The first pumpkin seemed like a real beauty. It was brimming with its vegan virtuousness; after all it was stuffed with bulgur, prunes and apricots. It was soaked in the exotic aromas of cardamom, cinnamon and saffron, and while it cooked the whole house smelled like the Casbah. When it appeared from the oven, it continued to tempt. The roasty toasty goodness was just so right. When the top was removed, the bulgur had swelled, pushing the cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks up to the top; truly a treat. But, this pumpkin deceived. It’s texture was all wrong; stringy and what was that off taste? Its flavor was harsh, off character and overdone; the spices too over the top, the other flavors underwhelming.
I suspected that my pumpkin was not actually a sugar pumpkin at all and that was to blame for much of the off flavor, but the recipe just didn’t work either. I decided to reevaluate the need for a vegan dish at all. I don’t claim to be vegan or even vegetarian. Yes, we try to eat meatless at least once a week, but using less meat for several days straight can actually be a bigger cut in meat usage than cutting all meat from just one day a week. What I really wanted was the savory flavor that only one meat could provide: lamb.
The next day I tried again with a true sugar pumpkin. The recipe was also streamlined. I cut out all the fruits and most of the spices. This one was even prettier straight from the oven; the sugar pumpkin cooked up much nicer than the impostor pumpkin. Scents from pumpkin number two were full of the lusty scents of lamb, cinnamon, cumin, onion and garlic. The finished product is a simple meaty pumpkin with the filling goodness of bulgur and a little North African flavor. To round out the flavors and texture, I topped the finished pumpkin and pilaf with a dollop of simple yogurt sauce and toasted pine nuts. Not only is this sure to turn heads when you serve it, but it will also leave everyone satisfied and happy; even the picky ones will dig in. Enjoy!
Whole Roasted Pumpkin Stuffed with Lamb and Bulgur
If you can’t find a sugar pumpkin this size, you could use two pumpkins.
1 large (4 -5 pound) sugar or pie pumpkin (or two small)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (divided)
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
You can use greek yogurt for this if you want, but you may need to thin the sauce down with a little milk.
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted for serving
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, then the onion, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute until translucent but not yet beginning to brown.
Add the ground lamb and use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the pieces of lamb as it cooks.
When the lamb is completely cooked, add the cinnamon, paprika, cumin and tomato paste.
Stir the mixture until well combined. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Add the bulgur to the lamb mixture, remove it from the heat and set aside.
Cut the top off the pumpkin at an angle like you would a jack-o-lantern.
Cut the seeds and fibrous pulp off the top and scoop out of the center and inside of the pumpkin.
After you have the pumpkin cleaned out very well, sprinkle the insides with the tablespoon of sugar and generously with salt and pepper.
Carefully fill the pumpkin with the lamb and bulgur mixture.
Pour the chicken broth over the mixture. The pumpkin should be about 3/4 full.
Place the top of the pumpkin tightly on the top, rotating it until it fits perfectly.
Place the pumpkin on a piece of parchment or baking mat on a heavy-duty baking pan. Place in the center of the oven. You may need to remove one rack from your oven.
Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until the pumpkin is very tender. Remove from the oven and let it sit for ten minutes before cutting it open.
The skin from the pumpkin should peel right off of the flesh when you slice it. Serve slices of the skinned pumpkin with a generous dollop of yogurt sauce and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.