In this season of holiday dinners, cocktail parties, and last-minute entertaining, it gets hard to come up with yet another creative dinner or appetizer selection. When you're out of holiday dish ideas, just stuff it.
Stuffing can elevate a simple vegetable to a first-class entrée, with easy preparation and festive presentation. Stuff button mushrooms with white beans, black olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, and you'll have an easy, elegant appetizer. Acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, cranberries, and hazelnuts makes a simple side for potluck parties. Or fill a whole pumpkin with nutmeg-scented pumpkin and apple soup for a festive, crowd-pleasing entrée.
Nearly any medium-sized, sturdy vegetable can be stuffed. Red peppers, onions, tomatoes, artichokes, squash blossoms, zucchini, and butternut squash are all good candidates for filling and baking. Even greens, such as cabbage or collard leaves, can be stuffed with savory bean, grain, and vegetable mixtures.
Fillings can be made in advance to save time; then just stuff your favorite food, pop it in the oven, and serve it hot. Use leftovers to your advantage: stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, or creamed spinach can be an intriguing filling for the next day's entrée.
Make stuffed-food fillings healthful by focusing on fiber-rich vegetables and beans, eliminating cream and butter, and keeping cheese to a minimum. Drizzle them with intensely flavored glazes to add interest with few calories and little fat. Try these light, clean, and colorful dishes. They'll leave you feeling satisfied-not stuffed.
Raw Vegan Dates Stuffed with Walnuts and Cardamom-Vanilla Cream
Makes 20 dates
1 cup cashews
2 Tbs. coconut oil
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. honey
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
20 Medjool dates
10 walnuts, halved
¼ to ½ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup raw cacao nibs (optional)
- Place cashews in bowl, cover with warm water, and soak 2 hours. Drain, and transfer to food processor. Add ¼ cup water, oil, lemon juice, vanilla, honey, and cardamom. Purée until smooth and creamy, adding more water if necessary; cream should be thick, but not pasty. (Cream may be made in advance, and stored in refrigerator; bring to room temperature before stuffing dates.)
- Make lengthwise cut in each date, carefully checking for remaining bits of pit. Divide
cashew cream filling among dates. Press walnut half into each date. Sprinkle serving dish with coconut and cacao nibs. Arrange dates in dish cut-side up. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.
PER SERVING: 134 CAL; 2 G PROT; 6 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 21 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 1 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 17 G SUGARS
Fig, Hazelnut, and Pear-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze
4 large red-skinned sweet potatoes, scrubbed
½ cup apple juice
1 large ripe but firm pear, chopped small
½ cup chopped dried figs
½ cup plus 2 Tbs. toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped, divided
1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, divided
½ cup pomegranate juice
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. coconut oil
Whole thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
- Preheat to 350°F. Pierce potatoes several times with fork, and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until potatoes are tender when pierced with fork. Let cool until easy to handle.
- Meanwhile, bring apple juice to a simmer. Add pear and figs; cook until pear is just tender, and most of liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in ½ cup hazelnuts and 1 Tbs. thyme.
- Mix pomegranate juice and honey in small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes, or until thickened and reduced by almost half. Add remaining 2 tsp. thyme.
- Cut off top ¼ inch lengthwise from each sweet potato, and discard. Remove about half of flesh from each potato. Mash flesh and oil in bowl with fork. Carefully stir in fig and pear mixture. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Refill skins with flesh and pear mixture.
- Arrange sweet potatoes on serving platter. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbs. hazelnuts. Drizzle with Pomegranate-Thyme Glaze. Garnish with additional thyme sprigs, if desired; serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 284 CAL; 5 G PROT; 9 G TOTAL FAT (3 G SAT FAT); 49 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 48 MG SOD; 8 G FIBER; 28 G SUGARS
Poblano Peppers Stuffed with Sage, Polenta, Feta, and Greens
3 cups vegetable broth
¾ cup dry polenta
6 large fresh (not dried) poblano or pasilla chiles
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup diced red onion
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves, chopped small
2 Tbs. finely minced fresh sage or 2 tsp. dried
1/8 tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. paprika, plus more for sprinkling
¼ tsp. chipotle powder, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup feta cheese, divided
- Bring broth and 1 cup water to a boil in 4-qt. heavy pot; whisk in polenta. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until soft and creamy. (Use instant polenta to save time.)
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to broil. Place chiles on baking sheet, and roast, turning every few minutes, until outsides are lightly charred. Remove from oven, and place in paper bag 5 minutes to cool. Peel skins. Cut lengthwise slit in chiles, leaving tops intact, and remove seeds.
- Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Cook onion, bell pepper, and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in spinach, and cook 1 minute more. Stir in sage, white pepper, paprika, and chipotle powder. Season with salt, if desired.
- Preheat oven to broil. Stir spinach mixture into polenta. Stir in ½ cup feta. (Filling may be made ahead of time; heat through before stuffing chiles.)
- Divide filling among chiles. Arrange slit-side up in baking dish, and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup feta. Broil 5 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with additional paprika and chipotle powder, if desired; serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 414 CAL; 15 G PROT; 18 G TOTAL FAT (7 G SAT FAT); 52 G CARB; 36 MG CHOL; 1,131 MG SOD; 6 G FIBER; 7 G SUGARS