I have to admit I’m a bit guilty of using my slow cooker to cook meat and meat only, especially now my fodmap friendly diet is so carnivorous. So I was delighted to see that this month’s Slow Cooker Challenge was to go veggie to give me the excuse to branch out a bit.
One of my favourite dishes to cook for Slow Cooked was a whole stuffed pumpkin which I filled with sausage and cannellini beans for a Bonfire Night meal and I’ve been wanting to revisit it.
Luckily I had stockpiled a few medium sized orange pumpkins from Halloween to play around with, but if you can’t find them now, Lidl are going a dinger on the seasonal squashes at the moment instead. I wanted to go a bit Middle Eastern since I recently got a bag of freekeh and I am not afraid to use it.
Freekeh is a green cracked wheat that’s been smoked to help release it from the husk. It is particularly associated with Palestinian cuisine and is now more easy to find here through Ocado and even Tesco. I scored my bag from Khan’s Bargains in Peckham and I’m a bit obsessed with it. The added smokiness means it packs an umami punch I often find a bit lacking for me in vegetarian food (I blame my anchovy obsession.)
I made a slow cooker lamb stew recently and chucked half a cup of dried freekeh into it to see if it would work. I love pearl barley in the slow cooker so assumed this might work well (unlike rice which turns to glue for me) and it exceeded my expectations with bells on.
This time I knew it would work perfectly in the pumpkin which works like a mini slow cooker within a slow cooker. I also wanted it to be easy like my usual slow cooker style with a minimum of prep so it went into the hollowed out pumpkin as it was along with some feta, green olives and cherry tomatoes and some water and it was good to go.
I added a sprinkle of sumac to serve since I was going Middle Eastern. This is the dried powdered berry of the sumac bush and it’s got a wonderful tart, lemony flavour that’s deeply savoury. I’m using it a lot right now where I would have used pomegranate or when I’m out of lemons. It’s best added toward the end of cooking as heat destroys its nuance or it can be used raw in salads or dressings.
Freekeh and Feta Stuffed Pumpkin (serves 2)
- 1 medium pumpkin or onion squash
- 100g dried freekah (or barley)
- 75g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 50g feta, cubed
- 200ml vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon sumac (or zest of 1/2 lemon)
- 25g pumpkin seeds
Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop all the seeds and pulp and flesh out. Wash the seeds under the tap and leave to dry in some kitchen roll.
Put the dry freekeh into a bowl and add the feta and cherry tomatoes and season it all well. Add the smoked paprika and mix it all well together and tip it all into the pumpkin. Add the water or stock.
I’ve been using slow cooker liners for certain dishes after I was very kindly sent some to try. They are great for dishers where stuff gets really baked on or it’s difficult to lift stuff out to serve it. You may be better at trying to get a piping hot pumpkin out of a confined space than I am, but do give them a go.
Put the filled pumpkin in the (lined) slow cooker and put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 hours for a 600g pumpkin or 8-9 for one that weighs up to kilo.
Just before you are ready to serve the pumpkin, toast the reserved seeds for a few minutes in a dry frying pan until golden brown. Lift the pumpkin out of the slow cooker and scatter the seeds and the sumac inside it and then cut into wedges and serve.
Play around with different grains such as pearled spelt or buckwheat or try a variety of dried pulses to fill the pumpkin. There are so many ways to make squash and pumpkin interesting in the slow cooker and make a great Sunday lunch centrepiece that is meat free and hopefully avoids the goats cheese-mushroom risotto trap for vegetarians!
This is my entry in this month’s Slow Cooked Challenge hosted by Farmersgirl Cooks and BakingQueen74.