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Spaghetti squash ‘noodle’ bowls move beyond red sauce and cheese

Vietnamese-Style Spaghetti Squash “Noodle” Bowls with Steak with help chase away the winter gray skies and taste great. (Lorie Hutson / The Spokesman-Review)
Vietnamese-Style Spaghetti Squash “Noodle” Bowls with Steak with help chase away the winter gray skies and taste great. (Lorie Hutson / The Spokesman-Review)
Lorie Hutson Senior correspondent

I think all those gray January days were starting to bring me down. This month’s Dinner Together menu included yet another soul-warming soup until a ray of sunshine crossed my Facebook feed.

Vietnamese-Style Spaghetti Squash “Noodle” Bowls with Steak looked so fresh and gorgeous, with golden spaghetti squash topped by a rainbow of crunchy vegetables and herbs, that I couldn’t resist trying it.

First, thank you to Epicurious recipe developer Anna Stockwell for brightening up my winter dinner plate. This dish was the perfect antidote to my rut of winter warmers. I had been resorting to soups far too often.

Pastas are great for the comfort-food season, but not when you’re trying to limit the processed carbohydrates therein. Spaghetti squash makes a lovely stand-in for noodles and it will make your gluten-free friends smile if you make this dish for them.

That brings me to the second reason I really love this dinner: The squash is not topped with marinara. So, thanks again Epicurious for helping us think beyond red sauce and cheese.

These “noodle” bowls are not difficult. Roasting the squash will take most of your time and it can be done in advance.

If you are making this dish for someone who is vegetarian, be sure to check and see if they allow fish sauce. Vegetarian/vegan versions are difficult to find. If they do eat fish, substitute pan fried tofu for the steak. If you are unfamiliar with using fish sauce, give it a shot anyway. It will assail your nose a bit, but it is the distinctive flavor in many Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

Flank steak is easily substituted for the skirt steak in this recipe. The steak can be marinated ahead as well.

The only other change I made was to hold back on the sauce and let diners top their finished bowls with the jalapeño sauce instead of tossing the lettuce, carrot, cucumber and bean sprouts before assembling the bowls.

Vietnamese-Style Spaghetti Squash “Noodle” Bowls with Steak

From Anna Stockwell, www.epicurious.com

1 medium spaghetti squash (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise, seeded (see notes)

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 cup fish sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, finely grated

1/2 cup fresh lime juice, divided

1 pound skirt steak, cut crosswise into 4-inch sections

1 medium jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil

1/2 romaine heart, coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)

1 medium carrot, peeled, sliced into 3-inch matchsticks

1 mini or Persian cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced

1/2 cup mung bean sprouts (about 2 ounces)

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle each half of squash with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then place cut side down on prepared baking sheet. Bake until interior of squash is fork-tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, whisk fish sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Transfer 3 tablespoons fish sauce mixture to a shallow wide bowl. Add steak and turn to coat. Let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes.

Add jalapeño, sesame oil and remaining 6 tablespoons lime juice to remaining fish sauce mixture in large bowl and stir to combine.

Using a fork, scrape squash crosswise to pull strands from shells into a large bowl; discard shells. Toss squash with 4 tablespoons jalapeño sauce and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet over high; pat steak dry. Working in batches if needed, sear steak until browned, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest 5 minutes, then thinly slice lengthwise against the grain.

Divide squash among bowls. Toss lettuce, carrot, cucumber, and bean sprouts in remaining jalapeño sauce, then arrange over squash. Add steak to bowls, then top with scallions, cilantro and peanuts.

Note: Squash can be cooked 2 days ahead. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container and chill. Steak can be marinated 1 day ahead. Store in a resealable plastic bag and chill.

If the squash is difficult to cut, poke it all over with a paring knife and microwave on high for 5 minutes before cutting. To cook squash completely in microwave, invert one half onto a heatproof plate and microwave until tender, 8 to 10 minutes, then repeat with the other half. You want about 4 cups of cooked spaghetti squash for this recipe. If you have a larger squash, cook it all, measure out 4 cups of “noodles,” and reserve any remaining for another use.

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