Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. (Can you tell? It’s only mid-October and I’m already talking about it.) For us, it’s a big multi-family affair: my mother-in-law roasts a massive turkey (and always frets that “it just won’t be enough.” A few years ago, she actually made a roast beef too, just in case). My mom makes the cranberry sauce, usually a potato dish, and her famous sweet potato pecan bread. I’m in charge of pies.
I love everything about our Thanksgiving except one teeny, tiny thing: I’m definitely a more adventurous eater than anyone else in my family. I’m all for the classics, don’t get me wrong. But I wish we could spice things up a bit and try some new, non-traditional dishes. I could (gasp!) skip the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, the green beans with almonds, the same chocolate pecan pie we had last year, and the year before that.
This year I thought, why not just make all the newfangled Thanksgiving dishes I want to make before Thanksgiving? That way I get to try all the crazy veggies and desserts I want, without denying anyone the plain mashed potatoes with butter they’ve had since childhood (I’m looking at you, Dad).
First on my must-try list was acorn squash roasted with jalapeño and lime, an idea I got from the awesome cookbook Keepers. For their recipe the authors make a compound butter with the jalapeño and lime zest and then let it melt it over the roasted squash. It sounded delicious, but heavy (4 tablespoons of butter for 4 servings!). For my vegan version, I pared it down to just 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 6-8 servings, and I roast everything all together on a baking sheet.
Then, because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and because I have all these leftover cranberries in my fridge, I made a quick cranberry-walnut sauce to go over the top. The results pack a punch, from the sweet, caramelized roasted squash, the subtle heat of the jalapeño, the tart cranberries, and the crunchy walnuts. I liked it so much, I just might try to sneak it onto the Thanksgiving table.
Jalapeño Acorn Squash with Cranberry Walnut Sauce
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
For the squash:
2 medium-large acorn squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
Freshly grated zest of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve both acorn squash lengthwise (through the stem end). Cut each half lengthwise into quarters, so that you have 16 wedges. Transfer to a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, maple syrup, jalapeño, lime zest, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange cut-side down in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes. Flip and continue to roast until squash is tender and golden-brown in spots (a fork inserted in the middle of a piece should meet no resistance), about 15 to 20 minutes more.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the cranberries, sugar, and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice and walnuts.
To serve, arrange the squash wedges in a row on a serving platter and spoon the sauce down the middle.