By Maris Callahan
In the fall, farmers markets stock seasonal goods like apples, pumpkins, and Brussels sprouts, which most of us can easily identify. However if you head to your favorite market between August and November, there is a good chance you’ll find stacks of oddly shaped, brightly colored squash varieties that can be tricky to identify but surprisingly easy to cook.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the seemingly endless array of squash options, healthy living blogger and registered dietitian Janel Orvut suggests starting small. “When it comes to acorn squash, simple is always better,” she says. “I love roasting acorn squash cut in half in the oven with a brush of olive oil, some salt, pepper, and either cinnamon if I want sweet, or cumin and curry powder if I want more savory.”
Whether you have experience as a squash chef or not, acorn squash is a hearty meal option and a great replacement for meat-based entrees if you’re looking to shave some of the saturated fat from your diet.
“Acorn squash is a good source of fiber, so not only is it very filling and satisfying, but it’s heart-healthy,” says Orvut. “It is a good source of potassium and, like many brightly colored fruits and vegetables, contains disease-fighting antioxidants.”
In addition to nutrients, this dish embodies some of the best that autumn’s bounty has to offer. If you’re ready to get more creative with squash, fill each half with a combination of grains, dried fruit, and nuts, for a filling, healthy, and meat-free lunch or dinner. In this dish, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, sweet potatoes, and spinach offer a healthy lineup of flavor and nutrition that you can savor in between bites of sweet, tender acorn squash.
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 cups baby spinach, chopped and steamed until just wilted
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed into 1-inch dice
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup cranberries
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Sea salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
2 medium-sized acorn squash
1 cup lower-sodium vegetable broth or homemade stock
1/4 cup milk cheddar cheese, shredded
Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cook quinoa according to package directions. In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until softened but not browned. Place in a large bowl and add quinoa, cranberries, sweet potato, apple, almonds, and sage. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Step 2: Slice acorn squashes in half lengthwise, and scrape out seeds and strings. Place face down in large casserole or roasting pan, fill with 1/2 inch of vegetable stock, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 3: Remove squashes, reserve any remaining stock, and place them face side up in pan. Fill each cavity with about 1/2 to 2/3 cup stuffing. Drizzle with olive oil and any remaining stock, and cover tightly with foil.
Step 4: Bake until squashes are cooked and slightly soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking, sprinkle with cheese, and bake until cheese has melted. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
About the Author:
Maris Callahan is the author of In Good Taste, an avid self-taught home cook, and is widely knowledgeable about all things culinary. She is especially passionate about helping new cooks learn how to prepare healthy, delicious meals and snacks, even when life is busy. She believes in Ghirardelli chocolate, farmer’s markets and cooking from scratch when possible. When she is not in the kitchen working on her next recipe, Maris works as a marketing professional in Chicago and in her spare time, contributes to several websites including SheKnows.com, Diets In Review and Shape.com.