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Hearty, Healthy - and Delicious - Winter Fare: Winter Squash and Roasted Winter Vegetables

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Hearty, Healthy - and Delicious - Winter Fare
Winter Squash and Roasted Winter Vegetables
by Mary Ann Copson, "Certified Licensed Nutritionist / Life Coach"

Winter squash have never been a favorite of mine - I prefer foods that are a bit savorier. But I am dedicated to including more of these nutritious foods in my diet this winter.
Winter squash have a hard shell and are a member of the gourd family. There are many varieties and because they rampantly cross-fertilize hybrids are endlessly created. There are more than 40 different varieties in the squash family including pumpkins. Squash are indigenous to the North American continent and were used by Native Americans for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Early explores brought squash back to Europe where they were extensively cultivated.
Squash grow on bushes or vines; have five pointed leaves and yellow orange flowers. Squash come in numerous sizes, shapes, colors and tastes. When buying winter squash look for firm and unblemished skin with a dull not glossy rind. If the rind is soft, the squash may be too watery and lacking in flavor. Once the skin has been punctured it will begin to rot.
Winter squash are higher in nutrients than their summer cousins. Darker colored winter squash is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps protect brain cells from damage. One serving of the darker varieties such as butternut gives you more than a day's supply of beta-carotene. Because of their high beta-carotene levels winter squash offers good nutritional protection against various cancers and heart disease. Research has shown that a high intake of squash can help protect against lung cancer. Diets rich in winter squash offers some protection against developing type 2 diabetes with pumpkins being the most protective.
Winter squash is also high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C and potassium, many of the B vitamins and versatile enough to use for recipes from soups to desserts. Winter squash is highly alkaline and is a good food source of iron which helps carry oxygen to all of your cells. Winter squash has more fiber than summer squash - about 1 gram per 1/2 cup. The strings and seeds are high in insoluble fiber that helps to prevent constipation and the flesh is high in soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol.
Winter squashes are best baked, broiled, sauteed, or steamed. Winter squash can be baked in the rind after the seeds and stringy pulp has been removed or peeled, cubed and cooked in a number of ways. It can be stuffed and baked or used in stews, soups, and breads. The flesh is soft, mildly sweet and finely grained in texture.
Baked winter squash can be topped with butter, olive oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, and/ or cinnamon. For a more savory taste you can add olive oil, tamari, ginger, and a bit of rosemary or thyme. You can mash different varieties of winter squash like mash potatoes and eat as a side dish or use in bread, cake, muffin and pie recipes. You can also mix pureed winter squash with applesauce or diced pineapple for a delicious dessert.
Most seeds of winter squash except pumpkin are usually not used. But you can dry or bake the seeds for a tasty snack. Pumpkin seeds are rich in protease inhibitors that fight viruses and have been shown to help reduce symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Winter squash is best stored in a cool dark place and can be kept for one to six months. Avoid refrigeration as temperatures below 40 degrees cause winter squash to rot. The ideal temperature for winter squash storage is between 50 and 60 degrees. Once cut or cooked the squash will keep refrigerated for about two days.
Roasted Winter Vegetables
We have an elegant and yummy lunch and catering spot in town. I dropped by one day in November to get a piece of my favorite peanut butter pie when I saw their Roasted Winter Vegetable dish. It inspired me to go home and create my own version of the dish. We first had it while playing my grandson's favorite board game. It was surprisingly yummy. And looked really pretty with all the beautiful colors of the squash, yams, and Brussels sprouts. Hope you enjoy it!
* 1 winter squash - I like Sweet Dumpling
* 1-2 sweet potatoes or yams
* 2-3 red bliss potatoes
* 1 onion
* Bunch of Brussels sprouts
* A handful or more of any kind of nuts. I like to use mixed nuts and/or pine nuts.
* Cheery Amaretto sauce (if you can not find this you can use honey with a bit of cherry jam)
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper
Use an ample size-baking dish.
Peel the squash (this takes awhile) and cut into bite size pieces.
Peel the yams and cut into bite size pieces.
Cut the red bliss potatoes into bite size pieces.
Cut the onion into slivers.
Cut the bottoms off the Brussels sprouts and then cut them in half or quarters depending on your preference.
Mix all the vegetables together in the baking dish. Sprinkle with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour some Cheery Amaretto Sauce over the vegetables (I use just a little bit but you might like more). Stir everything together again. Add enough water (or chicken, beef or vegetable broth is you want a richer tasting dish) to fill the baking dish about 1/2 inch. Bake in 425-degree oven for about 45-60 minutes until vegetables are soft. Check every now and them to make sure there is still a tiny bit of water (turned to juice) in the baking dish.
Serve with pork, chicken, or lamb. Add a side salad if you wish.

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