Pump-kin up your menu with these hardy and nutrient rich vegetables
Okay, let’s start by clearing up the fact that squash is, indeed, a fruit as it contains seeds and is produced from a flower. Whatever, we’re over it already! What is more important is that squash is a delicious and nutritionally dense plant food, used like a vegetable, that has many health benefits when included regularly in your diet.
There are 2 categories of squash; summer and winter. Summer squash are harvested earlier in the summer and have edible thin skin and can be quickly cooked up or eaten raw. This includes the well known zucchini and what I refer to as the UFO squash, or the pattypans. The summer squash boast many of the same nutrients as winter squash but this post will focus specifically on the winters.
Winter squash are harvested later in the summer and into the fall and have a much harder skin, often not eaten. They can last weeks or even months if stored properly and are great for long term sustainability. The winter squash come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes and vary in flavour. The most commonly used squash include:
- Sugar pumpkin
- Sweet Dumplings
- red Kuri
- white acorn or mash potato
Health benefits of squash:
Under estimated as a super vegetable, all one needs to do is look at that colour to know it is good for you! Fruits and vegetables that contain yellow and orange pigments are often high in the anti-oxidant, beta carotene, which converts into Vitamin A in the body, and has many protective properties. Along with high amounts of carotenoids, squash contains other vitamins such as C, B, K and E along with minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper. They are also high in fiber and low calorie. Here are a few more reasons to add squash to your meal plan:
- Strengthens eye health.
- Improved immune system.
- Protection agains free radicals and cell damage, reducing risks of certain cancers.
- Supports bone strength.
- Can reduce risk of anemia.
- Adds pre-biotic material to the gut, improving the microbiome and gut health and can reduce intestinal inflammation.
- Fiber slows down the release of glucose into the blood making it a good food choice for diabetics.
- Can help prevent chronic illness.
- May protect heart health and reduce risk of heart disease.
- Can keep skin healthy and vibrant.
- Improvement to gut health can improve mental health through the gut-brain connection.
- May aid in weight loss as a high fiber, low cal food choice.
How to use and store:
One of my favourite places is a fresh farm market with local produce grown by hard working and dedicated farmers. I love fondling all the different squashes in the autumn and often buy strange and random varieties just for fun! The most commonly purchased squash are acorn, butternut and pumpkin. When looking for a good squash, check for firmness, a dry top stalk and nice colour. You can store your squash in a basket on the counter, a cold cellar or a cool, dry pantry. They can last weeks, or even months. Once cut open, cook or store in the fridge. Raw or cooked squash can also be frozen. For example, after I roast and puree a pumpkin, I often measure it into 1 cup portions and freeze for future baking uses.
Just like the many varieties of squash, they are also versatile and can be used in many ways. Try them in:
- Pureed soups such as this Creamy Butternut Squash Soup with Fresh Turmeric and Ginger
- Stews and Chillies
- Cubed and cooked for taco fillings and bowl toppers
- Added to make a creamy pasta sauce
- Breads and muffins such as these gluten free Pumpkin Oat Muffins or this Autumn Pumpkin Corn Bread
- Desserts such as this Vegan Pumpkin Pie Square or these Pumpkin Blondies with Coconut Flour
- Simply roasted with oil and spices
- Stuffed and baked in the oven.
- Try a spaghetti squash in replacement of pasta and top with your red sauce or add it to a casserole.
My go to is always to roast my squash before adding it to anything I make. Confession? I can’t stand peeling them raw and cubing them so I avoid those recipes, but don’t let me influence you, give it a go! I love straight up roasted squash as a side, simple and delicious as is!
Directions for Roasting:
- Choose your squash.
- Heat oven to 400F, cut squash in half, remove seeds and pulp, brush with olive oil and season.
- Place face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cook until soft, about 45-60 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the squash.
- Let cool enough to handle and scoop out the flesh or just serve it right out of its shell as your side dish.
- *Some squash, such as the delicata, have thin skins and are really nice halved then cut into strips, tossed with oil and roasted like you would veggie sticks. These make a great taco or bowl topper as well. Require less roasting time.
- *If roasting pumpkin or other sweeter squash for baking, skip brushing with oil and seasoning and just bake face down. Let cool before handling, scoop out flesh and then place in blender to puree.
- *If you are up for peeling and cubing, place cubes on a baking pan and roast, steam them or add, directly, to soups, stews, stirfries and chillies and let cook until soft.
- *If you ever cross paths with a white acorn, I encourage you to purchase a couple and take them home to roast. Once roasted, add some butter, a teaspoon of miso paste (optional) and a little salt and pepper and mash them up. It is like eating mashed potatoes!