Fall is upon us, and with the cooler weather and the changing leaves comes the harvest. Delicious seasonal produce, including a variety of scrumptious squashes, provides us with fall comfort food to fill our bellies and get ready for the cold of winter.
Sweet and starchy winter squashes like pumpkin and acorn are a fall and winter staple for many, but there are some other unique varieties that can ratchet up our veggie servings and fulfill many nutrient needs. Squashes are nutrient dense with vitamins C and B6, manganese, copper, fiber, healthy carbohydrates, and carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These nutrients support eye health, a healthy inflammatory response, and even healthy blood sugar levels. Squashes are a harvest treat for your taste buds and your health!
There is one caveat to consider with winter squash, however. When grown in contaminated soil, winter squashes have been found to pull toxins from the soil that can be harmful to health. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are EPA-regulated contaminants associated with wood treatment, Manufactured Gas Plants, household heating, and road transport. PAHs can be particularly difficult to remove from soil, but one method that has shown promise is phytoremediation– the use of plants to take up the toxin from the soil and translocate it to above-ground tissues., Squashes have been found to be one type of plant that is particularly adept at this action. While this is great for helping to remediate contaminated soils, these toxic chemicals are not an ingredient you want in the squash on your plate! Because high soil quality is one of the fundamentals of organic farming, organic soil is less likely to have undesirable levels of contaminants and thus produce healthier squash for your family. So choosing organic winter squash is especially important.
Here are some of the most commonly available winter squash varieties and some inspiration for how to make the most of them in seasonal cooking. As an added bonus, all of these recipes are, or can be made, vegetarian!
- Acorn squash is loaded with fiber, and when halved and roasted it makes a tasty natural bowl for apples, currants and chestnuts, or when pureed can add a creamy texture and flavor as in this recipe for acorn squash vegan “alfredo” sauce from HealthyHappyLife.com.
- Butternut squash has sweet, nutty flesh and is easier to peel than many other varieties. It is dense and creamy, and pairs well with bacon, cinnamon and balsamic vinegar. This recipe from delish.com for a torte with kale is not only beautiful, but packed with nutrition!
- Delicata squash has a creamy texture and a taste similar to sweet potatoes and butternut squash. The skin is tender enough that once cooked, it can be enjoyed along with the flesh. Or you can try this squash and cheese dip recipe from thekitchn.com for a tasty warm appetizer.
- Hubbard squash can be quite large at 8-20 pounds! It has savory and sweet yellow flesh that is best pureed or mashed, as in this unique hummus recipe from epicurious.com.
- Kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin) has a subtle honeyed sweetness and smooth, almost fiber-less texture. It is drier and denser than other squash and offers a buttery richness when pureed and added to soups. Simply roasting this squash, as in this recipe from nomnompaleo.com, brings out the delightful taste and texture of roasted chestnuts.
- Pumpkin is a Halloween favorite, but the small (2-8 pound) sizes are best for cooking. The mellow sweetness and dense flesh are great pureed in soup, sweet bread, pancakes, risotto, and ravioli filling. Or use the whole pumpkin in this Mexican-style dish from Martha Stewart.com, or this unique hash with Brussels sprouts and apples from runningtothekitchen.com.
- Spaghetti squash is mild tasting with flesh that separates into spaghetti-like strands. Choose the larger size for the best flavor and thicker “noodles,” and try one of my family’s favorites- Spaghetti Squash Au Gratin.
From the cornucopia of harvest time food, a scrumptious squash can spruce up any weeknight meal or help you impress your friends and family with your seasonal cooking prowess. It also makes a wonderful veggie addition to your holiday table!
Meet the Blogger
Lani Jacobs-Banner has her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has been working for Natural Grocers for over a decade, helping individuals and families find the foods that nourish them and help them work toward their health goals. Lani is passionate about providing her family with the highest quality, and most delicious, gluten-free meals that her husband and two boys will enjoy. Through sharing her love of cooking and nutrition, she hopes to inspire you to use food to support your health