There are many different types of squash but they can all be grouped into two categories: summer and winter. Winter squash is available from August through March; however, they are at their best from October to November when they are in season. Most have long storage times ranging from one to six months, so they will stay fresh on your counter for a while. Some varieties include butternut, spaghetti, acorn, hubbard, turban and pumpkins. Most are somewhat sweet and a great way to naturally satisfy your sweet tooth without packing on extra calories.
Winter squash is an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and a very good source of vitamin C, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese. In addition, winter squash is also a good source of folate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, copper, vitamin B6, niacin- B3 and pantothenic acid. What does all this mean?
For starters, beta carotene works like a broom, sweeping out cholesterol from our arteries and blood vessels and therefore helps to prevent atherosclerosis. It is also a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties and improves cell health by destroying free radicals. It is believed to help reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and inflammatory health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. The potassium contained in winter squash may help to lower blood pressure and the vitamin c is known to improve conditions like asthma, arthritis and heart disease. The high fiber content improves digestion and is linked to low incidences of heart disease and some cancers.
When selecting winter squash, look for a firm, dull (not shiny) outer shell and make sure that it is somewhat heavy for its size. They can be stored on your counter top at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight.
The easiest way to prepare a winter squash is to roast it:
- Start by washing it and cutting it in half lengthwise.
- Scoop out the seeds and fibrous material from the center.
- Place cut-side down in a baking dish with about an inch of water and bake at 350 degrees until tender inside, about 45 -60 minutes depending on size.
- When finished cooking, let cool slightly and scoop out the soft flesh from the inside and discard the shell.
Squash may be enjoyed as is, or you can mash it a bit more and add any of these yummy toppings:
- Organic butter from grass-fed, pastured cows, sea salt & pepper
- Maple syrup, cinnamon & nutmeg
- Olive oil, tamari, ginger and pumpkin seeds
- Tahini, tamari and a little water
Another way to prepare winter squash is to steam it. This requires peeling off the tough outer shell and cutting the inside meat into one-inch cubes, then steaming the cubes for approximately 7 minutes. Top with spices like cinnamon, thyme, ginger, rosemary, curry, cumin or sage.
Here is a an excellent recipe for Thai Pumpkin Soup:
- Roast two smallish pumpkins according to directions above, and then scoop out the insides.
- Transfer to a large pot and add one can of coconut milk and enough curry paste as you’d like and simmer.
- Puree with a hand blender (or not) and add water or vegetable stock to achieve your desired consistency.
- Add sea salt to taste.
- Bon appétit!
This blog post was written by featured expert Jennifer Fanega. Jennifer is a Natural Foods Chef & Educator in Philadelphia, PA. She provides personalized, hands-on, healthy cooking instruction & food consultation services to people making the switch from the Standard American Diet to one that is health-supportive and built on whole, plant-based ingredients. Her focused yet easy-going approach will help you make step-by-step, effective and long-lasting changesto your way of eating while feeling supported, confident and guilt-free. To learn more about Jennifer and the services she offers, visit www.jenniferfanega.com