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December 2005/January 2006
The Magical Butternut Squash

By Isa Chandra Moskowitz


For me, cooking is a rewarding way to relax. I know that many of us see it as a chore, and the last thing you want to do after a long day of work is work some more. But let me ask you to shift that paradigm. Cooking can actually put you in touch with yourself. It engages all of our senses and is a perfect way to zen out and forget the day’s worries. And when so much of our day results in a Nietzschean spiral of pointlessness, cooking allows us to just be.

At this time of year, the farmer’s markets are bursting at the seams with butternut squash, a gourd that grows readily in most climates across America. Butternut squash also has the added magical quality of being both sweet and savory and needs little doctoring to make it taste like Julia Child prepared it for you. I find that people who think they aren’t crazy about squash will make an exception for butternuts.

To pick the perfect butternut, look for a squash with a firm skin—you shouldn’t be able to pierce the flesh with your fingernail. Choose squashes that seem heavy for their size, the heavier it is the sweeter it will be. Avoid squashes with bruises and soft mushy parts.

Here are three recipes for butternut squash, ranging from the bare minimal in effort to somewhat more labor intensive.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Coriander Seeds
Here’s a very simple way to serve butternut squash. Feel free to try it with different spices or even without any spices at all, the butternut will be able to stand on its own.

2 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3⁄4 inch chunks
2 T. Olive Oil
2 T. Coriander Seeds, smashed

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine all ingredients on a rimmed baking sheet (the “rimmed” part is essential, you don’t want the oil dripping off into the oven and causing a fire).

3. Make sure that all the squash pieces are coated in oil and seeds, and spread into a single layer.

4. Cook for about 35 minutes, tossing occasionally, until squash are tender and slightly caramelized.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Jasmine Butternut Risotto with Roasted Beets
I suppose this might be more of a pilaf but the creaminess of the butternut definitely makes it, if not risotto, then at least risotto’s first and favorite cousin. I like the aromatic flavor the jasmine rice lends this dish, but if you are a traditionalist go ahead and use arborio. The beets are entirely optional but add a nice earthy touch. Consider adding them if you’re having company or trying to impress a date.

2 T. Walnut Oil (olive or any vegetable oil will do)
1 Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into 1⁄2 inch pieces
1⁄2 C. Shallots, thinly sliced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 t. Fresh Ginger, minced
1 Whole Nutmeg, grated (or 2 t. ground)
1⁄2 t. Salt
1⁄2 C. White Wine
2 C. Vegetable Broth, warmed
3⁄4 C. Jasmine Rice
1 t. Pure Maple Syrup

1. Heat oil in a small (4 quart) soup pot, add the butternut squash, stir and cover.

2. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add shallots, garlic and ginger.

3. Cook uncovered for 3 more minutes, stirring frequently. Add nutmeg, salt and white wine, cook for 5 minutes.

4. Add rice, cook 5 more minutes, stirring frequently.

5. Add 1⁄2 C. broth, stir very frequently for 5 minutes. Add broth by the 1⁄4 cupful every 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently after each addition, until the rice is cooked and creamy, about 40 more minutes.

6. Add the maple syrup with the last addition of rice.

Roasted Beets
1 Large Beet (about 1 pound), scrubbed and cut into 1⁄2 inch pieces
2 T. Olive Oil
2 T. Balsamic Vinegar
4 Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Toss all ingredients together in a small (7x7) baking pan. Cover with tinfoil, bake for half an hour.

3. Remove tinfoil and toss beets. Cook uncovered for another 15-20 minutes, until beets are tender.

Serve on dinner plates or large low-sided bowls. Scatter on the roasted beets. It’s a feast for the eyes.

Serves 4.

Butternut Aduki Coconut Crusted Croquettes with Cilantro Tamarind Sauce
Aduki beans have a sweet and nutty flavor that marries nicely with the butternut squash. This dish is seemingly quite fancy but it’s deceptively easy to make. If you can’t find tamarind concentrate, I give you the go ahead to use store bought tamarind chutney that is available in most of the “nicer” supermarkets. You can roast the squash up to a day ahead and keep it refrigerated in a tightly sealed container until you’re ready to use it. Serve with brown basmati rice and either asparagus or green beans.

Sauce
1⁄2 C. Tamarind Concentrate
2 C. Fresh Cilantro (1 small bunch), torn into pieces
1 T. Pure Maple Syrup

1. Purée all ingredients together in a blender. Set aside (should be served at room temperature).

Croquettes
1 C. Aduki Beans, pre-cooked
1 Butternut Squash (2 1⁄2 lbs or thereabout)
1 T. Peanut Oil
1/8 t. Salt
1⁄2 C. Unsweetened Coconut, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise (I suggest scoring it first so that you have a relatively even line). Remove the seeds and stringy parts by scraping the insides with a large soup spoon. Place on a baking sheet cut-side down. Roast for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. In a mixing bowl, mash the aduki beans with a potato masher or strong fork. The consistency should be crumbly, with some of the beans completely mashed.

4. Add the cooled squash and combine until the squash is relatively creamy but still firm enough to form the croquettes. Add the oil and salt and combine.

5. Place the coconut in a wide cereal bowl.

6. Form the croquettes by rolling mixture gently between your hands to form a marshmallow shape. Gently press the top and bottom to flatten into a shape that resembles a hockey puck.

7. Gently pat the croquette into the coconut to coat. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, repeat with the remaining batter.

8. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes on each side.

9. To serve, place the sauce in a small bowl or ramekin. You don’t want to pour it on the croquettes or they will get mushy. Place rice in the center of the plate and place 4 or 5 croquettes around the rice. Garnish the rice with cilantro leaves or a slice of lime.

Serves 4.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is author of the just-released Vegan With a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock (Marlowe & Company) and creator and co-host of the DIY cooking show The Post Punk Kitchen. To learn more visit www.theppk.com.

 

 


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