Vegetables & Sides
Kabocha squash may not be as familiar as other varieties of squash, but well worth trying if they are available where you live. They are plentiful here in Asia where they are known as Japanese winter squash variety. Kabocha squash was brought into Japan from Cambodia by Portuguese sailors in the mid 1500’s. Kabocha squash is now widely available here in South East Asia as well as New Zealand, Hawaii, parts of the US, Jamaica, Mexico, and Chile.
Kabocha squash has a thick deep bluish green knobbly skin with celadon streaks. The flesh is a brilliant yellow orange with a pronounced sweet flavor, not unlike the sweet potatoes, when roasted. Kabocha squash is rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium, and folic acid.
kabocha squash’s appearance might be perceived as unattractive, but you can’t always judge a book by its cover. The shape and color of a kabocha squash reminds me a bit of the Japanese Mingei style in pottery that emerged in Japan in the 1920’s. The uneven surface and muddled coloration of a kabocha squash is not unlike the shapes of pots and the color palettes for glazes favored by potters at the time. The Mingei movement was based on bringing common, imperfect, and utilitarian objects into the realm of what was considered art. The idea that ordinary and utilitarian objects existed beyond a realm of beauty or ugliness was a radical idea that redefined what was art in a rapidly evolving modern Japan.
That said,the inner beauty of this squash is ravishingly revealed in the kitchen! Roasting squash is so easy it almost makes itself and the results are brilliantly colorful, comfortingly flavorful, and abundantly healthful to boot!
I particularly like to enlist roasted squash as as an alternative for sweet potatoes for holiday meals. The brilliant color alone should be persuasive enough for you to give it a try. A flourish of pomegranate syrup drizzled over the squash makes this a spectacular side dish for any holiday spread. I like to serve the squash with a lemony tabbouleh which compliments the sweetness of the squash beautifully.
Roasting Pumpkin and Squash: For recipe (click Here)
As mentioned, drizzling the roasted squash with pomegranate syrup adds a lovely sweet sour note to the squash. Pomegranate syrup is available at Greek and Middle Eastern shops and online.
Or make your own Pomegranate syrup. Simply slowly boil pomegranate juice in a non-reactive saucepan until reduced to a syrup. Be careful towards the end of the reduction. Once the syrup begins to bubble up begin swirling the pan. You do not want to syrup to caramelize which would make it bitter rather than tart and crisp.
When the squash is a beautiful golden color remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with Pomegranate syrup and serve along with a small bowl of the syrup placed on the table.
Tabbouleh: For recipe (click here)
Calabacitas is a traditional native squash dish that has been prepared throughout Central America and the American Southwest since ancient times. Today there are many regional variations, but the essential native ingredients that date back to pre-Columbian times include calabaza (pumpkin or squash), elote (corn), and chilies. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400’s cows, sheep, and goats were imported from the old world and calabacitas evolved with the introduction of dairy by-products, including cream (crema) and cheeses.
Interestingly, Mennonite farmers who settled in Chihuahua in the late 1800’s, began producing semi soft cows milk cheeses known as queso Mennonita, which is officially recognized as an authentic Mexican cheese, and often tops calabacitas beautifully to this day.
The recipe that follows reflects various New Mexican and Mexican calabacitas I have encountered while living in Santa Fe and on frequent forays into Mexico over the years. As Mexican cheeses are not generally available outside of Mexico, alternative cheeses include a mild hard or soft goat cheese or fresh or soft mozzarella.
Calabacitas is a beautiful dish to consider for a truly traditional American holiday meal. Or, do as they do in Mexico, a calabacitas con pavo and transform your leftover turkey into a comida a la Mexicana.
Calabacitas: serves 4
- 3 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves, leaves only
- 3 medium size zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped to extract the milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 onions, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3-4 flame roasted jalapeno chilies, skin and seeds removed, cut into thin rajas (strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- ¼ cup stock as needed
- 3 ½ oz sour cream
- pinch of cinnamon
- flaked sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh Mexican cheese (or optional cheeses mentioned above)
- poached chicken or leftover turkey (optional)
Ideally I like to use a cast iron iron skillet for even browning of the vegetables, but a large heavy bottomed frying pan should work equally well.
Place the skillet on the stove top over medium flame. When the pan is hot add a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter. When melted add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 30 to 45 seconds should do it. Transfer the fried leaves to a plate and set aside to use later.
Promptly add cubed zucchini to the pan with out crowding. You may have to brown the zucchini in several batches. Turn the zucchini to be sure it browns on all sides, about 5 or 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate to use later. Continue, browning the remaining zucchini and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil and teaspoon butter to the pan and, when hot, add the whole corn kernels. Brown the corn on all sides, again about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to another plate and set aside to use later
Once again, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon butter to the pan. When melted add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions just begin to color, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the milk in a small sauce pan and add the scrapped corn with its milk. Place the pan over low heat and warm to nearly simmering. Stir in the pinch of cinnamon and turn off the heat.
When the onions are nicely colored add the browned zucchini, browned corn, and the roasted jalapeno strips to the skillet. Add the marjoram or oregano, and half of the sage leaves, crumbled over the other ingredients. Stir all the ingredients together and add just enough stock to moisten the calabacitas, about ¼ cup at the most should do it. Heat to a mere simmer, taste, and add sea salt to your liking. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/170 c (if using)
Meanwhile stir the sour cream into the warm milk mixture with corn scrapings until well combined,
At this point you can place the skillet of calabacitas over very low heat on the stove top. Stir in the sour cream milk mixture, top with grated cheese if using, cover lightly with foil and warm for several minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
Alternately you can transfer the calabacitas to baking dish, scatter grated cheeses over the surface if using, and place in the preheated oven to warm for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the calabacitas on the stove top in the skillet, or transfer to a serving bowl, top with the remaining fried sage leaves and serve.
Or, serve the calabacitas directly out of the oven garnished with the fried sage leaves.
“Sheet-pan” meals seem to be trending on the internet the last few weeks and for good reason. This is a sensible and easy way to turn out hearty nutritious midweek meals without spending a lot time or fuss. I’ve been doing this for years. Basically you toss a bunch of vegetables into a sheet or roasting pan, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to roast them for the better part of an hour. Voila! You have a splendid meal to put on the table as well as enough makings for a couple of reincarnations as well.
This time around I’ve used late summer vegetables, with a nod towards some Indian seasonings, which are roasted and served atop garlic naan bread which I buy from a favorite local Indian restaurant. The next day I tossed the vegetables with pasta, and on the following day a hearty vegetable soup using homemade stock.
The possibilities are endless here with the added benefits of vegetable based meals that are both healthy and robust enough to even satisfy reluctant carnivores.
Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables with Garlic Naan and Coriander Chutney
- 6 garlic naan or other flat bread of choice
- 4 medium size gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 12 oz baby carrots, trimmed
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 bell peppers of various colors, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 6 oz small shiitake mushrooms, halved
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon sliced fresh marjoram leaves
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground ¼
- teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + to taste
Place the cut potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and parboil for about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Place the carrots and cauliflower in a steamer basket placed over simmering water and steam about 5 minutes. Set the basket of vegetables aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c rack set mid-level in the oven
Set a large skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat until the oil is nearly smoking.
Add the onions and saute about 4 minutes until wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until the peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the sage, marjoram, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Then transfer the contents of the skillet into a sheet-pan or roasting pan along with the reserved potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and the cherry tomatoes.
Add the remaining olive oil and toss all the ingredients until well combined. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning the vegetables over in the pan at 15 minute intervals.
While the vegetables are roasting you can make the Coriander chutney.
Coriander chutney is a standard condiment served in most Indian restaurants. The title Chutney may be a bit misleading as this chutney is more of a sauce rather than a mango or lime chutney you may be more familiar with. The coriander chutney adds a fresh aromatic and spicy note when splashed over the roasted vegetables.
Coriander chutney makes nearly a cup
- 1 ¼ cups fresh coriander leaves
- 2 two inch fresh green chilies, flame roasted, skin removed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly grated young ginger root
- ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- a pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon neutral tasting vegetable oil
Place the coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger, cumin, and lime juice in a blender jar or mini food processor. Pulse until the coriander is pulverized, scraping down the sides of the blender or processor frequently.
Then add the water, sea salt and sugar and blend for several minutes, again scraping down the sides of the blender or processor as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream.
Transfer the chutney to a jar with lid and refrigerate until needed.
Serving: The roasted vegetables are a perfect starter for a meal, as pictured.
Warm the garlic naan, or flat bread of choice, and generously mound the warm roasted vegetable on top. Spoon the Coriander chutney over the vegetables and serve.
The roasted vegetables can also be served as a side with a main course, or even better, as a main course with a side of couscous, rice, Bulgar, or quinoa.
The dilemma for gardeners and cooks this time of year is “ what am I ever going to do with all these vegetables?” Don’t panic trying to come up with three or four recipes that accommodate various vegetables. Why not take the simplest route and braise them all together? I find what emerges from the oven is a deeply flavorful melange of vegetables that are substantial enough to serve as a main course along with rice, couscous, bulgar wheat, or try tossing them with a pasta.
The other obvious beauty of this approach is a quick easy meal that almost makes itself. A short saute on the stove top and then into the oven to braise for an hour, and that’s all there is to it!
You hardly even need a recipe for this other than a few words about the cooking sequence and timing. Use any combination of seasonal vegetables available.
Braised Summer Vegetables: serves 4
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
- 1 green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, cut into thin strips lengthwise, and halved
- 1 red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded, cut into thin strips lengthwise, and halved
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 5 oz/142 g shiitake (or other mushrooms) brushed clean and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry white wine, dry sherry, or water
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 small pumpkin (or squash) peeled and diced
- 1 cauliflower, separated into florets
- a bunch of kale leaves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves
- ½ teaspoon lemon thyme
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- vegetable stock or water
- harissa (optional)
preheat the oven to 350f/ 180c
Best to use a Dutch oven if you have one or a pot with a tight fitting lid. Place the pot on the stove top over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute 4 or 5 minutes until soft without browning.
Add the bell peppers and turn up the heat a bit. Toss along with the onions for several minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute and then throw in the mushrooms. Saute, while tossing, 4 or 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and aromatic.
Make a well in the center and add the tomato paste. Compress the paste against the bottom of the pot to caramelize before stirring into the sauteed vegetables. Continue to saute another couple of minutes. Then stir in the white wine, sherry, or water. Saute until the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Add the carrots, pumpkin, cauliflower, kale leaves, marjoram, thyme, salt, and pepper and toss everything together until well combined. Level out the contents of the pot and add stock or water to nearly reach the surface of the vegetables. Cover the pot with the lid and transfer to the oven and roast about 1 hour.
Check after 45 minutes and add a little stock or water only if needed, tasting and adding more salt to taste.
Serving suggestions: As a main dish serve with rice, couscous, or bulgar wheat, or toss with pasta.
I like serving these vegetables with a spicy Moroccan harissa. (see recipe here)