11/22/2011 01:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Last Minute Winter Squash Recipes For Holiday Cooking

When I do my own personal food shopping at my local natural foods store or farmer's market, it's inevitable that while I am in the produce section or piling sweet dumpling squashes into my shopping bags, I am often stopped my fellow shoppers with looks of bewilderment. The question most frequently asked is "What do you do with these things?" The person asking for guidance has no idea that I own and operate the premier organic vegan restaurant chain in Los Angeles. What they see is a woman who seems to know what to do with these exotic shaped gourds. And I do, as winter squashes are one of my favorite foods. Here is a quick rundown of my "Squash 101" lecture.

Winter squashes are available all year, but their peak season is early fall to early winter. Squashes are thick skinned, have hollow cavities and very dense flesh. Select squashes that have dull-colored skin (shiny is an indication that the squash is not ripe) and a firm shell (avoid squash with damaged spots or cracks) and one that is heavy for its size. The skin on most squashes is edible and the seeds can be roasted. You can bake, braise, roast, boil, or steam squashes, they make delicious tempura and some can be grated raw into salads.

Here's a quick reference to winter squashes found in most grocery stores. Winter squashes are affordable and usually sold by the pound.

Squash Varieties

  • Butternut --long and pear-shaped with tan skin and orange, sweet flesh
  • Acorn -- dark green ridged outer skin with deep yellow or orange flesh
  • Turban -- a small to medium-size colorful squash with a top that looks like a turban
  • Spaghetti -- when the flesh of this squash is cooked, it forms spaghetti-like strands with mild flavor
  • Golden nugget -- sometimes referred to as an Oriental pumpkin, this does in fact look like a small pumpkin in shape and color
  • Delicata -- this oblong-shaped squash is cream and green on the outside, and golden on the inside
  • Kabocha -- most specimens weigh an average of three pounds and have spotted dark green skin
  • Red Kuri -- this thick-skinned orange squash has the appearance of a smooth oblong pumpkin
  • Sweet dumpling -- small and plump with cream or light yellow coloring and green stripes
  • Pumpkin -- a very popular orange variety of squash from Halloween through the New Year

Click here to see my visit to Tutti Frutti Farms outside of Carpinteria, CA. Fifth generation farmer Chris Cadwell walked and talked with me about his organic squashes. You'll see the many varieties of the gorgeous and colorful squashes in peak season.

Courtesy of Veria TV

Braised Winter Squash

This dish is a perfect example of how naturally sweet orange squashes can be. Any of the many winter squashes, such as acorn, delicata, hubbard, kabocha, or red kuri, can stand in for the most popular winter squash of all: the butternut.
Serves 4

2 (2-pound) butternut squash (or acorn or kabocha squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice vinegar)

1 teaspoon tamari (soy sauce)
Fine-grained sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds, then cut each crosswise into 1-inch half-moons. Cut the peel off.

Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until the garlic and ginger become tender, about 1 minute. Add the squash pieces, water, mirin, and tamari. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the squash is nearing tender but still quite firm, turning the squash pieces after 10 minutes, about 15 minutes total.

Uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium. Simmer until the liquid evaporates and the squash begins to caramelize, turning the squash pieces occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8 to 10

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
8 cups Vegetable Stock or water
2 3/4 pounds butternut squash (approximately 1 squash), peeled, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, plus more for garnish
1 cup plain soymilk

Heat the oil in a heavy stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the stock and squash. Cover and bring to a simmer over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the squash is tender. Stir in the maple syrup, tamari, orange peel, salt, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until smooth. Alternately, working in batches, puree the soup in a regular blender until smooth. Stir in the soymilk.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with additional nutmeg, and serve.

The soup will keep for 2 days, covered and refrigerated. To rewarm, bring the soup to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Sweet Rice, Currants, and Vegetables
Serves 8

4 small acorn squash (each about 12 to 14 ounces), halved lengthwise and seeded
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 3/4 cups water
2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice, rinsed well
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons tamari
1 cup currants
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup pepitas, toasted and coarsely crumbled

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut a very thin slice off the rounded side of the squash halves to help them stand firmly on the plates and not topple over. Brush the squash bowls with 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the squash bowls, bowl side up, on a heavy large baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, or until the flesh of the squash is just tender. Keep the squash warm.

Meanwhile, combine the water, rice, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a 4 1/4-quart pressure cooker. Lock the lid into place. Bring the pressure to high over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes, or until the pressure reduces. Carefully unlock the lid and remove it from the pot. Fluff the rice with a fork.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and oregano. Sauté for 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the tamari, then the currants and basil. Stir in the cooked rice. Season the rice mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the rice mixture among the hot baked squash. Sprinkle the pepitas over the stuffing and serve.

The stuffed squash will keep for 1 day, covered and refrigerated. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the rice stuffing and squash are heated through, then sprinkle the pepitas over and serve.

Steamed Kabocha
Serves 8

1 (2-pound) kabocha squash
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Using a sharp knife, carve out a circular opening in the top of the squash. Reserve the top. Hollow out the squash. Return the top to the squash. Pour enough water into a large pot to come 1 inch up the sides. Place the squash in the pot. Cover with the pot lid and bring the water to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and steam the squash for 30 minutes, or until it is tender but still holds its shape.

Cut the squash into 1-inch-wide wedges and serve.