Why winter squash?
Bright orange in color (the flesh, that is), winter squash is loaded with the carotinoids vitamin A and lycopene, “which have the proven capacity to inhibit the growth of cells of several cancer lines, including brain gliomas,” (David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer, page 122). Other carotenoids “stimulate the growth of immune cells and increate their capacity to attack tumor cells,” (David Servan-Schreiber, Anticancer, page 122).
In addition, “a study that tracked breast cancer patients for six years showed that those who consumed the most foods rich in carotenoids lived longer than those who consumer less,” (David Servan-Schreiber, Anti Cancer, page 122).
By the way, in a vitamin pill, you get only a few of the 563 identified carotinoids and none of the yet-unidentified ones — – another reason why a diet of good-for-you foods is better than the best vitamin supplement.
In addition, winter squash is a good alternative to potatoes, including sweet potatoes. While sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index (and therefore cause less of a rise in blood sugar) than regular potatoes, winter squash has an even lower gylcemic index. For the gyclemic index of common foods, see NutritionData.com. (Just enter the name of the food in the search box. Note: When comparing foods, be sure to compare cooked to cooked and raw to raw.)
Varieties of winter squash
There are many different varieties of winter squash. I like them all, but my current favorite is kabocha. The first time I saw a kabocha squash I was at an international market, and I had to ask someone what it was and how to cook it. But once I tried it, I was hooked.
Budget saving tips – buying and storing
Now that winter squash is in season (October), I’ve seen kabocha squash and many other interesting varieties at Whole Foods and the local supermarkets for $1.49 a pound (when not on sale) and that means that you can easily spend about $9.00 for a large squash (6 pounds). Ouch!
But at the farmers market this weekend, winter squash was going for just $1.00 a pound!
As I was about to purchase two kabocha and one buttercup squash, I lamented that I won’t be able to come back next Saturday – the last Saturday of the farmers market this year – to buy some more. “No problem,” commented the smiling woman to whom I was about to hand over a few dollars. “You can store winter squash in a cool place for the entire winter. In fact, that’s what farmers do. Winter squash doesn’t grow in the winter, it grows in the summer months and it’s stored over the winter.”
“For storing over the winter, a basement or a shed outside work perfectly, as long as you cover the squash with a blanket to keep it from freezing,” she said.
“Great idea!” I thought, and then I promptly selected many more beautiful winter squash to store over the winter.
And, she cautioned, “don’t put the squash into a plastic bucket or a cardboard box; you want the air to circulate freely to prevent ripening.”
“That makes sense,” I thought.
It’s amazing what you can learn while shopping at a farmers market! I love it!
And, I have two more bits of advice to add:
- Apparently you can even store winter squash in a cool area of the house without a blanket. I talked to a woman at the supermarket who told me that she left an acorn squash in the back of a cabinet in her kitchen all winter long and finally discovered it in March when she was doing some spring cleaning. It was in perfect shape, so she cooked it and enjoyed it.
- For a video that mentions storing winter squash in a dark cool cabinet and gives a lot more helpful information about winter squash, see You-Tube .
- If the stem of your squash has a little mold on the end of it, cut off the moldy end with a sharp pair of kitchen scissors before you put the squash into winter storage. (I try to avoid mold as much as possible. Mold can cause allergic reactions and some mold is carcinogenic.)
WINTER SQUASH – BASIC RECIPE (microwave steaming)
This is a basic recipe; nothing fancy. I’ll be adding more recipes for cooking winter squash as time goes on – after all, I have about 25 pounds sitting stored away for the winter!
I use this recipe whenever I’m in a hurry – no matter what variety of winter squash I’m cooking. It’s easy and fast and there’s not much clean up either.
1 winter squash
- The squash I used was a 2 ½ pound kabocha squash. The cooking time in the directions below reflects this variety of squash and this weight – and my microwave. You will need to adjust your timing accordingly.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, if desired
Wash the squash and the pierce the skin all over with the tip of a sharp knife or the tines of a fork. (This is very important as it allows the steam to escape and keeps the squash from exploding in the microwave!) Place the pierced squash on a microwave-safe plate and put into the microwave. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Remove the squash from the microwave. Pull at the stem to remove it; it should come right off. Then, using a sharp knife (preferably a sharp heavy knife like a chef’s knife), cut the squash in half (stem side to opposite side).
- I just learned that America’s Test Kitchen in their book, Cooking for Two (2009), says that the “best chef’s knife” is the very affordable Victorinox Forschner Fibrox 8-inch Chef’s Knife that sells for about $24.95. It’s lightweight and easy to use with a comfortable nonslip handle.
Use a large spoon and scoop out the seeds. Discard the seeds (unless you plan to feed them to your feathered friends.)
- Apparently, “…birds like a great variety of foods, including melon, squash, and pumpkin seeds. And, feeding homemade bird food, is a great way to recycle ‘waste’ and lower your bird food bill.
Pour ½ cup of water onto a microwave safe plate with a rim. Then place the squash halves, cut side down, onto the plate. If there’s a thinner and thicker side to your squash halves, place the squash so that the thinner sections are in the middle of the plate.
Microwave the squash on high for 10 minutes. Without removing the plate (and risking getting burned with hot water) test the squash for doneness in the following manner: Using your finger (in an oven mitt or shielded with a kitchen towel) press on the peel of the squash – in the thicker sections of the squash — to see if it gives a little when you press. If it doesn’t give a little, then add ¼ cup more water to the plate with the squash and microwave on high for another 5 minutes, or until the flesh in the thickest section gives slightly when you press.
If the squash seems about done, leave it on the plate so it can continue to steam cook while it cools. When cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the squash, scraping close to the peel. Discard the peel.
Place the squash into a serving bowl, and using a potato masher, mash the squash. Add a little salt and pepper, if desired.
- If your cooked squash is a little dry, consider cooking a second squash – one of the more moist varieties – such as butternut or acorn squash – and mashing the two of different varieties together. (I haven’t tried this yet, but it seems like it would be a good idea.)
Freeze in silicone muffin pans
To freeze the mashed squash, let it cool off and then spoon into the muffin section of a silicone muffin pan (the regular- not the mini-size pans). Place in the freezer and when frozen, remove from the muffin pan and place in zippered freezer bag; store in your freezer. For the best results, use within about 3 months.
So when winter squash is selling at a good price, cook up a lot of it, mash it, and freeze it. This saves money, time, and clean up !
Enjoy and be healthy!