|October 24, 2013
Winter Squash, Anyone?
Contributed by MacKenzie Stark, B.S. — MSU dietetic intern at Tribal Health Diabetes Program, Tribal Health and Human Services
Now that fall is upon us, it’s a great time to start eating winter squash. This festive vegetable is not only full of flavor; it also has many health benefits. Squash originated in an area between Guatemala and Mexico, and it has been consumed for over 10,000 years. Squash was first cultivated for its seed because earlier varieties did not contain much flesh. Throughout time, sweeter flesh developed and the cultivation spread through the Americas. Squash is a constituent of the three sisters. The three sisters refer to squash, corn and beans, and these three crops were all an important part of the traditional Native American diet.
Winter squash is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and it is related to both melons and cucumbers. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colors, and the flesh is finely grained in texture and mildly sweet in flavor. Some popular winter squash include Acorn, Buttercup, Butternut, Carnival, Delicata, Hubbard, Sweet Dumpling and Spaghetti. Most winter squashes grow on vines and are harvested when they have fully matured. Compared to summer squash, they take longer to mature and are best harvested from October to November when the weather is cooler. Winter squash has a thick, tough outer skin that protects the flesh and allows it to be stored for months.
Winter squash is full of nutrients and promotes optimal health. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, some B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. It also contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Winter squash is a starchy vegetable, and much of this starch comes from polysaccharides found in the cell walls. More specifically, these polysaccharides include pectin, which is a type of soluble dietary fiber shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties.These are all health benefits that help to reduce the risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
When selecting winter squash, look for one that is firm, heavy for its size, and has a dull rind. The rind should not be glossy or soft because this may indicate that the squash is watery and lacking in flavor. There are many ways to cook squash, including pureed, roasted, steamed, and baked. To cook squash, it can be cooked and mashed, and then added to soups, entrees, breads, and pies. Mashed or pureed squash can also be used in place of canned pumpkin in recipes, and chunks of squash can be added to soups, stews and casseroles. Squash can be cooked raw or it can be dressed with different ingredients and then cooked. Some common examples are butter and brown sugar, olive oil and herbs, a cream sauce, maple syrup and nuts, and marinara sauce. Also, the hollow of squash can be stuffed with different vegetables, meats and seasonings, then baked.
The healthiest ways to prepare squash are baking and steaming. When baking squash the skin does not need to be peeled. Cut the squash in half lengthwise down the middle and scoop out the fibers and seeds. A squash can also be baked whole. If peeling is desired, a baked squash is easier to peel and can be cut into pieces, mashed, or pureed. If a recipe calls for peeling before cooking, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin.When steaming squash, all varieties of squash require peeling except for kabocha and butternut squash. Cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Continue to cut the squash into small pieces, peel the skin if necessary, and steam.Baked squash takes roughly an hour to cook, whereas steamed squash is much faster and takes around ten minutes. Squash can also be microwaved to save time.
Winter squash can be stored whole for three to six months, depending on the variety. To store raw squash after it’s been cut, tightly wrap cut pieces and refrigerate for up to five days. Once a squash is steamed or baked, the flesh of the squash can be tightly sealed and frozen until needed.
The flesh is not the only edible part of a squash. In fact, every part of the squash plant can be eaten, including the leaves, tender shoots, and seeds. The seeds can make a great healthy snack, and can be prepared the same way as pumpkin seeds. Lightly roast seeds in the oven for 15-20 minutes in order to minimize the damage to their healthy oils.
Winter squash is nutritious and delicious! To reap all of the benefits of winter squash, incorporate it into soups, stews, vegetables dishes, and main dishes this season. Below is an easy recipe for vegetable, bean and squash soup that is filling, flavorful and nutrient dense. Enjoy!
Winter Squash, White Beans & Kale soup
Yield: 8 servings • Prep Time: 25 minutes • Cook Time: 35 minutes
|•1 tablespoon olive oil
•2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
•3/4 cup chopped celery (about 3 large)
•2 cups water•3 to 4 cups 1-inch peeled and chopped winter squash (butternut squash works well in this recipe)
•2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary and thyme
•One (15.5-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained
*Optional: grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
|•1/2 medium onion, chopped|
•3/4 cup peeled and chopped carrot (about 2 large)
•6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
•2 cups torn/chopped kale leaves•1 bay leaf
•Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, then add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery. Cook and stir 5 to 6 minutes, or until vegetables begin to soften.
2. Add the broth, water and squash. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the kale, herbs and bay leaf, and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Stir in the white beans and heat through. Remove the fresh herb sprigs and discard. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve. If desired, sprinkle individual servings with Parmesan cheese.
*If you are preparing this recipe as gluten-free, just be sure to use brands of broth and beans that are known to be GF.
*If you are preparing this recipe as reduced-fat and/or reduced- sodium, use brands of both broth and beans that are low-fat and low-sodium.
Nutritional Information per serving:
|Serving size: 1 1/2 cups||Calories per serving: 130|
|Fat per serving: .4g||Saturated Fat per serving: .1g|
|Sugar per serving: 1.1g||Sodium per serving: 700g|
|Fiber per serving: 7g||Protein per serving: 6.5g|
|Cholesterol per serving: 4mg||Carbohydrates per serving: 26.5g|