Ok, ok, so I couldn’t help myself with that title. I’m just too excited about fall squash season! Why, might you ask? Well let’s break it down.
As summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squash come to the end of their season, you should be seeing your local stores and markets starting to offer an assortment of fancy squashes. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Let’s talk about what I think make up the top three and talk about how to prepare them.
Before we dig into these yummy gourds, let’s talk about why I’m so excited. If you’re anything like me, I’m a total foodie. I love trying new things, but what I especially love is finding new healthy dishes based off old classics or finding out how to make new healthy dishes based off what’s in season. Shopping and cooking based off what’s in season is great because not only do those items tend to be cheaper because they’re plentiful, but they will be in the best shape and nutritional value.
Talking about nutritional value, the top 3 squashes I’d like to talk about are Acorn squash, Butternut squash, and my personal fave, Spaghetti squash. In regards to what makes squash an excellent healthy choice, you will find that they’re filling, they have a ton of vitamins and such, and they’re very low in calories. Let’s get to it!
First up is Acorn squash. These are called so because of their acorn shape, although of course are much larger in size. They tend to be green in color and have ridges like a pumpkin. They’re typically baked, and then the flesh can be eaten alongside whatever you stuffed the squash with and baked, or you can scoop out the baked flesh and add it to soups or make purees.
As far as nutritional composition goes, this squash is 82 calories cooked per cup of mashed. Its carbs come in at 22 grams, and the most impressive is the list of vitamins and minerals and such, like being high in potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Magnesium, B-6, and finally a bit of iron and calcium. Have a sweet tooth? One of the best desserts that’s healthier than most are perfect for these little guys.
Preheat oven to 350F (175C)
Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy center (like a pumpkin)
Place open side down onto parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes until the flesh begins to soften.
Make two coils out of tinfoil to place the squash now face up on so they don’t slide around (you can also trim a flat bottom by slicing off a small piece of the skin side to create a flat bottom, just keep it minimal)
Mix together 2 tablespoons of either vegan butter, or high-quality salted butter with 4 tablespoons brown sugar and divide evenly in bowl.
Now score the open side flesh in vertical lines and then across the opposite way to create a hatched effect. This is necessary to allow the butter and sugar to flavor the squash and not just pool in the middle.
Spread the butter and sugar mixture evenly over the scored flesh.
Return the squash to the oven, now flesh side up on the foil coils, and bake for an additional 30-40 minutes.
Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, and scoop and enjoy.
Coming in at 190 calories, it’s better than most desserts and you get a good amount!
The next guy on the list is Butternut squash. This gourd has a smooth outer skin with beige toned coloring. Its shape is like a long pear, with a smaller neck and a fatter round bottom half. Like most other squash, it’s best roasted, it’s versatile as in it can be used for savory or sweet dishes, and this squash in particular has seeds that can be roasted and consumed. In fact, these seeds are very healthy for you to eat, and have large quantities of good stuff like zinc, which is great for immune health. Simply rinse them off when you’re scooping out the squash to roast and place them in a high side cookie sheet in a salt water solution. Roast on low heat until the water is evaporated.
As far as the flesh goes, it also should be roasted, and then can be used to make savory dishes, and especially does well as a puree. I often will boil some raw chunks in water till they soften, add vegan milk like coconut or almond, vegan butter, and then blend with an immersion blender. You will get a wonderful warm thick sauce to use as a base for so many dishes. I will add some extra sharp cheddar cheese freshly grated to make a mac and cheese type of dish. You can add nutritional yeast if you prefer to keep it vegan!
Between roasting this squash with either savory spices and meats or doing a cinnamon brown sugar bake, there are so many options. Again, it’s chock full of health benefits. One cup has only 82 calories for one cup cubed and cooked. There’s 22 carbs, 7 grams of fiber, and has more potassium than a banana. This one is also high on things like Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and such.
Vitamin A is especially wonderful to consume from squash as this vitamin comes from beta carotene. This is converted in our body to retinoids and it has been shown that beta carotene can help lower your risk of certain cancers like lung cancer and breast cancer. It has also been shown to help with eye diseases and skin damage from UV rays. Who doesn’t need more of this good stuff?!
How to Roast Butternut Squash:
One way it can be done is roasted skinless and sliced into cubes. For this you will need one butternut squash.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (175C)
Peel it*, cut it in half, and remove the seeds and strings. Keep seeds aside if you wish to roast later. Continue by cutting the squash into 1-inch cubes. Place them in a large mixing bowl.
*Pro-tip for peeling and cutting. Poke small holes around the squash and microwave for 3 minutes. Let it cool, and then it will slice and peel so much easier. If microwave isn’t an option, bake for 15 minutes and then proceed to peel and cube. Use a vegetable peeler to remove skin, and then slice.
Add to the bowl 2 tablespoons olive oil, and seasonings to taste. Salt and pepper are a good way to go, as well as some garlic that’s been peeled and minced, or you can go with a dash of cinnamon and a light sprinkle of brown sugar if you want a sweeter dish.
Toss all ingredients together and then arrange the seasoned and oiled squash onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Roast until the flesh is soft and tender, around 25-30 minutes. They should brown slightly.
You can try this recipe with various herb combinations or combine it with other veggies. Try adding some baby carrots or small halved potatoes! My favorite version is when I add some fresh rosemary, some fresh thyme, salt, halved baby potatoes, fresh crushed garlic and towards the end I’ll add some pats of Irish cream grass-fed butter like the brand Kerrygold. They make a fabulous garlic and herbed butter that’s to die for. It makes the dish taste like a warm fall day and fresh green gardens all at once. High quality butter can make all the difference.
Finally, our last and my personal favorite on the squashes list is Spaghetti Squash. This squash is pale yellow in color and an oval shape. As with the other squashes above, this one is versatile, delicious, easy to prepare, but this one boasts the lowest calorie count. One cup of cooked squash has only around 42 calories! The only smaller downside is that its not as high as the previous squashes for potassium or vitamins. However, as a low-calorie food, this makes a great option for those looking for a full meal that’s not calorie dense. If you need to lose some weight with a calorie deficit and a healthy lifestyle, this is a great way to go. If you were to add some of the other squashes listed as a desert item or a savory side dish with a lean protein for dinner, you can reap the benefits of all these squashes!
What really makes this squash amazing is how it ends up behaving once roasted. When it’s finished, it should be slightly caramelized and fork tender. Now comes the fun part! Drag a fork across the flesh and watch it come out in strings like spaghetti. This means you can stuff them with meat sauces or tomato sauces and mix in herbs and top with cheeses if desired. One of my favorite things to do though, is simply to roast it, let it cool, and then remove it with the fork until I have a container full of “noodles”. Then comes the fun part. Since these are so neutral in flavor and leaning towards a mild sweetness, they can absorb and take on any flavor. Two of my favorite go-to dishes are tossed together in a few minutes with easy to find ingredients. These are perfect for a busy lifestyle, and they can be made in a huge batch and you can take as much as needed per meal.
Let’s start with how to roast:
Pierce skin with a fork along the line you will cute along later to cut it in half. Place them in a microwave for five minutes, and then let them cool until they can be handled. If a microwave isn’t an option, roast them at 400F for 15 minutes. Then remove and allow to cool before attempting to cut in half.
Cut the squash in half, scoop out seeds and strings. Coat them in olive oil spray and sprinkle with salt. Place them flesh side down! This is very important so that it will scrape out properly. Roast at 400F for 50-60 minutes. The outside skin should be browned, and the inside will have caramelized edges lightly browned. Allow to cool a few minutes and then scrape out flesh with a fork. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container for up to a week.
At this point you can add your sauces or whatever seasonings and dinner is ready! Personally, my two favorite dishes these days involve fast and easy prep from the container of cooled stored noodles.
The first dish will prepare a sort of Harvest salad and you will need:
1-2 cups of prepared squash noodles
1 grated apple and its juice
1 tablespoon pitted sliced kalamata olives
1 tablespoon of goat or feta cheese (if you want to keep it vegan, crumble some drained and pressed tofu and marinade it in some vinaigrette or Italian dressing)
A small handful of baby heirloom tomatoes sliced
1 tablespoon of sliced pecans or walnuts
A sprinkle of dried cranberries or cherries
At this point you can add a tablespoon of your favorite vinaigrette like a fuji apple blend, a high-quality Italian dressing, or simply a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Mix together and enjoy!
The other recipe I enjoy for dinner is an Asian fusion that’s delicious and healthy!
You will need:
1-2 cups of your cold squash noodles
1 tablespoon of your favorite Asian-themed marinade or sauce. You can alternatively use a tamari sauce, a soy sauce, or coconut aminos if you want alternatives. You can even marinade again some tofu if you want to add some protein.
½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon of fresh crushed garlic
1 teaspoon peanut powder
A small handful of edamame
Some snap peas
A small handful of shredded red cabbage
Mix well and enjoy! Feel free to bulk it out with any other yummy toppings like avocado, peanuts, tomatoes or even add some cooked lean protein. Try some baked teriyaki glazed salmon if you wish.
If you tried any of these recipes, let me know what you thought! Stay healthy and eat well. A happy body and a happy mind equal a healthy life.