When trying to figure out what to do with winter squash, which is native to the Americas, I think it wise to turn to the Native American peoples for help. After all, squash has been an integral part of their diet for centuries. Surely they would know how to make it delicious. But where are these natives? That was the question I found myself asking on Thanksgiving. Where the hell are they?
I attempted to summon some squash inspiration from my distant and long-dead Mi’kmaq relatives, but frankly they’re a little pissed off that I’ve spent so much time writing up the recipes from the Italian side of my family and now the Appalachian side. Once again, it would appear, the natives get shafted. What do you want, relatives? You didn’t document your recipes. Oral storytelling will only get you so far.
A better bet, I found, was looking south of the border. My mom’s man friend is Peruvian and has some tricks up his sleeve when it comes to squash. Tricks I teased you with last winter and then failed to ever follow up on. But I’ve had this dish again and again since then, and I’m smitten despite the godawful looks of it. Stews are hard to gussy up, especially when you barely even try. I ate this four dinners in a row, though, and since we all know how I feel about squash, I think that speaks volumes.
Peruvian Beef and Squash Stew
Chopping up all this squash takes some time, but you’ll make a major dent in your squash pile, and, really, isn’t that what matters?
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbsp. paprika
2 lbs. sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch pieces (or you can use cheaper cuts like stew meat)
8 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch chunks* (from about 3 squashes, like butternut, carnival, delicata, buttercup, whatever you have)
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tomatoes, chopped
¾ lb. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large braising pot, heat olive oil until shimmering. Sauté onions, garlic, and paprika over medium heat until soft. Add meat and cook until halfway done. Add potatoes and tomatoes. Dump squash on top (no need to mix; the idea is for the squash to steam up there). Cover, lower heat, and cook 30-45 minutes until squash is soft and easily mashed. Proceed to mash it all with the back of your spoon, and then continue to cook until the squash melts into a thick sauce and the meat is tender, about 15 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and cover until melted. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
*I hate peeling raw winter squash. But I hate it less now that I know an easier way to do it. Here’s what I learned. Cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into wedges, as if you were serving cantaloupe. Take a big bite and then remember that it’s not cantaloupe. Orange does not equal cantaloupe. Take these wedges, lay them on their sides, and use a sharp knife to slice off, one section at a time, the edges with the peel. Then cut the peeled squash into your 1-inch pieces. Now repeat for all 415 wedges. Do you hate me now?