I have to keep reminding myself that it is January and winter back home, which can be difficult to do in 85 degree tropical, on-the-equator type weather. While I can’t say that I miss the blustery cold, I can say that I do miss the many varieties of sweet winter squash to choose from. There are so many different types available and accessible in most grocery stores. There are many ways to cook these sweet gourds to help keep warm during those winter months that I am maybe not so fortunate to be missing out on.
Generally best during the fall and early winter months, but thanks to their thick skins, most winter squash have long storage potential. They come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, but cut open any variety and the flesh will almost always be somewhere between a golden yellow to vibrant orange, thanks to its high level of beta carotene. Due to its high level of Vitamin A winter squash boasts anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, B vitamins, fiber, folic acid and potassium to name a few. All of these combined, make them a nutrient rich food that can help ward off cancer and heart disease, help lower cholesterol or blood pressure and fight inflammatory diseases. Every part of the squash can be eaten, including the leaves and skin once cooked, and is often the best way to take advantage of all the nutrients the vegetable has to offer. Even the seeds can be eaten and are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids!
Varieties: So many to choose from it can be difficult.(Helpful tip: some stores, like Whole Foods, have guide books in the produce section with images of all the different varieties of vegetables, making it easier to determine what is what). Here are a few to help you get started...
- Acorn: Dark green skin (there are orange varieties too, just to give you even more options) with a sweet yellow flesh.
- Buttercup: Round with deep green skin and dark yellow-orange flesh with a sweet and nutty flavor and creamy consistency.
- Butternut: Pale orange skin with a deep orange buttery flesh, similar to a sweet potato.
- Carnival: Small and pumpkin shaped. Appropriately named due to its colorful, speckled and striped outer skin, with a sweet yellow flesh similar to butternut or acorn.
- Delicata: Small oval shape with white-yellow striped skin and golden, sweet and creamy flesh.
- Hubbard: Large tear drop shaped with pale, dull green-blue skin and dense orange flesh.
- Kabocha: (Sometimes called Japanese squash and similar to Buttercup) Pumpkin shaped, hard knobby green skin with bright orange flesh with a strong flavor and moist texture.
- Spaghetti: Oval shaped with yellow skin and yellow spaghetti-like flesh.
- Sugar Pumpkin: Small version of the “halloween” pumpkin with bright orange skin and flesh. The stuff pumpkin pie is made from.
- Turban: (Part of the Butternut family) Round turban-like shape with outer color ranging from dark green to bright speckled oranges and yellow-orange flesh.
Selecting: Look for firm, heavy squash with tough skins. Avoid vegetables with bruises, cuts or areas of softness that can indicate spoilage. And of course, choose local and/or organic when possible!
Storing: Some varieties can be stored up to six months before going bad. Generally squash can be kept out for a couple days, but it is best kept away from extreme temperatures and sunlight, so storing in the refrigerator is best. Or, cut them up and freeze them future use.
Preparing: A versatile food, squash can be prepared in many different ways.
- cut up and add to soups or stews
- roast them with a little olive oil and herbs.
- use spaghetti squash in place of pasta noodles with your favorite tomato sauce
- halve, scoop out seeds, bake and stuff with wild rice, quinoa, veggies or beans
- puree sweeter varieties and use in pies, cakes, breads or other desserts
- toast the seeds plain or season with olive oil, tamari, salt, pepper or other favorite seasonings
Try different ones and share your favorite variety or recipe in the comments section!