It’s celebration season, and there are plenty of glorious roast meats to go around. But if you’re vegan or vegetarian, the entrees can often feel like an afterthought. Nisha Vora—recipe developer, cookbook author and the voice behind Rainbow Plantlife—is here to change that. Her recipe for creamy lentil butternut squash is a satisfying, plant-based main for any winter dinner.
“When it comes to the holidays,” she writes, “I always appreciate a hearty and meaty main dish that is meat-free (obviously). It’s a great way to show your family and friends that vegan recipes can be incredibly satisfying and don’t require your tastebuds to sacrifice anything.”
With this umami-packed lentil filling and creamy sauce, you won’t have any trouble convincing your guests.
3 medium butternut squash
Olive oil, for roasting
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Creamy Lentil Filling
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 large yellow onions, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
⅓ cup dry red wine (such as pinot noir, syrah or malbec)
1 cup green or brown lentils
2⅔ cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
2½ tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons white miso paste
2 to 3 teaspoons high quality balsamic vinegar
1 cup roasted butternut squash (from the scooped-out halves)
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 to 6 tablespoons water or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Chopped Italian parsley, to garnish
1. Roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Slice each butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Place each squash half cut-side-up on a large baking sheet and rub each with a bit of olive oil; season well with salt and pepper. Roast until the flesh is fork tender and lightly browned, 45 to 50 minutes.
2. Make the creamy lentil filling: Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and season with a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, 8 to 9 minutes or until most of the onions are browned. Add the garlic, sage and rosemary and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine; cook for about 3 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to medium and pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, stirring up any browned bits. Cook until the liquid has evaporated and the smell of alcohol has dissipated, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the vegetable broth, along with the lentils, bay leaf and paprika. Stir to combine and increase the heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to maintain a rapid simmer; simmer until the lentils are just tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes.
5. Reduce the heat to low. Add the tahini, miso and balsamic vinegar, and stir until incorporated. Taste for seasoning, adding about ½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside.
6. When the roasted squash is cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scoop out the flesh from each squash half, leaving a ½ to ¾-inch-thick border around the sides and bottom.
7. Transfer 1 cup of the squash to a food processor (set aside the rest for another use, such as a risotto, pasta, oatmeal or smoothie).
8. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
9. Stuff the lentil filling into each squash half. Transfer the stuffed squash halves to the oven and bake until everything is warmed through, 12 to 15 minutes.
10. Make the Butternut-Tahini Sauce: Meanwhile, to the food processor with the 1 cup squash flesh, add the tahini, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and blend until smooth. Stream in 3 tablespoons of the water or broth, scraping down the sides as you go. Add more water or broth as needed, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a pourable but thick sauce.
11. To serve, drizzle the butternut tahini sauce on top of the stuffed baked squash. Garnish with chopped parsley.