GREAT GREAT GREAT stuff here! I love both winter and summer squash, but those winter varieties with their sweetness…oh my! I kick a killer recipe for BABA GANOUSH using squash in place of eggplant on this episode and show off a traditional Japanese oden dish of braised sweet squash too! BUST A MOVE IN YOUR KITCHEN!
When the summer dies down, I get a little sad. I can’t believe it’s over. But I do love the fall and the cooler weather. It’s then that the farmer’s markets go through a transition and I’m on a mad dash to taste the last of the berries and tomatoes, and suddenly, I’m thrilled and excited and happy all over again when I see the winter squash.
The older I get the more I appreciate these beautiful creatures. They may be funky looking on the outside, with their hard shell-like skin, assorted colors and weird bulbous shapes, but on the inside they are lovely, beautiful and tasty. You get a lot of bang for your buck with winter squash and they’ll last forever–you can store whole squash for months. Versatile and easy to prepare, there’s no reason to not have oodles of winter squash in your diet.
Healthy? Hell yes. The biggest player in the winter squash is vitamin A, but you’ll find the ubiquitous C in there along with loads of fiber, folate, potassium, manganese…shoot there’s even omega fatty 3 acids! They can be so rich and flavorful they make a great main course, a vegan steak if you will!
Acorn, Butternut, Delicata, Kabocha, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Trumpet, Pumpkins, Turban, Banana, Tahitian…there are many, many different varieties out there. Truth be told, I think they’re best by themselves, maybe with a little butter. I love to cut them in half, eviscerate them, rub ‘em with some olive oil and roast in a pan till soft. Comfort to the core: sweet, meaty, soft perfection. I also love to pan fry Delicata rings (or rounds of Trumpets and Butternuts) with a little fresh sage and brown butter. Winter Squash make great soups and pies, a little cooked and mashed up flesh makes a yummy “sauce” for an alternative veggie pizza.
I got funky on this episode. The Japanese dish I do at the end of the show is sweet and tasty. It’s traditionally done with Kabocha and served on rice, one of those great, bone-warming, winter dishes that surprised me in Japan. So many of the foods there use a similar, simple, braising technique. You can improvise and play with the flavors as much, or as little, as you like. The baba ga-squash is more than just a funny name, it is AWESOME! Someone I know, who will remain nameless, was complaining about eggplant and said they hated it. This got my brain churning and made me think of alternative veggies for eggplant classics. Ordinarily, you’d use roasted eggplant for baba ganoush but when I tried this tasty version with butternut…I may never go back.
Perhaps my favorite squash in the world is the Trumpet squash. I found this at a farm stand up in Petaluma, California called Green String Farms. I’d never seen such a crazy looking squash before…it’s kind of like the neck of a Butternut squash but stretched out for a few feet and curled and spiraled into a coil. The flesh is a lot like Butternut, but a little sweeter and richer. You’re not likely to find this or some of the more unusual squashes in your grocery store, you’re gonna have to hit a farmer’s market. And when you do, make sure you ask the purveyor which variety is rockin’ their world. You won’t be steered astray.
So don’t get depressed when winter rears its head and summer goes bye-bye. Get happy, get squashy! Winter squashes want to be your friend and they’ll stick around for months in your pantry. Get creative and get cooking!
It’s BABA GANOUSH with a roasted squash instead of eggplant! A really tasty and fun twist on the Middle Eastern classic.
Another dish best done to taste. Hence my recipe only calls for a half of a roasted butternut squash…how much is that exactly? About a half pound or a good cup of smashed roasted squash. There’s no wrong way to do this, be adventurous!
1/2 Butternut squash, roasted
1 Clove garlic, crushed
1.5 TBS Tahini
1 TBS Lemon juice
2 TBS Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
I prefer using butternut here but any of the winter squashes will work. I also prefer to roast that baby but you could boat, grill, steam or (tsk!) microwave it too. The bottom line is, you need about 1 Cup of cooked, skinned, smashed squash. Plonk it in a bowl and add to it your minced garlic, tahini, lemon juice (or vinegar, other acids work too), olive oil and sea salt and crack pepper to taste. MIX IT UP and taste it. Adjust the seasonings. You can go a step further and add some parsley or basil, fresh chili…whatever you want. Serve with pita chips or spread on a bagel or a sandwich or on falafel…it’s all good.
The first time I ate this dish I was a little confused. It was unlike anything I’d had before, kind of sweet, kind of savory, earthy, hearty, very warming. I was shocked. There are a lot of braised dishes like this in Japan, in fact there’s an entire genre of cuisine called ODEN very similar to this. Oden is kind of like a sobering bar food that people eat out on the streets at night under tents. From blocks away you can smell the simmering pots of sweetened soy broths cooking all sorts of meats, veggies, fish and eggs. You also see oden boiling away on the counter at convenience stores…I keep clear of convenience store foods though!
1/2 Acorn Squash, chopped into big chunks
1.5 C Dashi stock
2 TBS Sake (or vermouth or white wine)
3 TBS Soy sauce
Scant 2 TBS Mirin
2 tsp Ginger, sliced thin
1/3 to a 1/2 Pound of fried tofu
Don’t freak out if you don’t have dashi, sake or mirin. You can still make this dish, only it won’t be traditional, but it’ll still taste good. Let’s see…you can substitute any light flavored stock (veggie, chicken, beef or fish) for the dashi stock. If you don’t have sake I think vermouth or sherry make a pretty good replacement and even a dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc) works. Mirin is not my favorite thing…it’s a very sweet cooking sake but it is fairly common in Japanese cooking and hard to replicate. Still, a good substitution is to just use the same amount of wine or sake and a couple teaspoons of sugar for the sweetness. BUT if you are serious about Japanese cooking, you should start making (or buying) dashi and always have a bottle of sake and mirin on hand. The recipe for dashi is posted below. Oh, since we’re on the topic of authenticity…in Japan the traditional squash is a kabocha which you can find pretty easily (it’s also pretty similar to an acorn).
This dish, like many Japanese cooked classics, is unbelievably easy to make. Cube your squash into one or two inch pieces, leaving the skin on. Now the skins are not really edible and your guests will have to cut or bite around the skins…but it helps keep the squash intact as you braise it. Anyhoo, place the squash cubes in a pot skin side down. Add the rest of the ingredients, crank on the heat, put a lid on it and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the baby for 30 minutes. You’ll have a really tasty pot of braised veggies in a light, healthy, slightly sweet sauce. You’d normally serve this over rice, but it makes a great side (or main) dish all its own!
Dashi is the MOTHER STOCK in Japanese cooking. It is very light and unassuming but damn, it is delicious. I think it brings the flavor of the sea into foods and really heightens whatever it is you are cooking. Great stuff. Dashi seems to be in almost every Japanese dish known to man! You’re going to need to visit an Asian grocery store (or health food store, this is very macrobiotic) to pick up the konbu and the bonito flakes (these are the dried shavings of a salty, smoky mackerel…they’re also very popular in Japanese cooking…they kind of taste like bacon.). While you are there you might find instant packets of dashi stock. Sure you can buy those, but that’s cheating! Besides, making dashi is easy as pie and it is so good for you!
4 C Water
4” Piece of dried konbu (kelp)
1 Small handful (about an ounce) of dried bonito flakes
Rinse off your kelp and put it in a stock pot with the cold water. Turn on the heat to medium and just before it boils remove the kelp with tongs. Quickly add the fish flakes and just as it reaches a boil turn off the heat. When the bonito flakes sink to the bottom of the pot, strain the stock. That’s it! I freeze my leftovers so that I always have some ready to go for a quick bowl of miso soup.
Yields 4 cups.