I admit it: Halloween makes my inner child go a little bit crazy! I love finding new and spooky ways to play with my food. This All-Hallows’ snack-table centerpiece takes a bit of preparation, but is well worth the effort — after all, what could be more festive at this time of year than zombie brains?!
What You Need
- 1 acorn squash, cinderella pumpkin, or other winter squash about 5-6″ diameter — look for one with a flat bottom, that sits upright easily
- awl, ice pick, or 2″ nail
- small handful of white flour
- commercial pumpkin-carving tool with a jigsaw blade (kitchen knives don’t work well for squash carving)
- commercial pumpkin-scraper, or metal 1-tablespoon measuring spoon
- large mixing bowl
- thick-textured dip (see below)
- slivered almonds (a.k.a. ‘skull fragments!’), optional
What To Do
- Use the pencil to outline a circle around the stem, at the top of the squash. Unlike carving a pumpkin, you won’t have much room for the ‘face’ — so you’ll want a top opening that’s about fist sized, large enough to scoop seeds out of but no bigger than it absolutely has to be. Use the carving blade to cut along the pencil line, around the stem — always draw it first: freehanding with a blade is not advised! — and remove the top of the squash.
- Remove the seeds and stringy pulp. Use the pumpkin-scraper or metal measuring spoon to scrape out the squash flesh to within about 1/2″ of the rind, on the side you plan to carve. Scrape out other sides of the squash to 1/2″ to 1″ thickness, to optimize volume for dip.
- With the pencil, draw a simple face — don’t get fancy, in freehanding small-scale squash-art! Just two eyes (not too big), a small triangle or upside-down-V nose, and a rectangular or zigzag mouth work fine. Carving is harder than drawing, and you’re working with a small canvas; unless you’re an experienced carver, keep it simple for best results!
- Use the awl, ice pick, or nail to punch tiny holes (about 1/16″ to 1/8″ deep), not quite touching, tracing your pencilled-on design — imagine you’re turning it into a ‘dot-to-dot’ activity.
- When you’ve punched tiny pinprick holes all around the outline of the squash-zombie’s face, rub it lightly with white flour. This makes it easy to see where you need to cut.
- Place the squash on your lap or on a table-top, face up. Using an up-and-down sawing motion, carefully saw along the dotted lines to cut out the nose, then the mouth, then the eyes — you want to start with the central details, and cut out the largest features last.
- When you’re happy with the cutout face, place the hollowed and carved squash in a large mixing bowl. Cover with water, making sure that the carved face is submerged. Let soak at least an hour; then remove, pat dry, and rub the inside and carved surfaces of the squash with olive oil. Use Q-tips to coat carved surfaces inside the zombie’s eyes, nose, and mouth with oil — this helps it last longer without distortion or shriveling. Wrap your finished squash-zombie in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you’re ready to fill it with dip. For best results, serve within 24 hours of completion.
For the dip — sorry, brains! — you’ve got several good options. The only guideline is that whatever dip you use should be thick enough to not ooze out the zombie’s eyeballs! All of the following are squash-zombie approved:
- Pumpkin-Walnut Pâté
- Olive Tapenade
- Cashew Cheesy-Brain Dip — my personal favorite! (recipe follows)
The almond slivers work great visually, but just leave them out if their flavor doesn’t compliment the dip you choose.
Cashew Cheesy-Brain Dip
- 1-1/4 cup raw cashews
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 oz diced pimientos, drained
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1/2 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- dash of Tobasco, to taste
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds
Pulse cashews repeatedly in a blender or food processor, until they’re ground as fine as you can get them. If using a blender you may need to run a knife around the blades a few times between pulses, to make sure all the cashews are being incorporated.
Add the water to the ground-up cashews and blend until the mixture is smooth, scraping down sides of blender as needed. The goal is to add as little water as possible, while still achieving a smooth mixture — the exact amount varies a little bit depending on the strength of your blender. Add a splash or two of water if you must, to get the cashews to blend smoothly, but use as little liquid as possible.
Add the remaining ingredients except for almonds, and blend on highest setting until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Again, depending on your blender, you may need to run a knife around the blades a time or two to make sure all the cashews are incorporated. When it’s as smooth and creamy as you can get it, taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Chill at least 1 hour, to set; dip will thicken as it chills.
Fill the carved squash-zombie with dip just before serving. Lightly press slivered almonds into the surface of the dip, as ‘skull fragments.’ Serve with crackers, pita chips, or toasted baguette slices. For added effect, place a short broad knife in the ‘brains’ for spreading.
Mwahahahaha: spppoooooky! (yet… delicious!)
Image by the author.