I look forward to Fall every year because the cooler temperatures and changing colors are a welcome reprieve to the dog days of summer down South. I also get a chance to enjoy some of my favorite dishes during this time of the year because our grocery stores are stocked with many different types of Fall veggies like acorn squash.
This Acorn Squash and Dirty Rice was an unplanned browsing meal. I usually head to the store with a grocery list and week’s worth of meals in mind. For this dish I stopped in at my local Aldi to pick up produce and a few odds and ends, but didn’t plan to buy a box of their Earthly Grains, Dirty Rice. The bright packaging caught my eye and although I picked it up, I set the box back down on the shelf and walked away. I’m so glad that I eventually went back for the box of Dirty Rice mix that day.
In the past I’ve tried name brands of Dirty Rice and none of them have ever had the exact combination of spices that appealed to me. Aldi’s brand definitely changed my mind. It definitely packs a punch with the spice, but I don’t like anything overly spicy and I could handle the heat.
I often roast acorn squash with oil and during the last five minutes of roasting time I remove them from the oven and spread butter across the surface and a sprinkling of brown sugar and then put them back in the oven to caramelize. Since sweet and salty are two of my favorite flavor combinations I knew that I wanted to use the sweet acorn squash as a vessel for my jazzed up Dirty Rice.
I added fresh vegetables to the boxed rice and browned a 1/2 pound of ground beef, but if you want to make this a vegetarian meal leave the meat out or for added protein, substitute red beans or an alternative meat product. I may try this in the future with diced chicken since many dirty rice recipes use chicken gizzards. I’m not into eating organ meat, but a diced and browned chicken breast I can do.
I happened to have a bag of the tri-color mini bell peppers so I was able to use one of each color to add a little brightness to this dish, but if you prefer just buy one bell pepper that’s your favorite color.
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Note – I served two rounds per adult.
For roasting the acorn squash:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (or 2 pans if needed). Cut the squash into round pieces about 3/4 – 1 inch thick and scoop out the seeds and extra pulp.
Place the rounds on the prepped baking sheet and brush both sides of the acorn squash with oil. Bake for 25 minutes and remove from the oven and brush with a little butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Place the squash back into the oven for 5 more minutes. Note you can add butter and sugar to both sides if preferred, but I just make the layer thick on the top so that I don’t need extra cooking time.
For the Dirty Rice:
As the squash roast, cut up the bell pepper. If you don’t use one of each of the baby bells, then cut up about 1/2 cup of any color of bell pepper that you have. Dice the bell pepper, onion and celery into 1/4 inch dice.
In a large pot brown the ground beef along with the parsley flakes and the bell pepper and onion. Once the meat is cooked remove any excess grease if you didn’t use a lean cut and then add the rice and water. Stir everything together and cook the mixture for 20 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cook time I add in the celery because I prefer it to be a little firm still. If you prefer the texture to be softer, include it in with the other vegetables when the meat is browned. Note – my rice needed to cook for 25 minutes total. Follow the directions on your box of rice.
Note – if using red beans saute the vegetables in 2 tsps. of oil until tender (about 5 minutes) and then drain and rinse the canned red beans and add them to the pot along with the water and rice and follow the cooking time on the box of rice.
Once the acorn squash is roasted and the dirty rice is prepared place a squash round on a plate and fill the center with a heaping scoop of the dirty rice. I garnished with parsley flakes and pomegranate seeds, but next time I would use dried cranberries for a little something different. Use or lose this garnish suggestion.
I had leftover Dirty Rice which was an excellent filling the next day for quesadillas. You may want to buy extra squash to fill if your acorn squash are small. This would also work well with butternut squash or even zucchini if you can’t find acorn squash locally.