Meet the Winter Squashes
Healthy and showy, fall is the season that winter squash become available in North America. Winter squashes come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Most have a thick rind and a pulpy seeded center. They make a great addition to a healthy, clean-eating diets as they are rich in antioxidants, including beta carotene and vitamin C. Winter squashes also contain folate, lots of fiber, and even some omega-3 fatty acids.
You typically find them featured in recipes cut into cubes, roasted in halves, and pureed. There are many creative ways to integrate squash into your menu. They add a splash of color and even bigger flavor. In this article, we’ll discuss the most popular winter squashes. Check out their flavor profile and their identifying characteristics. We’ve also include some delicious recipes for winter squashes for your to try.
Buttercup squash is one of the sweetest variety of winter squash. It has a rounded shape, from the turban squash family. It is dark green on the outside, often with some lighter green marks distributed on the skin. This squash has an orange colored flesh like many of the other types of winter squash. Buttercup squashes have the most similar flavor profile to sweet potatoes. They are healthier than sweet potatoes and make a wonderful substitution.
Butternut squash has a tan colored skin covering a vibrant orange center. A farmer developed this well-known and well-loved squash in the 1940’s. He created a cross between gooseneck squash and other squash breeds. Hubbard squash, the popular squash at the time, was difficult to prepare. The goal was to create a squash with a less porous and rough skin. He named it for its smooth buttery texture and nutty flavor. The development explains it’s interesting physical appearance in comparison to other rounder squashes. This squash has a unique shape featuring one long end and a bulbous bell shaped bottom. These squashes vary in size and are the most available squash year-round. The flavor, like most of its family, works well with both sweet and savory seasonings.
An acorn squash resembles its namesake. It appears to be an overgrown green acorn. Acorn squashes originate from the Americas. They are a common ingredient in Native American culture. This variety of squash is great to prepare with the skin on. When the skin takes on orange splotches, it becomes more difficult to cut through. The squash is still delicious to eat but a bit tougher to peel. It is more worthwhile to steam or cook in wedges with the skin intact. You can eat around the skin or use the bowl shape to serve and stuff or glaze in the skin.
Everyone can pick out a pumpkin in a crowd. They are a symbol of the fall season with their bright orange ridged skin and round shape. Perfect for carving, and even better for eating. Pumpkins are sweet and most of its parts are edible (including the leaves!). Roasted pumpkin seeds make for a tasty snack or rustic garnish. Much like the acorn squash pumpkins make a cool decorative bowl. The flavorful shell is edible and can mix with the other ingredients.
The blue hubbard squash is also known as the New England Blue Hubbard. It is distinguishable by its shape and color. The squash is pear-shaped and sports a blue/grayish appearance. This squash has a rough texture along the skin. Most other squashes like butternut and pumpkin are smooth in texture. These are best to buy when they are rock-hard and heavy. The inside of the squash is dark orange much like pumpkin. Blue Hubbard is best prepared in their skin and scooped out once they are soft enough to eat.
Turban squashes have a splash of different colors ranging from white, orange, and green. These festive squashes make a gorgeous decoration to the home and a wonderful addition to the table. Turbins are not the most flavorful on their own but they are paired well with other flavors. Extra spices and vegetables help to boost the essential taste. Try scooping the center, roasting the squash and using as a vessel for soups and stuffing recipes.
Jarrahdale pumpkins originate from Australia. They have a green-grayish and sometimes blue-grayish coloring with a rounded ribbed skin. They have a small pulpy center with a lot of flesh for its size. Best cut into wedges to show off the intense contrast between the skin color and the orange center. These squash are often overlooked for cooking because they look like a decorative gourd. Jarrahdale pumpkins make a nice display with orange pumpkins outside the home. They make for funky Jack-O-Lanterns but they are wonderful for eating as well.
Spaghetti squash is the most unique of the winter squash family. This group is yellow in color and generally grown in an oval/cylindrical shape. The flesh, when prepared, takes on a spaghetti-like texture. This is a popular alternative used in a pasta-free recipe. It is so simple to prepare and they produce a few cups of squash per vegetable. When the squash cooks through, you scrape around the center with a fork. This will produce the stringy and noodle-like that can be used like a pasta with your favorite sauce.
Carnival squash boasts the same funky shape as an acorn squash or ribbed pumpkin. This variety of squash is both spotted and stripped. It has a mixture of white, green, and orange colors. The center has a similar flavor to butternut squash. It has nutty undertones and a soft texture after cooking. It is interchangeable with other orange-fleshed squashes. Carnival squash is best when prepared cut into wedges and then peeled to remove the skin.
Cutting and Preparing Your Squash
Squash is a staple in vegan and vegetarian eating. Squashes are a seasonal item. The most popular ones like butternut or spaghetti are available during most of the year. When a product sells off-season, it is more expensive than it is worth. Since the vegetable is not removed from the shelves, it is smart to keep a lookout on the cost. When you get a good deal, you should stock up since they last for quite a while. It is the perfect base for so many recipes once you have gotten the prep work out of the way.
Butternut squash is often sold ready-to-cook in most stores (allowing you to skip the cubing which can be challenging for this hard squash. These pre-cut versions are easier to use but the cost comes out to quite a bit more per pound. Prep your squash with these simple methods. It will save you from extra time spent in the kitchen as well as kitchen accidents.
Cutting Squash Can Take a Bit of Muscle
Kitchen and knife safety should always be at the forefront of your mind while preparing your winter squashes. Items like squash which are round and dense can be tough to cut if you are using the wrong technique or the wrong knife. First, arrange your cutting board so that it does not slide around on your counter-top. Use a large chef knife and cut the edge with the stem off the top of the squash. With the point of the knife anchored to the cutting board, slice halfway through the squash. You will have a bulbous shaped piece and a cylindrical piece. If your knife tip won’t stay on the board while you cut, place a kitchen towel under the tip. Fold the towel under the tip to raise it off the board. An unstable knife can be dangerous in the kitchen. You can then use a “Y” shaped peeler to peel off the hard skin. Once you have completely peeled the squash, cut it into cubes like any other vegetable.
It can be challenging to cut a raw squash. If you prefer, you can warm the squash briefly in the oven to soften it. Some people use microwaves for this purpose but I do not recommend them at all. I just use a large, pointed knife on a good cutting board and slowly cut into the center and then around the perimeter. It takes a bit of patience to get all the way around – take care not to cut yourself!
Squash like acorn and spaghetti are often prepped with their skin intact. For this variation or a squash that you intend to use for pureeing, you can prepare by roasting in the oven. Cut the stem off of your squash and then cut lengthwise down the center of the squash. Remove the seeds, cover in a baking dish face down and roast until the center is soft enough to scoop out of the skin.
Snacking on Seeds
Squash recipes call for us to remove the pulpy center of the squash. Instead of discarding the centers from your winter squashes, use the seeds with this useful technique! You can enjoy keeping the seeds when you roast them for a snack or a garnish in a salad or soup.
- Squash seeds
- Oil (i.e. coconut, olive, infused olive oil)
- Spices (i.e. Salt, Paprika and garlic, cumin, curry, cinnamon and sugar, coriander and pepper)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the scooped contents to a mixing bowl and fill with water. Mix around the seeds to separate from the pulp. Dry the seeds with a kitchen towel and toss with oil. Sprinkle your selection of spices over the oiled seeds and roast in the oven. Remove after 10 mins or when the seeds begin to brown.
Nutritional Breakdown of Winter Squash
Winter squashes are a great source of nutrients. They are low calories and contain a high water content. These vegetables are rich in vitamin A, potassium, manganese, vitamin C, and a variety of B vitamins. They are a good source of beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. Although these vegetables are low in protein per serving, they have other nutritional benefits. Squashes are rich in complex carbohydrates that are slowly released into the blood-stream. They provide a steady source of energy and are also great sources of healthy fiber. Winter squashes are versatile both in stand alone dishes or in combination with grains, other veggies, or even some protein. They even make great nutrient-filled substitutions in recipes that call for less healthy alternatives.
Recipes (click links for print friendly recipes)
This is a wonderful soup and an elegant way to serve it for guests.
There are any number of delicious meals that can be made with spaghetti squash. Here’s an unusual one with a southwest flair.
Delicious and great looking dishes can be made with stuffed acorn squash. Wild rice is great with acorn squash.
Brussels sprouts are a fall vegetable that pairs well with squash.
This makes a nice spread for bread or even bagels.
Cooked wheat berries and butternut squash are a match made in heaven.
Delicious and decant to wow your guests and they will never know it’s vegan!
Winter squashes are perfect for holiday and seasonal recipes. Roast different squashes for great sides or toppings for your salads. Caramelizing the pieces with agave or maple syrup is a decadent addition to your meal. Keep some cut up squash cubes in a Ziploc in your fridge. This is a trick for quick additions to your soups, stews or roasted vegetables. Pumpkin puree is especially adaptable in recipes. It is great to add to pesto, hummus, muffins, and is excellent in risotto. Fresh squashes are a budget buy and pump up your recipes with nutrients and vitamins. Check out your local farmer’s market to locate the squashes suggested here. Experiment with some new recipes. You may discover some a few new meals you’ll enjoy now and for many years to come!