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Recipes

Vegetarian Biryani (Indian Rice) Stuffed Winter Squash

Please enjoy our spin on this Indian-inspired vegetarian biryani rice stuffed winter squash recipe. It is hearty, healthy, and bursting with savory flavors – with just a hint of sweetness. A perfect soul-warming meal. The recipe is also quite flexible, allowing you to easily swap out seasonal veggies, use a variety of winter squash types, add your favorite nuts or dried fruit of choice, or make it fully vegan if you wish!



What is biryani? 


Biryani is a flavorful and aromatic traditional Indian rice dish. The term biryani has Persian roots, stemming from the words “birinj” (which means rice) plus “biryan” (to fry) or “beriyan” (to roast). The foundation of the dish is basmati rice seasoned with things like garlic, ginger, onion, cinnamon, fresh herbs, and other spices.

In addition to vegetables, many classic biryani recipes also include meat and/or eggs. It is commonly dolled up with a variety of optional fixings, such as dried fruit, nuts, and yogurt. Biryani is often spicy, but not always! This vegetarian biryani stuffed squash recipe is mild in heat. And while some aspects of our tribute to this dish certainly aren’t traditional, we always love an opportunity to use our homegrown turmeric, bay leaves, garlic, cilantro, onion and more.

A common question folks ponder is: “what do you eat biryani with?” As you can imagine, a bowl of seasoned rice alone may leave you wanting a little more variety, texture or substance, no matter how delicious it is. That is one reason biryani is often served with meat. So, this biryani stuffed squash recipe is a great option for us vegetarians! Roasted winter squash perfectly compliments the biryani rice, providing a boost of additional nutrients, flavor, fiber, and satisfaction. 

See this article from Global Voices to read more about the history of biryani.



Biryani stuffed squash after it has been garnished with cilantro. Dried fruit, nuts, chickpeas, carrots, cauliflower, and kale are all visible mixed with the rice.


INGREDIENTS


Listed below are ingredients to make enough vegetable biryani rice to stuff about 2 medium winter squash (four halves), perhaps a tad more. However, we often double the recipe so we have plenty of leftover biryani rice to enjoy for a few days to come! (In fact, the photos shown in this article are of a double-batch). I should also note that inspiration for the rice portion of this dish came from our Thug Kitchen vegan cookbook, with a few tweaks, substitutions, and additions.

First, grab your favorite hard squash of choice. We used Acorn squash for this particular batch of biryani stuffed winter squash. Delicata squash, kabocha squash, or even sugar pie pumpkins would also be divine! Any squash with a good size bowl once it is halved and gutted. That said, something like butternut squash may have too small a cavity and result in a less ideal stuffing-to-flesh ratio.


Sautéed veggie mix:

  • 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • ½ medium to large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 whole carrots (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • Cauliflower (cut into smaller than bite-size pieces, 1 cup after prepping) 
  • 4 to 5 to large kale leaves or a small bunch, de-stemmed and chopped (about 1/2 to 2/3 packed cup after prepping.) We also tossed in a few mustard greens from the garden, just for fun.
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (this is flexible, go ahead and use a full 16 oz can if you wish!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp garam masala (don’t skip this!)
  • 1 heaping tsp fresh grated ginger
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (but go lighter on the salt if you use full-sodium vegetable broth below) 


For the rice:

  • 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 1 cup basmati rice. We personally prefer the added nutritional value of brown basmati rice over white. 
  • 2 cup vegetable broth (low-sodium or full sodium, your choice)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp fresh grated ginger
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 1 cinnamon stick (sub with ½ tsp ground cinnamon)
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder (sub with ½ Tbsp fresh grated turmeric if you happen to have some) 
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • Optional: ½ tsp chili powder, if you prefer your biryani with some heat (we skip this)


Other fixings, added later:

  • ¼ cup dried cranberries (sub with golden raisins or dried cherries)
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped nuts such as cashews, almonds or walnuts (sub with shelled pumpkin seeds if you have a nut allergy). 
  • 4 to 8 ounces of crumbled feta cheese (not traditional to biryani, but delicious!)  
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped as a topping at the time of serving
  • Plain yogurt, also for topping at the time of serving


What can I use if I don’t have garam masala?

If possible, buy some of the real deal! Garam masala is combination of whole spices that have been roasted and then ground, and is absolutely divine. In a pinch, you can combine 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1.5 teaspoons each of ground coriander, cardamom, and black pepper, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp of cloves and nutmeg each (according to All Recipes).


Ingredients to make biryani stuffed squash are laid out on a wood pallet back drop. There are two white ceramic bowls, one filled with rice, the other filled with chickpeas. A ramekin of dried almonds and cranberries sit in between the two. There are Acorn squash arranged around the bowls along with onion, cauliflower, ginger, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, carrots, garlic, kale, mustard greens, garam masala powder, and turmeric powder.


INSTRUCTIONS


1) Prep & Cook Veggies


This is a one-pot meal. Meaning we’re going to cook the veggies in a pot, take them out, set them aside, and then use that same pot to cook the rice. So choose a large saucepan or small stockpot that you can use for both! 

Heat the pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil or butter to the bottom of the pot along with the diced onion. Allow the onion to cook until it becomes translucent and soft. Next, add the chopped carrots and cauliflower with a dash of salt and pepper. Cook these for about 7-10 minutes (stirring occasionally) until the carrots and cauliflower become slightly tender when poked with a fork, but not overly soft. They’ll continue to cook a bit in the oven once they’re stuffed in the squash. 

Now, add in the called-for grated ginger, minced garlic, garam masala, chopped kale, and cooked chickpeas. Stir and cook for another few minutes, until the kale wilts nicely. After this, remove the cooked veggies and place them in a separate bowl… but don’t wash or rinse the pan! Those leftover (or even slightly stuck) bits and seasonings will enhance the flavor of the rice.


A stainless steel 1 cup measurement with chopped cauliflower florets residing in the cup is held over a sauce pan of sautéing  onions.
Keeping your cauliflower pieces fairly small will help them more cohesively mix with the stuffing than larger florets.
The vegetable portion of the biryani dish sit in a white ceramic bowl. Chickpeas, cauliflower florets, carrots, kale, and bits of garlic make up the visual portion of the mixture.


2) Cook the Rice


Into the same (hot) pot, add a bit more oil or butter to the bottom and then toss in the raw rice. Yes, raw! We’re going to give the dry rice a quick pan-fry before adding the liquid. Along with the rice, add the called-for minced garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric powder, cinnamon and bay leaves. Stir well and cook over a medium-high heat for just a minute or two. It’s okay if the seasonings begin to stick to the bottom of the pot too! They’ll be deglazed when the broth goes in. 

After everything in the pot has gotten happy together, go ahead and pour in the veggie broth. Bring everything to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook the rice to completion. (Follow the instructions on your package of rice for cooking time).

Note: This is the time we prep and roast our squash. The squash usually takes about 35 to 45 minutes to roast in the oven, which is about how long brown rice takes to cook. Then they’re finished at about the same time. However, if you’re using a white rice for this biryani stuffed squash recipe, you *could* prep and start roasting your squash before tackling the rice (since white rice cooks faster). Really, it’s not a big deal if they’re not done at the exact same time… they’ll go into the oven together once everyone is good and ready!


Raw rice sits on the bottom of a sauce pan with garam masala powder, turmeric powder, chopped garlic, grated ginger, bay leaves, and a cinnamon stick, all sitting atop it the rice before they are cooked together.
Backyard bay leaves, homegrown turmeric powder, garlic, and more! Interested in growing your own turmeric? Learn how here.


3) Roast Squash


While rice is cooking, prep and roast the acorn squash (or other hard winter squash of choice). Preheat your oven to 400°F. Start by carefully cutting the winter squash (or two) in half, and then scoop out the guts and seeds. If the seeds look nice and meaty, consider saving them to try our soaked and roasted pumpkin seed recipe! Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on the flesh side of each squash half.

Now, you can either roast the squash face-down or flesh side up. The main difference is that face-down, the squash will trap steam inside itself, and therefore usually cook a little faster while also retaining more moisture. In contrast, keeping the squash with its flesh facing upward allows it to lightly brown and caramelize nicely. If you do the latter, add a small drizzle of olive oil or pad of butter across the squash surface. You can also pour a small amount of water (about a quarter inch) to the bottom of your roasting pan to add moisture and steam to the oven and help cook the squash. We used our favorite large Lodge cast iron skillet, though you could use any deep dish for roasting.

Roast the squash until it is tender when you poke it with a fork. This should take about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type, size and thickness of your squash, as well as if you chose to roast it face up or face down. The squash will continue to cook slightly after you stuff it and return it to the oven, so don’t overcook it here! It should be just about done and suitable to eat here, but not mushy.


Four halves of prepared Acorn squash sit in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. The flesh of the squash has been drizzled with oil as well as being sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Four halves of roasted Acorn squash sit in the bottom of a cast iron skillet. The flesh of the squash as turned slightly brown as it caramelized during the roasting.


4) Mix the Biryani and Stuff the Squash


Once the rice has finished cooking, combine the rice with the reserved veggies. Do this in the same cooking pot if it is large enough, or in a separate mixing bowl if needed. Don’t forget to fish out the cinnamon stick and bay leaves! Then add the called-for dried fruit, nuts, and optional feta cheese. Ta da! There is your finished vegetarian biryani rice. 

Now, it’s stuffing time. Spoon the biryani rice into the cavity bowl of each roasted squash. We generously pack it in there. Return the now-stuffed squash to the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes, until everything is fully cooked and hot.

Serve and enjoy! I highly recommend serving your finished biryani stuffed squash with a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro and dollop of plain yogurt. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container and use within 5 days. 


A white ceramic bowl full of vegetable biryani rice. Carrots, cauliflower, chickpeas, and chopped kale are visible amongst the melange of golden rice. Soon the rice will be added to roasted winter squash to make biryani stuffed squash.
A white ceramic bowl is full of biryani rice with dried cranberries, chopped almonds, and feta cheese each piled on top of the rice, taking up 1/3rd each of the rice mound.
Four halves of biryani stuffed squash sitting in a cast iron pan after it has be baked in the oven. Each squash half is garnished with cilantro, while the dried fruit, nuts, and garbanzo beans are visible amongst the rice stuffing.


Put a fork in me, I’m done.


Well, I certainly won’t pretend we are experts on Indian food, but I do hope you enjoy our effort to make and share this vegetarian biryani stuffed squash recipe! With a little Greek flair, it seems… If you give it a try, please come back to leave a review – and maybe try something else from our ‘favorites’ menu below. Thank you for tuning in!


Don’t miss these delicious vegetarian recipes:



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4.57 from 16 votes

Vegetarian Biryani Stuffed Winter Squash

Please enjoy our spin on this Indian-inspired vegetarian biryani stuffed winter squash recipe. It is hearty, healthy, and bursting with savory flavors – with the perfect hint of sweetness. It's also easy to customize, or make fully vegan!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: biryani stuffed squash, rice stuffed winter squash, stuffed acorn squash, vegetarian biryani
Servings: 4 stuffed squash halves

Equipment

  • Saucepan or small stock pot
  • Roasting pan

Ingredients

  • 2 hard winter squash of choice (with a good size "bowl") such as Acorn squash, Delicata, Kabocha, or sugar pie pumpkins

Cooked Vegetables

  • 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 1/2 medium to large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 whole carrots (about 1/2 cup chopped)
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, cut into smaller than bite-size pieces
  • 4-5 leaves large kale leaves (or a small bunch) de-stemmed and chopped. About 1/2 to 2/3 packed cup after prepping.
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas (up to a full 15-16 ounce can)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger (heaping)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Rice

  • 1 cup basmati rice (brown or white)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (regular or low sodium – salt the veggies less if using full-sodium)
  • 1 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder (1/2 Tbsp if using fresh grated turmeric)
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick (sub with 1/2 tsp powder)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder, if you prefer your biryani with some heat (optional, we skip this)

Extra fixings

  • 1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, cherries or golden raisins)
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped nuts (cashews, almonds or walnuts – sub with pumpkin seeds for those with tree nut allergies)
  • 4-5 ounces crumbled feta cheese (not traditional to biryani, but delicious!)  
  • chopped fresh cilantro, to sprinkle on top at the time of serving
  • plain yogurt, add a dollop at the time of serving

Instructions

Cook Veggies

  • Heat a large saucepan or small stock pot over medium high heat. Add butter or oil long with diced onion, and cook until translucent and softened.
  • Next, add the chopped carrots and cauliflower with a dash of salt and pepper. Cook these for about 7-10 minutes (stirring occasionally) until the carrots and cauliflower become slightly tender when poked with a fork, but not overly soft.
  • Now, add in the called-for grated ginger, minced garlic, garam masala, chopped kale, and cooked chickpeas. Stir and cook for another few minutes, until the kale wilts nicely.
  • Remove the cooked veggies and place them in a separate bowl, but don’t wash or rinse the pan.

Cook Rice

  • Into the same (hot) pot, add a bit more oil or butter to the bottom and then toss in the raw dry rice along with the called-for minced garlic, ginger, garam masala, turmeric powder, cinnamon and bay leaves.
  • Stir well and cook over a medium-high heat for just a minute or two, and then add the vegetable broth.
  • Bring everything to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook the rice to completion. (Follow the instructions on your package of rice for cooking time).

Roast Squash (while rice is cooking)

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F
  • While rice is cooking, prep and roast the acorn squash (or other hard winter squash of choice). Start by carefully cutting the winter squash (or two) in half, and then scoop out the guts and seeds.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on the flesh side of each squash half.
  • Add the squash halves to a roasting pan.
  • You can roast them face-down for a quicker cooking time and more moisture, or flesh-side up for a nice caramelization. If you do the latter, add a small drizzle of olive oil or pad of butter across the squash surface. You can also pour a small amount of water (about a quarter inch) to the bottom of your roasting pan to add moisture and steam to the oven and help cook the squash.
  • Roast the squash until it is tender when you poke it with a fork (30 to 45 minutes, depending on the type, size and thickness of your squash.) Do not overcook. It should be just about done and suitable to eat here, but not mushy.

Mix, Stuff & Finish Roasting

  • Once the rice has finished cooking, combine the rice with the reserved veggies. Then add the called-for dried fruit, nuts, and optional feta cheese.
  • Spoon the biryani rice into the cavity/bowl of each roasted squash (generously pack them).
  • Return the now-stuffed squash to the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes, until everything is fully cooked and hot.

Serve and Enjoy! 

  • I highly recommend serving your finished biryani stuffed squash with a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro and dollop of plain yogurt.
  • Store any leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container and use within 5 days.


DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

9 Comments

  • England

    5 stars
    This recipe was amazingly easy to follow and the dish turned out delicious! I’ve been searching for a creative new way to use up some acorn squash and I’m convinced this was the best dish and recipe out there! I followed pretty thoroughly and added a few extra spices for taste. I topped it with feta, roasted squash seeds, and yogurt dressing from a local Indian restaurant (and fresh garlic naan from them too!). We paired it with a salad of fresh greens with apple slices, toasted sunflower seeds, cranberry goat cheese, and sunshine dressing. The meal was so hearty and delicious and this makes perfect easy leftovers!
    I absolutely love how Deanna lays out and organizes her recipes making them so approachable and easy to follow! Thanks for another great meal 🙂

  • Dawn Mann

    4 stars
    Made this last night, following the recipe exactly. I opted to add the 1/2 teas chili powder. Overall, it’s a very satisfying dish but I did find it under spiced. Next time, I plan to boost the amount of all the spices, with the exception of the turmeric. Thanks for creating this dish! BTW, Thug Kitchen has re-branded themselves: Bad Manners. Love their recipes, too.

  • Lacey

    5 stars
    Yummy! Thanks for the tasty recipe. We’ve been on a plant-based journey for a year now and always looking to add variety that’s hearty — bonus that we have a bunch left over for lunches and only made a single batch!
    I probably added too many veggies, because the seasonings didn’t “pop” as I expected them to, but overall really good! My husband and 18 month old loved it (a testimony that it truly was mild in heat). Well done.
    I subbed spinach because my kale has finally succumbed to the elements, and served over sweet potatoes and butternut squash. We didn’t care about not properly “stuffing” the squash.

  • Mackenzie

    5 stars
    My partner and I made this last night for dinner and it was fantastic! The squash roasted perfected, the rice and veggies were flavorful and Deanna really nailed the suggestion for something creamy as a topping! We didn’t have dried fruit, but added in some pomegranate seeds. No dairy but used cashew ricotta for feta and coconut cream on top. What a fantastic dish! Thanks Deanna for generously sharing your creations with us!

  • Missy Masterjohn

    5 stars
    This is a great vegetarian recipe that was delicious, flavorful, and hearty. It was a good use for the winter squash I had in storage and not difficult to make. And I would definitely take her advice and add the feta and yogurt, unless you want it to be vegan. Happy to have come across this fun new recipe.

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Missy – We’re so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for the awesome feedback, and taking the time to come leave a review!

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