I'm in love with this sweet and spicy slow cooker acorn squash recipe. So much flavour, beautiful colours and all done in the crockpot! Perfect side dish for any special fall holiday meal or vegetarian main.
As much as I love traditional roasted squash with brown sugar and butter with Thanksgiving dinner (I do, I really, really do), this recipe has changed my winter squash game. It's unexpected and exciting. Addictively good.
Since most of the cooking time is handled by your crockpot, this recipe is mostly hands-off. Perfect for holiday entertaining when you need something to cook without you babysitting it.
The cook time here is rather short for a slow cooker recipe (more about that below) which means, your slow cooker is actually working for you! All so often we throw stuff in our slow cooker and cross our fingers the veggies will not be completely limp, grey and bland by the time dinner rolls around. This is not that time. Tuck this recipe away for the holidays. Trust me.
More plant-based holiday recipes:
🌱 Why this acorn squash recipe works
There is nothing particularly exotic in this crock-pot acorn squash recipe, but it has a rather exotic flavour. These are simple ingredients. Cinnamon. Coriander. Tomato Sauce. Yogurt. Garlic. These simple ingredients create a unique and well-balanced dish.
Acorn squash is already sweet on its own. The combination of heat from the red chilli flakes, sweet warm spices and tangy tomato sauce come together to make this dish really sing.
A garlicky yogurt sauce adds yet another layer of flavour and texture. Creamy, but kinda hot from raw garlic, the yogurt tames the spice in the tomato sauce. The garlic compliments the sweetness of the squash.
The squash is simmered in the slow cooker in the spiced tomato sauce. That unassuming can of tomato sauce is mixed with toasted spices and sweetened with a bit of sugar. Sugar is necessary to balance the tang of the tomatoes and help the sauce thicken and actually stick to the squash as it simmers in the crockpot for a couple of hours.
As a side dish on a holiday table, this dish adds new flavours. On a Wednesday night, it's a simple vegetarian meal, just serve with some whole grains or warm pita and a light fresh salad.
Tips for successfully cooking vegetables in a slow cooker
I've adapted this recipe slightly from the Williams-Sonoma "Quick Slow Cooking" cookbook. I made a few adjustments to the recipe - reducing the oil and swapping in coconut-based yogurt to make the recipe vegan.
There a couple of tricks for slow cooking vegetables the help make this recipe work:
Brown the vegetables first.
Take a page out of most meat-based slow cooker recipes where cuts of meat are browned or seared before adding to the slow cooker. This builds flavour, caramelizes the proteins. The same technique works with vegetables, particularly sweet vegetables like acorn squash.
In this recipe, browning pieces of the acorn squash in a hot pan before adding it to the slow cooker, caramelizes it, deepening the flavours and adding richness to the overall dish.
Slow cook for less time than you are used to
Often slow cooker recipes call for a long and slow cook time of 8 hours or more on low heat. This works for certain types of dishes, but in many cases, especially vegetable-forward meals, it can leave everything tasteless and limp.
Vegetables fall apart, get mushy, with all the flavour cooked right out of them.
In this recipe -- the cook time is short. 2 hours on HIGH. That's it!
Make a fresh sauce
Add a fresh and full flavour sauce for serving this dish. The yogurt sauce is a must and great trick to dressing up slow-cooker vegetables. The garlic-yogurt and herb sauce is fresh and bright. Pulling all the flavours together and adding another dimension to the dish.
How to serve spicy acorn squash
Our traditional Thanksgiving table always has a sweet orange vegetable. Try this one next time! It would be lovely, adding so much flavour and interest to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The spices and sweetness will pair well with all the usual holiday dishes, but the chilis and tang will be a surprise.
On a weeknight, I like this served over rice. Scoop the extra sauce on the bottom of the slowcooker over your rice. It's yummy and satisfying. Also good, is a warm piece of Naan to scoop the sweet squash and sauce.
The yogurt garlic sauce is a must. Don't skip it. Plain coconut yogurt is a perfect base, keeps the recipe vegan and dairy-free.
You game plan for holiday prep:
Prep the squash the night before. Wash, remove the seeds and slice in wedges. Then throw the slices in a large plastic bag overnight.
Measure out the spices ahead of time, including grating the ginger.
3-4 hours before serving, heat the skillet and warm the oil. Then add the squash, browning the cut sides, about 5 minutes. Do this in batches to avoid crowding the pan.
Set squash aside. Quickly toast the ginger and spices in the remaining oil. Then add the tomato sauce, stock and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add to the slow cooker insert and layer squash in the sauce. Cook on HIGH heat for 2 hours (or low for 4 hours). If your slow cooker switches to a keep warm setting, it will be fine for an hour or so and will keep for you until dinner is ready.
For busy weeknights:
I like to brown the squash and make the sauce in the morning or night before and get everything set in the slow cooker insert and keep refrigerated until cooking time. Mid-afternoon, take the insert out of the fridge and start the cooking.
Sweet + Spicy Slow Cooker Acorn Squash
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2.5 lb acorn squash about 2 medium, cut in half and remove the seeds, then slice each half into 1-1/2 inch pieces
- 1 inch ginger grated
- 1 tsp coriander ground
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon ground
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 213 ml tomato sauce one small 7 oz (213ml) can
- 1 cup vegetable stock or water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- pepper, to taste
- 1 cup plain coconut milk yogurt (or use dairy based yogurt for a non-vegan option)
- 1 tsp lime juice juice from about half a lime
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp minced fresh herbs mint, parsley, cilantro
- In a non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Working in 2 or 3 batches as necessary saute squash, browning cut edges. 5-7 minutes per side. Set browned squash aside on a plate.
- In the same skillet, with remaining oil left in the pan, add grated ginger and spices. Saute quickly, about 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce, vegeable stock (or water), and sugar and bring to boil. Scrapping bottom of pan to remove any browned bits the squash left behind and to incorporate the spices. Boil for 1 minute, then transfer to the slowcooker insert.
- Layer squash on top of the sauce in the slowcooker insert and set slowcooker to cook on HIGH heat for 2 hours, or LOW heat for 4 hours. Squash should be very tender when done and sauce will be thick.
- Make yogurt sauce: Mix coconut yogurt with lime juice, garlic, herbs and salt. Cover and set aside in refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Serve squash with remaining spicy tomato sauce and yogurt sauce on side.