By Yo!Guest Writer, Heidi DeCosmo
Winter is the perfect time to start experimenting with different varieties of winter vegetables. Winter squash is versatile and easy to prepare and with most of the winter squash varieties you can create the same recipes, the flavors and textures create subtle differences. Butternut squash, acorn squash, kabocha and delicata are some of my favorites to create all kinds of fall delights. Winter squash are power house of goodness, rich in beta-carotene and a very good source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C and manganese. Winter squash also contain folate, omega-3 fatty acids, copper, and vitamins B1, B3, and B6, and they have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Try making a butternut squash soup or stuffed acorn squash for your Thanksgiving feast. Baked kabocha squash with cinnamon and nutmeg, puree and swirled into steel cut oatmeal, finish with a drizzle of maple syrup. Another way to use squash is for dessert, roast small cubes of squash with pumpkin pie spice, toss with dried cranberries and layer with vanilla Greek yogurt for rich and delicious parfait.
I have created a list of quick and easy cooking ideas to make using the squash fun and give you lots of variety. Choose squash that have a dull, deep-colored rind, is heavy for its size, and is free of moldy or soft spots. Store whole in a cool, dry place until ready for cooking.
To prepare winter squash for cooking, wash it first, then cut it in half lengthwise and
remove the seeds with a spoon or ice cream scoop.
• Use a heavy knife, such as a cleaver or chef’s knife. Holding the squash near the
bottom (but not directly under the path of your knife) use your free hand to plunge
the tip of the knife into the squash and push down to cut open as if pulling down
on a lever. Repeat until you’ve cut all the way through. Use a vegetable peeler to
peel away the skin then carefully cut as needed for your recipe. Sometimes if you
are using the squash in soup, pureed or just baked it is easier to remove skim after
baking. Allow squash to cool slightly them remove with a spoon.
• Cutting through the thick skin of a winter squash can be tricky, but it can be softened
by first baking it for 20 minutes, cool slightly then peel away skin with pairing knife.
Quick cooking ideas: Winter squash can be baked, steamed, simmered, stewed, mashed and
puréed. Try seasoning with honey, real maple syrup, tamari or soy, ginger, nutmeg, curry,
• For baked squash, put quarters or halves in the oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes
or until soft. Acorn, kabocha, sweet dumpling or turban squash work best for
•To steam, place squash in steamer basket over 2 inches of boiling water; cover and
cook until it can be easily pierced with a skewer or knife. Peeled cubes take about 15
minutes to steam. Halved squash, placed skin side up, takes about 30 minutes.
• Butternut, buttercup, banana and delicata squash are best for purées (and creamy
soups) because of their sweet and nutty flavors. Use a blender to purée cooked
•To add texture and flavor to a stir-fry, thinly slice raw squash and then sauté or stir-
fry with other vegetables for about 2 minutes.
• Drizzle apple juice over thin rings of acorn squash before baking for a sweet, aromatic
Heidi DeCosmo has worked alongside Chef Neff for the past 11 years and has been instrumental in the development of his Conscious Cuisine® Cookbook and Experience Life Magazine articles. She is an accomplished lecturer, cooking instructor and chief developer of the award winning Flavors 450/Conscious Cuisine® concept for Morrison Management Specialist. Trained as a whole-food vegan chef from the Natural Gourmet Institute, she leads the research and development as executive chef of Culinary Innovations.