A nutritional, often bumpy powerhouse we should all be adding to our diets…
It never ceases to amaze me how our bodies respond to the change of seasons. You think that sudden early-summer craving for fresh fruit and all things that go ‘crunch’ is a coincidence? Or the flash of desire for warming, hearty foods as soon as the temperature drops is simply a response to too much pumpkin spice marketing? While I’ll hand it to the powers that be that control the world of pumpkin spice, what’s really at work is our own biology. We might have a plethora of out-of-season fruits and vegetables available to us around the clock (bananas… in January?), if we take the time to listen, our bodies are likely crying out for what’s in season. And for good reason. Depending on the climate you live in, your body has different nutritional needs depending on the time of year, and nature is more than willing to provide. Cooling vegetables and juicy fruits keep us hydrated and cool when the summer sun is blazing, whether year-round or seasonally, and when the air turns crisp and winter’s dark days are knocking at the door with threats of cold and flu (and when maybe you’re also a little sick of eating salad all the time), strengthening tubers, roots, and dark leafy greens just happen to be in abundance.
This past weekend my body sent me the first faint messages that I might be coming down with something. Too much work and not enough rest coupled with a sudden change in temperature meant my immune system was vulnerable, ready and waiting to pick something up. Something entirely unwelcome. After downing some turmeric elixir I booked it to the market, where I was met with one of the greatest seasonal sights: a big ol’ pile of squash sitting in the produce section (… the things that get me excited these days…). Instead of going for my favorites (acorn and butternut), I decided to try something different and reached instead for a rather lumpy, bumpy green variety I’ve never tried, the kabocha squash. Turns out, this was one of the best decisions I could have made for my cold-threatened body. Kabocha is the nutritional wonder that’s too often relegated to decorating our doorsteps, but is chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Read on to learn why this squash deserves a place on your table.
What is it? Thought to be native to Mesoamerica and brought to Asia by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, kabocha squash is popular in countries such as Japan and Korea, and gaining popularity elsewhere for its fluffy texture and sweet flavor similar to that of a slightly citrusy sweet potato. With sage-green, and sometimes orange skin occasionally marred by a bump or lump, and a bright orange interior, kabocha squash are typically smaller in size (similar to acorn squash), making them ideal for smaller or single-servings and lend themselves well to nearly any recipe that calls for pumpkin or squash of any kind.
What are the benefits? One of those rather unattractive squashes you probably thought was just for decoration, kabocha squash is a nutritional, often bumpy powerhouse we should all be adding to our diets. Kabocha squash boasts high levels of beta carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A and which bolsters the immune system, promotes healthy skin and mucous membranes, and strengthens the eyes. Kabocha squash also contains high amounts of antioxidants, such as vitamin C (more good news for your immunity), and heart-healthy fibre, which keeps blood sugar regulated and keeps hunger pangs at bay.
How do I use it? Kabocha squash may be roasted or steamed and used in place of other squashes in most recipes. It’s delicious as-is, or combined with spices, tossed into soups and stews, mashed, or even added to desserts, either as the star ingredient or for an added boost of vitamins and fibre.
To steam kabocha squash, simply cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Place cut-side down in a deep baking dish and add 1-inch of water. Place in an oven preheated to 425 degrees F for about an hour, or until tender. Allow to cool before scooping out the flesh, though the skin is edible.
Steamed kabocha squash can be used in a variety of ways, even in your beauty routine. For a renewing face mask, combine ¼ cup of steamed, cooled kabocha squash with 1 tbsp oats and 1 tsp raw honey. Test on your inner arm to ensure no sensitivities before applying to face for 15 minutes. Rinse and moisturize as needed.
Like most squashes, kabocha squash is also fantastic roasted. Read on for a simple recipe, then experiment! This healing seasonal squash is super versatile.
Pan-Roasted Kabocha Squash
1 small kabocha squash
1 tbsp coconut oil (give or take)
½ tsp nutmeg
Pinch or two of course sea salt
Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Carefully split the squash in half with a sharp knife and scoop out the seeds (tip: use this recipe to make roasted kabocha squash seeds), then split the halves in two (your squash should now be quartered).
Lay the squash skin-down on the baking sheet and use your hands to spread the coconut oil on the exposed orange flesh of each piece. Sprinkle with nutmeg and sea salt. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until tender. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
Use this recipe as a jumping off point! From here, you could scoop out the squash and combine it with apples and nuts, or roast it with other vegetables using different spices like turmeric. Omit the nutmeg and use the roasted squash to thicken soups or use in place of pumpkin in recipes.
+ What’s your favorite way of cooking kabocha squash?
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