When your diet changes with the seasons, there are a number of benefits. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are more cost-effective, and eating them in their natural growth cycles increases the likelihood that you’ll receive the maximum concentration of nutrients. Winter squash are a staple for the colder months, and they come in varieties suitable for entrées or desserts.
Pumpkin is perhaps the most well-known winter squash. There are people who do not like it, although these days it is hard to tell if the dislike is for pumpkin or pumpkin spice. Pumpkins (and many other squash) have a mild, sweet flavor. But the pumpkin-spice items that flood the market this time of year are heavily flavored with cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg and ginger, and sometimes contain no pumpkin at all.
If you just cannot get into this particular spice blend, keep it simple. Stick with vanilla and cinnamon for your homemade pumpkin treats, so that you won’t miss out on the vital nutrients this winter squash and its buddies has to offer.
Squash is rich in vitamins A and C and low in fat and calories. If you buy canned pumpkin, it might not be pumpkin at all, but rather, a different winter squash with similar sweetness, such as butternut. If you’d like to avoid “pumpkin pie filling” for pancakes and waffles, butternut squash is a great substitute – especially knowing that some canned varieties are butternut anyhow. Simply steam cubed pieces until nice and soft, then mash with a fork to achieve a purée texture.
Spaghetti squash is another popular winter variety. What makes it fun, as the name implies, is that once cooked, the flesh can be scooped out into thin, noodle-like strings. They can be used as a veggie substitute for traditional wheat or rice noodles (and you won’t need a spiralizing tool). When dealing with tough-to-cut vegetables like spaghetti squash, I always choose the easiest and safest route. You can microwave the squash for 10 minutes or so (depending on size), and wait to cut it open afterwards. Before microwaving, cut small slits in the skin (15-20 or so) to prevent cracking. Once softened, allow to cool first, then cut length-wise.
Can you eat the skin of a squash? Yes, but thinner-skinned varieties are typically the best choice. Acorn squash, for example, can be washed well and roasted with the skin on, as it is much easier to eat once cooked.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep the seeds. You can season and roast the seeds of pumpkins and many other types of winter squash, then eat them as a standalone snack or incorporate them into salads, granola, tacos and more.
Photos Styled by Rachel Rivers