This is one of the two stuffings I created with the mother of the Syrian refugee family we hosted for Canadian Thanksgiving. We found that bringing the foods of two traditions together is more than the delicious dish it creates. It's a symbol of an intention for harmony and our willingness to find the parts and pieces in our own stories that make room for the parts and pieces in another.
In this recipe, the flavors of Syrian stuffed peppers come to the table in the season's favorite squash.
Read the story of our shared Thanksgiving:
In Syria, this dish typically uses multi-colored bell peppers, which are initially cored and steamed in a circular pan with a high lid to soften the pepper. Next, they're stuffed with a combination of tomatoes, meat, grains, and spices.
This Thanksgiving dish is a take on the traditional stuffed pepper and uses pumpkins rather than peppers, ground turkey instead of beef, and is flavored with typical Thanksgiving herbs: fresh rosemary, thyme, and parsley. Finished with roasted pine nuts, feta, and a sprig of thyme, this is a delicious, visually stunning addition to any Thanksgiving table.
Syrian Stuffed Pumpkins
1 cup short-grain white rice
2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
4 small pie pumpkins (3 to 4 pounds each), halved through the stem, seeds removed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
8 to 10 Brussels sprouts, coarsely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
Finely chopped leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 cups water, plus more for soaking
Finely chopped leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 8 sprigs for garnish
Juice from 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Place the rice and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl, add enough water to cover the rice, and let soak for 30 minutes to prevent breakage. Meanwhile, roast the pumpkin, toast the nuts, and start the filling.
Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Arrange the pumpkin halves flesh-side up on 2 baking sheets. Brush the flesh with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Bake until starting to be tender around the edges, about 20 minutes.
Place the nuts in a small skillet and toast over medium heat until golden-brown, shaking the pan often to avoid burning, 3 to 4 minutes; set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the turkey and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts, red pepper, and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes more. Meanwhile, drain the rice.
Stir in the rice, 3 cups water, and chopped thyme. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pan, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and tomatoes. Stir to combine and simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.
Divide the mixture evenly among the warm pumpkin shells. Bake until the pumpkin is soft when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Garnish each with the feta, roasted pine nuts, and a sprig of fresh thyme.
- Pumpkins: If the pumpkins are on the larger side, once cooled, they can be cut into quarters and plated at an angle.
- Make ahead: The pine nuts can be toasted and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. The turkey stuffing can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. When ready to stuff pumpkins, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet, add the mixture, and cook until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes, before stuffing the pumpkins.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.