Exploring the Wonderful World of Winter Squash
Post by Olivia Martino, Registered Dietitian and Co-Owner, Nourish Northwest
In the winter we crave starchy foods. There’s a reason for this. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin, which carries the amino acid, tryptophan into the brain where it is converted to seratonin. Seratonin is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. High levels of seratonin help boost mood, improve sleep, curb food cravings and even increase pain tolerance.
There is also a reason why high carbohydrate foods are in season in the winter. The days are shorter, colder and darker and we tend to need a little help boosting our mood. Nature has a plan and it is no coincidence that we are intended to eat things like root vegetables, whole grains and winter squash this time of year. So get to your local farmer’s market or grocery store and stock up on these natural antidepressants! There are many varieties of squash to chose from, but here are some of my favorites:
The delicata squash is usually the first of the winter variety to come into season. It usually starts to appear at farmer’s markets in September and has a pretty long season. Delicata is by far my favorite squash because of its sweet flavor and quick cooking time.
To prepare: Slice the delicata vertically and scoop out the seeds. Place cut side down in a baking dish with high sides and submerge in 1 inch of water. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until you can pierce easily with a fork. Eat as is, skin and all, or add a little bit of butter and cinnamon. This squash is sweet enough without the addition of any sugar. Delicatas are also great for stuffing because of their long, boat-like shape.
We will also be teaching a delicious cider braised method in our upcoming Vegetable 101 workshop
Perhaps the most familiar of the winter squashes, this one tends to be a favorite of many and a good gateway squash to the who are new to the species.
To prepare: Start by peeling the skin off with a vegetable peeper. Then get a good knife because these can be tough to cut. Slice the ends off and then make a big vertical cut.
Scoop out the seeds and then chop into 1 inch chunks.
Butternuts are great for roasting with other vegetables of a similar density such as fennel, celery root and parsnips. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 4oo degree oven, stirring occasionally for about 30-40 minutes. Butternuts are also great blended up in soups.
I believe the the sole purpose of the acorn squash is to serve as an edible bowl. The shape of this varietal is perfect for filling with rice, beans and even soup.
Preparation: Make a vertical cut and scoop out seeds. Place face down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast at 375 for about 45 minutes, or until you can easily stick a fork through it. Stuff with filling of choice for a substantial meal, or with a pat of butter and maple syrup for a sweet dessert.
View the recipe for this Southwestern Stuffed Squash here.
We will also be teaching a Wild Rice Stuffed Squash in our upcoming Vegan Vitality class.
The spaghetti squash is just plain fun. From the outside it looks like any other winter squash, oblong in shape and pale yellow in color. But after cooking, the inside of the squash reveals spaghetti like strings that are a perfect substitute for the actual spaghetti.
To prepare: Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Brush with olive oil and salt and place cut side down in a baking sheet. Bake for bout 40 minutes in a 425 degree oven. Allow to cool slightly and scrape fork over flesh to make noodle like strands.
Toss with marinara sauce, pesto, or butter!
Those are just a few that are regularly in my rotation but there are so many more! The turban, buttercup, hubbard, kabocha, red kuri and of course pumpkin are other fun ones. Get cooking!