Health Spotlight on a Thanksgiving Day Staple: Squash Print Write e-mail
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Thanksgiving - Thanksgiving 2010
Written by Frank Mangano   
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 04:55

Awash in Squash

Every evening, right around 6 o’clock, the question “What’s for dinner?” is uttered in millions of homes around the country.  And every day, the answer to that question elicits one of two responses:  “Great,” or “That again!”

The one day in which home cooks are spared that tired question is Thanksgiving.  Because on that day, the question is not what’s for dinner, but what’s not for dinner?

Turkey.  Ham.  Stuffing. Cranberry sauce.  Cornbread.  Carrots.  PotatoesBroccoli.  Yams.  Sweet potatoes.  Corn on the cob.  Cider. And that’s just for the main course!

While all these dishes can be considered “must-haves,” try to find room for one more dish for your Turkey Day table:  Winter squash.

From buttercup to butternut, calabaza to delicata, winter squash comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  Just as plentiful are the ways in which to cook and serve winter squash, be it baked, broiled, boiled, mashed or roasted.  And don’t forget the multitudinous ways in which winter squash benefits the body.  A small sampling:

Eye Health

Carrots have become synonymous with eye health – and well they should.  Carrots contain a whopping 34,317 IUs of vitamin A per cup (686 percent of your daily- recommended value), the vitamin that eyes grow wide over.  But winter squash is no pushover.  Winter squash has well over 100 percent of your daily-recommended value for vitamin A, boasting 7,291 IUs per cup!

Cholesterol Blocker

Thanks to its abundance in beta-carotene (Helpful hint:  Any vegetable that’s orange is rich in beta-carotene), winter squash is a great way to keep the arteries free and clear of artery-clogging cholesterol.  It does this by blocking the oxidation (i.e. “oxidation” is a fancy way of saying chemical compounds have combined with oxygen) process, thus preventing cholesterol from taking up shop inside said arteries.  Beta-carotene is present in all vegetables that contain vitamin A, as it’s converted into vitamin A once digested.

Brain Builder

Fish has become synonymous with brain food, primarily because of its richness in omega-3s.  Well, winter squash ought to be considered the fish of vegetables, because it, too, is rich in omega-3s.  Granted, the omega-3s in squash aren’t as readily absorbed by the body as seafood-based omega-3s are, but nevertheless, one cup contains approximately 15 percent of your daily-recommended value (i.e. between .34 and .49 grams).

University of Maryland researchers say roasting winter squash is the best way to eke out every last drop of omega-3s.

Choosing the Right Squash

There are dozens of winter squash varieties, but you’re probably not likely to find more than four (five at the most) when you go squash seeking.  Let this be your guide in choosing the squash that suits your taste:

Butternut – When you think about winter squash, this is the one that’s probably in your mind’s eye.  It’s cylindrical, with a bulbous bottom half that’s quite round – similar to the shape of a pear (but bigger, of course).  The inside is a burnt orange that, once cooked, looks a lot like mashed potatoes that have been dyed orange.

If you like the taste of butterscotch – this one’s for you, as some people compare its taste to the creamy consistency of butterscotch. Others aren’t so bold, saying its sweetness tastes more like yams or sweet potatoes.

Buttercup – Buttercup squash is a distant second to the butternut in terms of popularity, but buttercup proponents prefer it that way.  After all, that means there’s more for them to enjoy!

Buttercup squash resemble pumpkins in appearance.  They both have a rather prominent stem, both are round and squat, and both have lined indentations that extend from the stem to the base.  But unlike pumpkins, buttercup squash are a grayish-green on the outside; they resemble a pumpkin’s color once opened, though.

Buttercup squash are typically baked, which can be done simply by cutting them in half, scooping out the seeds, and placing them face down (i.e. cut-side down) on a baking sheet.  Depending on their size, the insides should be ready to eat after baking them for 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

Acorn – These appropriately named beauties (i.e. they look like giant-sized acorns) are often found decorating the centerpiece of a Thanksgiving table.  And while the aesthetic beauty of acorn squash make for a fine adornment, it’s just too darn tasty to use for decorative purposes only if you ask me.

Like its butternut and buttercup predecessors, the acorn squash is sweet, but consistency-wise, it’s more akin to spaghetti squash.

Delicata – If you ever wondered what a giant peanut looks like, look no further than the delicata squash.  Otherwise known as the Peanut squash, this yellowish, oblong gourd has regained popularity.  Once very popular with the American public, the delicata fell out of favor after the 1920s, possibly due to it’s delicate (hence the term “delicata”) skin, making it a less than ideal food for carrying long distances.  Further, delicata squash don’t keep as long as its contemporaries.  This is truly unique to the delicata, because winter squash are labeled as such because they stay fresh well into the winter months (thanks to their rock solid exterior).

Thanksgiving’s Over.  Now What?

With any luck, when Thanksgiving dinner is over, there’ll be leftovers.  And Thanksgiving being what it is – a feast! – odds are there will be. In fact, if you’re family is anything like mine, the next several days will be Thanksgiving dinner, be it in the form of sandwiches, soups, or salads.

And as versatile as leftover turkey is, so too is leftover winter squash.  From winter squash soup to winter squash puree, winter squash bread to stuffed winter squash, winter squash pancakes to winter squash au gratin, the ways in which to reinvent squash are truly limitless.

And all of them can be done in an all-natural, health-friendly way.




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