring occasionally about 5 minutes and then add the kale. When the rice is finished add it to the pan and mix everything together. The starches from the rice and residual water will help pick up some of the flavors from the pan. Let cook an additional 2-3 minutes then transfer to a bowl and mix in the mozzarella cheese and Piaz.
- When the squash is done remove from the oven and flip them over. Add the filling ingredients and top with a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese. You may optionally also sprinkle the top with gluten-free breadcrumbs.
- Put the oven on broil and place the squash back in the oven cooking just until the cheese begins to brown. Be very careful and watch the oven closely to prevent burning! Let the squash cool a few minutes before eating, the filling will be hot! Enjoy :)