This post is brought to you by Farmhouse Direct – or rather, by the fact that I have been too exhausted of late to contemplate getting up early to go to the market on a Saturday morning. But I can’t come at buying most of my veg from the supermarket, either, so instead I hopped online, looked for fruit and veg, filtered my search for Victorian Farmers, and then went to see what was available.
What was available was boxes of produce from Vegie Bunch – huge bunches of rhubarb, mixed boxes of cucumbers, beetroot, carrots, garlic and potatoes, and boxes of tiny Jack Be Little pumpkins that could only be described as adorable. I got some of everything, and it arrived on my doorstep on, I think, Thursday morning.
(And then I had to find places to put all of it, because none of this produce is small or self-effacing…)
Anyway, we had friends around to dinner on Friday, and what with it being Lent, I’m vegetarian – but what with it also being me having people around to dinner, it was absolutely necessary to make something spectacular. The Green Kitchen have a recipe for a split pea and rhubarb stew, for which I actually had most of the ingredients, and I thought it might be fun to stuff this into teeny tiny pumpkins and serve them roast potatoes, tomatoes from my garden, and a lot of tzatziki.
It was *amazingly* good, and I wouldn’t have thought to write it up, because the stew recipe was adapted from the Green Kitchen, until my friend asked if I was going to photograph the pumpkins, at which point I considered the recipe, considered how many ingredients and methods I’d changed, and realised that this was probably actually quite legit to write about. Also, the tzatziki absolutely makes this dish, and that was definitely my idea.
Of course, this means that there are only photos of the finished product, but I’m hoping that the finished product is cute enough that you won’t mind. Also, be warned – these little tiny pumpkins look like they will be a light meal, but this is just how they draw you in – we all managed to finish what was on our plates, but it was a near thing. These babies are filling, and I think that with a few more baby pumpkins I could have easily fed ten to twelve people rather than the four I was actually cooking for. I certainly had enough stuffing to fill more pumpkins…
Also, I apologise for the spice mixes – I didn’t have all the spices the recipe suggested, and I did have all these luscious spice mixes hanging around that seemed to fit the profile, so I used those instead. Because sometimes, one wants to use one’s beautiful spice mixes. I’m figuring that most of you probably do have some random Middle Eastern and chilli spice mixes lurking around your kitchen – here’s your opportunity to use them!
Your Shopping List8 Jack Be Little Pumpkins, or other miniature pumpkins suitable for stuffing 3 tbsp virgin coconut oil 2 tsp of a good chilli con carne or similar spice mix, one which is heavy on both chilli and cumin 1 1/2 tbsp of a good middle eastern sweet spice mix such as ras el hanout or a turkish spice mix – you want something that has cardamom, cinnamon and the like, but also a little bit of savoury bite and heat to it. 1/2 tsp ginger 1 large onion, diced 6 garlic cloves, crushed, 500 g orange sweet potatoes 300 g carrots 5 sticks rhubarb 1 red apples 150 g yellow split peas 2 Lebanese cucumbers 500 g Greek yoghurt a small bunch of mint salt, pepper, olive oil
Now what will you do with it?
Preheat your oven to 200°C, and start with the fiddly part, which is your pumpkins. You want to cut a lid off each pumpkin, and then core the pumpkin. I found that a medium-sized sharp knife was good for the lid – I sort of cut a circle around the core with my blade going diagonally into the pumpkin until I could lift the lid out. I then trimmed the lid, and took to the inside of the pumpkin with a teaspoon and some vigour until all the seeds and stringy bits had been scraped out. This left a wall about 1 cm thick around the whole pumpkin, which was exactly right (incidentally, these pumpkins have the most fascinating texture – really velvety and a little dry, which is why you want the tzatziki).
Put the pumpkins – without their lids – into a large baking dish, and pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, plus enough water to come about a centimetre up the sides of the pumpkins. You will be topping the water up later. Bake for half an hour or so while you work on the stew.
To start the stew, you will need to chop all your vegetables and fruit up very small, I’m sorry – but otherwise they will not go happily into the pumpkins. This is the price you pay for extremely cute food.
Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan, and add the spices. Fry for a bit until you can smell the spices, then add the onion and garlic. Keep sautéing over a medium heat while you peel and chop your veggies, adding them as you go and giving them a good stir from time to time. Once you have added the apples, give them another good stir, and then add the split peas along with 500 ml of water. Bring to the boil, cover and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the split peas are al dente but edible.
Pull your pumpkins out of the oven, add a bit more water to the tray, and then stuff the pumpkins with the stew mixture. You will not fit all the stew into the pumpkins, and that is OK. Pour a bit of the extra liquid from the stew over each of the stuffed pumpkins and sprinkle with a little salt. Perch the lids on top, and put the pumpkins back in the oven.
Bake for another 45 minutes or so, until the pumpkins are easily pierced with a knife, and the split peas are a good texture.
While they are baking, make the tzatziki. Peel the cucumber and grate it into a sieve. Sprinkle with salt, and leave for ten minutes to drain. Rinse with cold water, squeeze well, and then add to the yoghurt with a little oil, salt and pepper. Wash and finely chop your mint leaves and stir into the yoghurt. Refrigerate until you are ready to eat.
Go out to the garden and pick some tomatoes, parsley, basil and tiny capsicums to make a mini salad, if you are lucky enough to be able to do so!
Serve the pumpkins with a good dollop or three of tzatziki on the side. Some roast potatoes and a tomato salad would round things out nicely.
This recipe is vegan right up until the point when you serve it with tzatziki. Since I feel it really needs some sort of cool, wet, creamy sauce to counteract the slightly dry texture of the pumpkin, I suggest that vegans find a suitable vegan variation on this sauce – I’m sorry that I have nothing to suggest, but it seems wrong to get so close to a perfect vegan meal and then fail for a want of tzatziki. Hopefully someone, somewhere has created a plain soy yoghurt by now (I’m still having trouble finding any that aren’t sweetened in some way).
This recipe is also low-GI, gluten-free, and nut-free. It’s full of fructans and fructose, so the fructose intolerant need not apply – if we took out all the dodgy ingredients, there would be nothing left except the rhubarb, I think.
In terms of variations, the coconut oil could be replaced with butter, ghee or sunflower oil at the start. You could also play around with the spices – I feel a garam masala might be a nice option here, but add some chilli, too, so that it isn’t all sweet. I’m not sure about other options. I imagine you could replace the split peas with lentils quite happily, or even with chickpeas, and I think that if you were worried about cooking times, you could easily used the tinned variety. Probably about one 400g tin’s worth would be ample – you might use half to two thirds of a tin, in fact, and you’d add this right before you put the stew in the pumpkins.
You could probably use this to stuff other vegetables. Onions would be great, actually, and this stew would be a great topping for a baked potato, I suspect. As always, play around and enjoy!