Trending Now – Less Sugar and More Plant Protein

Honeynut Squash with Black Lentils, Black Rice, Hazelnuts and Pomegranate

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Food and diet resolutions reign in January. Slashing added sugars and boosting plant protein are trending now. I address both in this recipe.

If you like winter squash you’ll love honeynut squash. They look like baby butternut squash but are sweeter and roasting concentrates that sweetness. Her I fill the cavities  with a pilaf of black lentils and black rice, sautéed with onion, garlic, mushrooms and black garlic.

Eating naturally sweet foods, like roasted winter squash, sweet potatoes, fresh and dried fruits can help satisfy a sweet tooth so you’re not craving candy or another sugary treat later.

Lentils, little beans or legumes which require no soaking prior to cooking, are rich in protein with about 12 grams per one-half cup (cooked).  Combining lentils and rice give you all the amino acids or building blocks you need to make a “complete” protein comparable to animal sources. And, while some vitamins and minerals are found in both plant and animal proteins, plants uniquely offer dietary fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

We once thought you had to eat complementary plant proteins (such as beans and grains, nuts or seeds) at the same meal; we now know you should simply eat them on the same day, such as a grain at breakfast and a beans at lunch (6). This recipe handily partners lentils and rice, cooked together in one pot. To add meaty richness, the pilaf includes umami-rich mushrooms, white wine and black garlic. 

Honeynut squash is a cross between butternut and buttercup squashes, created at Cornell University in the 1980s. It’s small in size yet packed with nutrients (1,2,3). Honeynut squash is s an excellent source of vitamin A, essential for vision, cell growth and helps to build and maintain healthy organs such as the heart, kidneys and lungs (5). 

The amount of beta carotene in honeynut squash is two to three times that of butternut squash. Beta carotene is a super-hero in health promotion. .  It’s been shown to support the immune system, healthy skin and protect against age-related eye disorders (4). It is converted to vitamin A in the body (1) and works as an antioxidant to protect the body from damage done by free radicals and reactive oxygen species. That means it may tamp down inflammation and reduce the risk of some diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer

Can’t find butternut squash?  Try halved roasted delicata squash – another fantastic choice because you can eat the skin for even more dietary fiber. Or, use the scalloped beauty acorn squash.

Enjoy the delicious options for a sweet, plant-forward plate.

Roasted Honeynut Squash with Black Lentils, Black Rice, Hazelnuts and Pomegranate 

If you don’t have black garlic, add a clove or two of fresh, minced garlic along with mushrooms.  Roasted halved delicata or acorn squash can be used instead of honeynut.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

2 honeynut squash, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup black rice

½ cup black (beluga) lentils

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 bay leaf

3 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green part separated

1 ½ cups coarsely chopped mushrooms

½ cup white wine

1-2 cloves black garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

½ cup dried cherries or cranberries

1/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or walnuts

1/3 cup pomegranate arils*

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Drizzle cut sides of squash with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place halves cut side down, on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn over and return to oven to bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until done. While squash bake, prepare filling (step 3). When squash is tender, remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and keep warm.
  3. For filling, in a saucepan combine rice, lentils, ½ teaspoon salt and bay leaf. Cover with 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook gently for 20 to 30 minutes, until lentils and rice are tender.  While lentils cook, cook onion and mushrooms (step 4). Drain cooked lentils and rice. Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add white part of green onion and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens. Add wine and simmer until reduced by ½. Add black garlic and mash to a paste with the back of a fork.  Stir in cooked lentils and rice. Cook for 30 to 60 seconds, until hot.    Stir in green part of green onion and thyme. 
  5. To serve, place each roasted squash half on a plate. (If squash is cold, reheat in a moderate oven, lightly covered with foil.) Spoon filling in center of each squash half, letting some spill over onto plate if you like  Top with nuts and pomegranate arils. Serve warm.

*Cherry Pilaf: Instead of pomegranate arils, add 1/3 cup dried tart cherries along with wine.


  1. Wikipedia Honeynut Squash    
  2. Specialty Produce  
  3. What is a Honeynut Squash? Cooking Light
  4. Vitamin A &  beta carotene
  5. Medline Plus: Amino Acids    

© Lorelle Del Matto 2020

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. Cheryl Eiger says

    Lovely and appetizing presentation !
    You have inspired me to give up my Christmas cookie cravings and try
    a healthy alternative .
    Thanks Lorelle
    It looks so special it would be perfect for a birthday celebration !

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