This Quinoa Stuffed Pumpkin with Venison, Cherries & Squash will be a show stopping recipe on your holiday table this Thanksgiving.
This stuffed pumpkin recipe was inspired by a recipe I saw in the Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking cookbook – Hidatsa Stuffed Sugar Pumpkin.
I loved the idea of stuffed pumpkin with meat, rice, and vegetables.
However, instead of wild rice, I decided to use quinoa. (My kids aren’t crazy about wild rice for some reason.)
Then I decided to go all out and make this a baked stuffed pumpkin recipe with a mixture of ground venison, dried cherries, and butternut squash.
The result is a sweet and savory stuffed pumpkin recipe that’s impressive to look at but surprisingly simple to make.
Even better, not only is it one pot cooking, but you can eat the pot it's cooked in!
How to cook stuffed pumpkin
What type of pumpkin should I use? Do not use a regular pumpkin. You know, the kind you use for Halloween carving and decorating. They’re too stringy and rather tasteless.
Instead, look for sugar or pie pumpkins, which are sweeter and more meaty. They’re usually smaller and can be found next to the squash.
There are many types of sugar or pie pumpkins. They go by the names Baby Pam, Autumn Gold, Ghost Rider (no, it doesn’t look like Nicolas Cage), and New England Pie Pumpkin. There’s also a white pie pumpkin called Lumina.
There are also Fairy Tale and Cinderella pumpkins, which have thick skins, but delicious flesh for eating. There’s also the Blue Hokkaido squash, which is actually a type of pumpkin!
If you’re wondering what each variety looks like, check out online seed catalogs for the best pictures.
Do I have to use venison? For this meat stuffed pumpkin recipe, you can use ground lean beef, ground turkey, or ground buffalo instead of ground venison.
Make it vegetarian or vegan: It’s easy to adapt this into a vegetarian or vegan stuffed pumpkin. Just leave out the ground venison and double the quinoa, squash, and cherries. Or you can use veggie crumbles instead of the venison.
Also, make sure to prepare the quinoa with vegetable broth or salted water and not chicken broth. (Some people forget, you know?)
No cherries? If you can’t find dried unsweetened cherries, use dried cranberries, chopped dates or dried plums (prunes).
Don’t like quinoa? Instead of quinoa, you can substitute farro, brown rice, whole wheat tabbouleh, or wild rice. However, note that farro and tabbouleh aren’t gluten free.
Also, some folks don’t like quinoa because they think it’s bitter. That’s because you must rinse it before cooking.
Rinsing removes quinoa’s saponin coating, which is what gives it that bitter taste. Give it a try! You’ll notice a big difference.
Also, cook your quinoa in vegetable broth. That gives it a nicer flavor, too.
Not enough room? If there’s too much quinoa and meat stuffing, any extra can be put into a casserole dish and baked alongside your pumpkin. Cover with foil and add some water or vegetable broth to keep the pumpkin stuffing extra moist.
Leftover pumpkin: You may find that you have a lot of pumpkin (not stuffing) left over, especially if your kids gobble up the venison and quinoa, and won’t touch the pumpkin, like mine tend to do.
If that’s the case, peel off the skin, and cut pumpkin up into chunks. Then serve the reheated pumpkin with a little bit of grated Parmesan cheese. Or you can add the pumpkin chunks to soups, chili, and stews.
Stuffed pumpkin packs a nutritional wallop
Not only is this baked stuffed pumpkin delicious, it’s also good for you!
Cherries – According to the Cherry Marketing Institute, compared to other fruits, tart cherries have among the highest levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, and contain 19 times more beta carotene than blueberries or strawberries.
There’s also some evidence that links cherries to many important health benefits from helping to ease the pain of arthritis and gout, to reducing risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
Butternut Squash – Butternut squash is a terrific source of powerful antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. It’s terrific to use in other Thanksgiving side dishes like Jasmine Rice Stuffing with Butternut Squash, Dates & Cranberries.
I use canned pumpkin because it’s convenient. But it’s easy to learn how to cook pumpkin, too!
More pumpkin recipes for Thanksgiving
● Pumpkin Cranberry Cookies With Spice Frosting
Quinoa Stuffed Pumpkin with Venison, Cherries & Squash
- 1 medium to large sugar pumpkin (also called a pie pumpkin) 4-5 pounds
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 1 pound ground venison
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1/2 cup dried unsweetened cherries
- 2 cups butternut squash, cubed
- Prepare quinoa per package instructions. Usually 1 cup of dried quinoa equals three to four cups of cooked quinoa.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut the top off the pumpkin and remove strings and seeds. Put top aside. Reserve the pumpkin seeds for another use.
- Prick the cavity with a fork and rub with 1 teaspoon salt.
- Rub the outside of the pumpkin with the oil.
- Place the pumpkin on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
- Add ground venison, chopped onion, minced garlic and ground cumin to a heated sauté pan. Cook until venison is browned.
- Turn off heat and add cooked quinoa, cherries and butter nut squash. Stir until evenly mixed.
- Stuff pumpkin with the venison and quinoa mixture and cover with the lid to keep it moist.
- Place 1/2″ water in the bottom of the rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven. (As it cooks, add more water to the pan as necessary to avoid sticking.)
- Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the pumpkin skin starts to “bubble” and is tender. Do not over cook as the pumpkin will collapse.
- To serve, cut pumpkin into wedges, giving each person a slice of pumpkin and the venison and quinoa stuffing. Or you can scoop the sides of the pumpkin while scooping out the venison and quinoa mixture. Make sure to mix in the pumpkin before serving.
- Serving size: 1/8 of recipe
Originally published on November 10, 2010 and October 25, 2017. Updated with new pictures and information.