To me, the hour-glass butternut is like one of those friends who, when you bump into on occasion, leaves you feeling energized and happy to be alive. And if my recent research is correct, I’m not the only one who’s affected this way. Native Americans, the first people to introduce butternut squash to the New World, buried the gourds with their dead so as to provide nourishment during the journey into the afterlife. The butternut seeds, I learned, were also said to increase fertility, thus were often planted around their encampments.
Butternut squash grows like a weed around here. We plant them arbitrarily and let them wander their way under the fruit trees, through the pole beans, and into the Swiss chard, only being redirected when threatening to strangle or suffocate a neighbor.
I discovered last year that the plants were in far better health during the rain-drenched summer months. In the cooler, dry winter, when we had to irrigate from the Zambezi River regularly, all our squash varieties were afflicted with downy mildew. We tried spraying the leaves with a mixture of milk, water and bicarbonate of soda, a recommendation I found on the internet, but it proved near impossible to get rid of completely. (If any of my readers have an effective organic solution they use for dealing with downy mildew, I’d be most grateful if you shared it with me.)
This humble vegetable is packed with nutrition — chock-a-block with vitamins B6 and C, potassium, folate, beta-carotene, antioxidants, and the all-important dietary fiber — it’s no wonder the likes of Martha Stewart regard it as a “power food.”
Butternut squash is the most versatile vegetable which I cook with throughout the year. It’s terrific in a risotto, ravioli, as a soup or salad, and goes with all roasted and grilled meats. I often substitute butternut for potatoes because it is so much better for you.
In contrast with the low-key butternut, the other power food I use in this recipe is the sumptuous pomegranate. ‘Tis the season again for this exotic to be consumed tree-to-mouth, and when they are not being eaten or juiced, we’re bagging pound after pound of arils to be frozen for use later in the year.
Deseeding pomegranates can be a messy business and the juice, like blood, is a challenge to remove from your clothes. Here, we break open the pomegranate underwater, which not only allows for the careful removal of the seeds without bursting and squirting you, but it easily separates them from the weightless white pith that will then float straight to the surface.
Whenever we’re making a dish that uses loads of different vegetables, we save all the cuttings and peels to throw into the stockpot. Our freezer is never without a supply of stock, be it vegetable or meat-based. In this recipe I used vegetable stock, which adds more flavor to the quinoa than if you cooked it in water. Other alternatives include toasting the quinoa in a little olive oil before boiling, or adding a shot of wine or flavored oil to the water.
The following low-carb, gluten-free recipe makes for a delicious summer lunch.
Roasted Butternut Squash stuffed with Jeweled Quinoa
Yield: 2-4 servings
- 2 butternut squash, halved
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 heaped cup quinoa
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or water)
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, dry-roasted
- 2 medium bell peppers (preferably different colors), deseeded, and finely sliced lengthwise
- 1 cup green beans, cut into bite-size lengths and blanched
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, divided
- 1/2 cup garlic chives, finely sliced
- 3/4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 cup feta cheese, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- Preheat the oven to 180/350 degrees. Cut the butternuts in half, remove the seeds, coat with olive oil, and season with grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, depending on their size.
- While the butternuts are roasting, rinse the quinoa under cold water.
- Bring the vegetable stock to the boil, add the quinoa, stir until well-combined, cover, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes (it is done when the individual seeds look like they have opened). Fluff up with a fork and break up any lumps. Cool slightly.
- Remove the roasted butternuts from the oven, cool slightly, and groove out the flesh from the neck with a teaspoon. Try not to break the skin.
- Combine the rest of the ingredients, including half of the pomegranate seeds, the small chunks of butternut you carved out of the neck, and the remaining spoon of olive oil. Gently fold in the quinoa, ensuring the ingredients are well-combined. Season to taste.
- Spoon the quinoa mixture into each butternut half, and decorate with sprigs of dill and mint.
- Serve warm.