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Do you admire that winter squash display at the supermarket every week, but have no clue what to do with them? If so, read on for information on nutrition, how to prepare, recipes and a fun fact or two.
Squash is a native plant of the Americas and as a crop dates back about 8,000 years. It’s one of the “Three Sisters” crops, referring to an Iroquois myth about three inseparable sisters.
Nearly every Native American tribe planted squash, corn and beans. In the field, squash’s long stems and large leaves retain ground moisture and repel pests while bean vines climb up corn plants' tall stems.
There are dozens of kinds of squash, but pumpkins rule at Halloween. Most of the spooky and creative pumpkins we carve up into Jack-O-Lanterns aren’t edible. Be sure to look for cooking or sweet pumpkins for Thanksgiving pie.
Fun fact: Most winter squash average less than 4 pounds, but imagine this: the world record for largest pumpkin clocked in at over one ton (2000 lbs).
Roasted Delicata Squash
Carotenoids give winter squash their yellow-orange color. These pigments, also found in carrots, tomatoes and apricots, act as antioxidants and protect our cells from free radical damage that may lead to cancer. Foods rich in carotenoids decrease risk of mouth and lung cancers.
One squash that has that rich golden color is Delicata. It has a creamy texture and is delicious simply sliced and roasted with a little olive oil.
Ascorbic Acid Crystals (vitamin C)
Winter squash packs a lot of vitamin C, which means it’s one food that helps lower risk of esophageal cancer. Just one cup of winter squash provides about 1/3 of the vitamin C you need every day, with more fiber and fewer calories than 1 cup of orange juice.
Try Hubbard squash for your vitamin C – it’s bluish on the outside, but orange-fleshed inside. Cut in half, roast in the oven and use the flesh in any squash soup recipe.
When preparing squash, don’t throw away the seeds! They’re rich in zinc, a compound important for growth and wound healing. They also contain manganese, a mineral that helps antioxidants do their work.
Rinse seeds in water to remove any squash flesh and strings. Dry seeds with paper towel, spread on baking pan and roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes. Stir seeds every 10 minutes. Enjoy shelled or eaten whole.
Pumpkin pie may be America’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert, but squash isn’t just for pie. Use pumpkin and squash in soups, breads, muffins, gratins, and just plain after baking or boiling.
Try it as a filling for lasagna and ravioli or substitute spaghetti squash for pasta in many dishes. Or stuff a small pumpkin with veggies and lean meat (left).
Jazz up your menu with a flavor-filled and seasonal squash enchilada. Keep it soft and sweet with mild salsa or turn up the heat with an extra hot version.
Either way, you’ll fill your plate with a delicious cancer-fighting dish. Here's one of our favorites from the AICR Test Kitchen: Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Salsa.
For more information on the science, tips and more recipes:
Foods that Fight Cancer: Winter Squash
How to Cook Winter Squash: Spaghetti Squash Recipe with Video
The Science of Squash
Pumpkin Jack-O-Lantern Pancakes
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