As we move into the season of winter celebrations, we welcome warming meals shared with family and friends. Winter squash has many appealing qualities: these hearty vegetables form attractive, edible centerpieces at festive dinners; their dense texture is richly satisfying; they are rich in fibre, B vitamins such as folic acid and thiamin, and the protective phytochemicals known as carotenoids (Beta-carotene and others). For those with food sensitivities, squash is unlikely to trigger allergic responses. The recipes below are from our “Food Allergy Survival Guide”; however this combination of textures, flavour and excellent nutrition has wide appeal, far beyond those with food sensitivities.
Winter squashes come in a range of sizes and shapes. A few varieties that you may discover in your favourite produce aisles are Hubbard, butternut, acorn, delicata, kabocha, and turban. The shell should be firm and hard all over. A heavy squash indicates the presence of moisture, making for a succulent, sweet, and delicious finished product, whereas a lightweight squash tends to be drier and less flavorful. Choose one with a dull rind; a glossy rind suggests an older squash or one that has been waxed. Store winter squash between 10° and 15°C and away from direct exposure to light. On the inside, those with the deepest-colored flesh tend to be the sweetest. Squash may be mashed; chunks of squash add colour and texture to soups and stews; pureed it can be used in baked goods, custards, creamy soups, spreads, and pies.
Stuffed Winter Squash
In some families or groups of friend, getting together to cook is one of the best parts of a celebration. Assembling this squash and a few side dishes can be the central activity for a wonderful day spent with the people you love. Serve wedges of the squash and stuffing with a gravy made from onion, flour, herbs, and tamari or miso, or use the recipe below. This stuffing can be used to stuff any vegetable. You may want to experiment with different grains such as buckwheat or couscous to replace the rice or quinoa. For larger groups, pick a bigger squash and adjust recipe accordingly.
1 large winter squash (about 5 pounds)
2 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup white basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, canned, or thawed frozen)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Pierce the top of squash with sharp knife at 45-degree angle. Pushing the knife blade away from your body, rotate the blade around the top of the squash to create a cone-shaped lid that you can remove and set aside. Using a large spoon, scoop the seeds and pulp from the cavity of the squash and discard. (Squash seeds are edible; if you like, you can hull them and eat them in the same manner as pumpkin seeds.) Place the squash and lid on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove squash and lid from oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
While squash is baking, place the water, onion, rice, and quinoa in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and add the remaining ingredients.
Spoon stuffing into cavity of squash until it is almost full. Put the top in place and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted easily into squash. If there is leftover stuffing, place it in a small pan, sprinkle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, cover the pan, and heat stuffing through for last 20 minutes of squash cooking time. Remove squash from oven and place on a warm serving platter. Slice into wedges to serve.
Makes 5 hearty servings.
Savory Chickpea Gravy
Chickpea flour has an unpleasant taste when raw; however when cooked it forms a delicious and protein-rich base for gravies. This recipe is suitable for those with wheat and gluten sensitivities.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chickpea flour
1 tsp dried sage 5 ml
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 tsp pepper
31/2 cups hot water
1–2 tbsp umeboshi plum vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the chickpea flour, sage, thyme, rosemary, and pepper, stirring constantly to form a smooth, thick paste. Cook
over medium heat until the flour is lightly toasted, about 5 to 10 minutes or until the flour no longer tastes raw. Remove from the heat. Gradually whisk in the hot water, stirring
constantly and mixing carefully to avoid lumps. Add the vinegars and salt to taste. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until hot and bubbly. Whisk in more water, if
needed, to achieve the desired consistency.
Makes about 3 cups.
Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian, internationally known speaker and consultant, based near Vancouver. She is author of seven books including the “Food Allergy Survival Guide”, “The New Becoming Vegetarian” (US title), “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title), by Melina and Davis; her website is www.nutrispeak.com.