Butternut Squash for Delicious Winter Soups
What is Butternut Squash?
Pale golden in color, with rich orange flesh, this winter squash is one of my favorites. It is pear shaped, with a cavity containing seeds in the bottom rounded end. The sweet flavor similar to the common pumpkin allows it to be substituted into any recipes calling for pumpkins.
All the winter squashes are fiber-rich, an excellent source of potassium and vitamins A, B and C. The deep orange the color of the butternut squash indicates its high carotene (vitamin A) content.
The butternut squash will keep for several months, and ripens further over time, the flesh turning a deeper orange, and becoming sweeter. A versatile vegetable, it can be roasted, steamed or boiled to use as a vegetable; mashed to enrich muffins and quick breads, used in pies or casserole dishes.
A Short History of Squash
Squash are native to North America, although our present day squashes are probably not quite what native Americans grew 10,000 years ago. One of the sacred three vegetables - corn, squash and beans - they were basic and essential crop food in both North and South America.
The original squash were grown for their seeds, since the flesh was sparse and stringy. The seeds are a nutrient dense source of food. Brought to Europe by Spanish, Portuguese, English and French explorers, and introduced into European gardens, squash plants were cross-bred and eventually many new varieties were created.
Choosing Your Squash
When you're shopping for butternut squash, choose ones firm and free of blemishes or cracks. Medium sized ones are the best choice - smaller ones are less flavorful and very large ones are often fibrous. Select ones that are heavier, and have a duller skin, since that indicates it was picked when mature.
Basic Butternut Squash Soup
This is the basic soup, delicious in itself. Dress it up. Try the variations below, or create your own.
- 1 medium size butternut or acorn squash
- 3 carrots
- 4 cups organic or home made chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Peel squash and cut into 1 inch chunks. Peel or scrape carrots, and dice to 1/2 inch. Place in a soup pot, and add enough broth to come to about ½ the height of squash. Bring to a boil, then simmer till the squash starts to soften.
Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic in butter, and when soft, add to the soup. Once the squash is just a little 'al dente', remove it from the stove and blend with a blender or vitamix to your desired consistency - smooth to a little chunky.
Add the parsley and season to taste.
Use a Hand Blender for your soup
Here are three variations to the basic soup to get you started:
Zesty Mexican Butternut Squash Soup
Saute chopped tomatoes and green peppers (or other peppers) along with the onion and garlic. Add chilli powder, cumin, or other hot sauce to taste. Garnish with crumbled nacho chips.
Italian Butternut Squash Soup
Add fresh or dried oregano and basil to the basic soup. Sprinkle grated parmesan on top when serving.
Butternut Holiday Spice Soup
Add 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and cloves and 1/2 tsp cinnamon along with the onion. Omit the garlic.
Garnish with caramelized walnuts or pecans (Caramelizing nuts is easy: sprinkle 1 cup of nuts with cinnamon, and saute lightly in little bit of butter, coconut or olive oil, a dash or two of balsamic vinegar, and a tablespoon of maple syrup. Cool before using as a garnish).
Curried Chicken and Vegetable Soup with Quinoa
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup coarsely chopped Italian tomatoes
- 2 carrots, chopped to 1/4 inch dice
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 parsnip, chopped to 1/4 inch dice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 10 cups organic or home made chicken stock or water
- 2 pounds chicken breast, cut into strips
- Cooked quinoa
Saute onions, garlic, and bell pepper until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, and turmeric and cook for another minute.
Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil. Add the carrots, squash, parsnip and cinnamon. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Add chicken breast and cook until the chicken is done, about 8 minutes.
An alternative is to use shredded or chopped leftover chicken or turkey. In this case, reheat only until the meat is warmed through - about 2 minutes. Vegetarians can omit the chicken, or substitute tofu.
Spoon warm cooked quinoa into bowl and top with the soup.
More Ways to Enjoy Winter Squash
Many of the varieties of winter squash can be found in organic food outlets, farm markets and even the produce department of your local grocery store. Look for acorn squash, hubbard, butternut, delicata, spaghetti, and turban squashes.
Soups aren't the only way to enjoy these great tasting squashes. Once cooked, they can be used in many ways.
- cube and add to rice or quinoa, along with onion and herbs.
- slice, dredge in seasoned flour or cornmeal and panfry in olive oil and butter.
- mash and use as a side dish, flavored with maple syrup and cinnamon
- mash and mix with mashed potatoes
- puree and use in baking - great in muffins, scones, quick breads and bread recipes.
Like many foods, the use is limited only by your inventiveness and imagination. Make a point of trying out some of those nutritionally dense and fibre-rich winter squashes this week.
Does winter squash have a place in your diet?
More Ways to Enjoy Squash
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