While many of our favorite fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season during late fall and winter, there is no need to despair! A plentiful cornucopia of nutritious and delicious alternative choices are available to enjoy during the chillier months, such as pears, apples, navel oranges, sweet potatoes, sweet bell peppers, grapefruit and winter squash. What about winter squash? What are the various varieties and how can one easily prepare this nutritional gold star?
Although available from August through March; they are at their best from October to November during peak season. Winter squash, member of the Cucurbitaceae family and relative of both melons and cucumbers, comes in many different varieties, including hubbard, turban, banana, acorn, butternut, spaghetti, kabocha, sweet dumpling, gold nugget, carnival, delicata, butternut and pumpkin. Not all varieties are easy to find and use in recipes. Hubbard squash is the least sweet type while the famous pumpkin squash is the sweetest (also known as sugar or pie pumpkin squash). Although they vary in size, shape, flavor and texture, any of them can be used in recipes calling for winter squash. They are tasty and filling and can be used in casseroles, pies, soups, or mixed with grains and beans.
Did you know that winter squash is actually more nutritious than most summer squashes? How does the amazing array of nutrients found in squash support our health? Butternut and acorn squashes are members of the yellow-orange family of fruits and vegetables which means that they are abundant in the antioxidant beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A and has been shown to aid in the prevention of many types of cancer as well as macular degeneration. It is also a very good source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fiber (6 grams per serving or 1 cub cubed squash). It is beyond the scope of this article to list all of the numerous health benefits of winter squash!
A couple of quick ideas for including winter squash in your meals:
* Add cubes of winter squash to your favorite vegetable soup recipe (butternut works nicely).
* Top puréed cooked winter squash with cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg and maple syrup.
OR try out this sample recipe:
Sweet Buttered Squash
1½ pounds yellow squash, sliced thin (peeling optional)
1 small sweet onion, halved and sliced thin
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced in slender strips
1 TB brown sugar
1 - ½-oz packet of butter sprinkles
¼ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
Place onion, green pepper and squash in pan and cover. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. When squash begins to get tender, add brown sugar, butter flakes, and black pepper. Cook until tender. Serve immediately. Note: Only add salt if necessary after tasting. Serves 6.
Nutritional facts per serving:
1 g fat
10 g carbohydrate
3 g dietary fiber
0 mg cholesterol
349 mg sodium