This time of year can be kind of a let down with fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchinis, snap peas, berries, grapes, figs, etc all out of season. And if they are in the market, they are at twice the price and half the flavor. However there is one category of winter vegetables that most people ignore that can add variety, color, and vitamins and minerals to your daily menu. I am talking about winter squash, and no these are not leftover Halloween decorations:
Break open these rustic gourds to reveal the bright orange and yellow flesh, which will brighten dishes in the colder months. Variety and color can be hard to come by in seasonal produce, but not so with kabocha, honeynut, butternut, or acorn squash! These vegetables are also rich in vitamins A and C, as well as folate and fiber. The bonus is that they are easier to digest than sweet potatoes.
The sad thing is, many people ignore winter squashes, balking at the thought of lugging, peeling, deseeding, and then chopping these at times big and bulky vegetables. However, these gourds are worth the effort, as the flavors are generally mild-to-sweet, won’t overwhelm other ingredients, and can easily be incorporated into your seasonal cooking.
Plus there are plenty of tricks and shortcuts you can use if you are not confident with that kitchen knife. For instance, try heating up your squash in the oven for 10 minutes or even in the microwave for 5 minutes. This makes it way easier to cut and scoop out the goodness inside. If you really don’t want to deal with peeling and cutting, many supermarkets sell them already peeled, chopped or spiraled like noodles for your convenience.
To learn more about how to store and source winter squash, as well as watch how I prepare one of my favorite squash recipes for NBC’s California Live, check out the video below!
Now let’s talk about the flavor differences and various uses, starting the the most popular butternut squash:
The butternut has one of the richest flavors of the squash family, ideal in roasted veggie medleys, comforting soups, and even baked goods instead of pumpkin. To easily remove the peel, poke it all over with a fork, cut off the top and bottom, and microwave it for 5 minutes. The skin will easily come off afterward. Most basic and delicious way to prepare this squash is with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sage.
Close in flavor to the butternut squash, but not yet well known is the honeynut squash. These are smaller than the butternuts, and are a pale orange and shaped like a pear. Because they are smaller they are easier to cut. Don’t just decorate your mantel in the fall with honeynuts, use them in soups, chilis, stews, salads, or even in muffins!
Next up is the acorn squash, which indeed is shaped like an acorn. What I love about acorn squash is they make great bowls for pretty much any filling. I personally love to stuff them with a rice and mushroom pilaf accented with feta and cranberries, but the only limit to what you can use is up to your imagination. The Acorn squash is creamy, delicate, and mildly sweet, enhancing the flavor of any savory dish you pair it with.
My personal favorite is the kabocha squash. This Asian variety, sometimes called Japanese pumpkin, is round and green on the outside, and a brilliant orange on the inside. You can eat the green rind, which softens upon roasting. The sweet, nutty flavor is like sweet potatoes with a creamy and starchy bite. Kabocha is fabulous in soups or stews, or simply roasted with either sweet or savory spices. The green kabocha is savory, while the red kabocha is sweeter. Japanese restaurants feature this squash deep fried in their tempura. Korean restaurants feature this squash in their “Banchan” appetizers, which is where I first discovered this squash!
Red Kuri Squash
The Kuri squash is as delicious as it is beautiful to look at. The brick orange squash tastes somewhat like chestnuts. Kuri is smaller and softer so it is easier to cut. Try it in your soups, stuffings, or just roasted with salt and olive oil.
The delicata squash is oblong, and cream colored with green stripes. The rind is edible and soft–super easy to cut up into circles that you can roast or fry up like french fries. The flavor is like a cross between a zucchini and a sweet potato—creamy and soft but bit more earthy.
So now that you know about the different varieties and flavor profiles of winter squash, I hope you take on a new squash adventure! Try out a new gourd in your weekly dishes and watch them become a mainstay in your meal preparation. Fortunately, these squashes last months in the refrigerator so you can enjoy them well into spring. By the time summer comes around, you can go back to those summer fruits and vegetables. I always believe in eating seasonally, because you get maximum flavor and peak nutrition for the most economical price. Not to mention you get to buy locally, supporting local farmers which is also great for the environment! With that, here is the recipe that was featured oin my NBC segment below, using Kabocha squash.
Maple Glazed Kabocha Squash with Tahini Dressing
- 1/2 Kabocha squash, skin washed, and cut into thin wedges
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Dash cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tahini Dressing
- 2 tbsp tahini
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp dried mint
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp chopped pistachios
- 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl combine the squash, maple syrup, dash cinnamon, olive oil and salt and pepper. Lay the squash on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned. Whisk the tahini dressing ingredients together, and add more water if it is too thick (as the thickness of tahini brands may vary). Drizzle the tahini dressing on top of the squash, and sprinkle with the pistachios and pomegranate seeds. Serve immediately