Must Have Winter Vegetables

Ten years ago, when I volunteered in the kitchen of a 300-seat dining room, I developed enormous respect for the orange-fleshed gems we call pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato. My first few months on-the-job were spent exclusively in the ‘vegetable room’ where I learned to prep these three winter vegetables.

Pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato have since become part of my regular cooking repertoire and are now my true favourites. These three orange-fleshed vegetables are easily accessible at any farmers market or grocery store. So, why wait for a yearly holiday to enjoy their lusciousness?

Honestly, there’s nothing more comforting than coming home after a bone chilling day to the aroma of pumpkin cornbread, just out of the oven. Even something as basic as a bowl of soup, can be transformed into an outstanding first course when sweet potato or butternut squash is the star.

Credit: Thinkstock – fotokris

Ideas on how to prepare pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato

Dress your sweet potato with a little healthy fat, such as a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and increase the amount of beta-carotene your body absorbs.  And, who can resist the crispy skin and tender melt-in-your-mouth flesh of roasted sweet potato fries, hot out of the oven?  These mighty tubers provide the potassium and fibre our bodies desperately need.  The flavour of sweet potatoes can range from sweet and sticky to delicately complex, depending on how your prepare them. 

Here are a few other ideas:

  •  Yield a soft and moist centre with your next batch of whole-grain pancakes, home-made bread, muffins, or spice cake, by adding cooked and pureed pumpkin; instead of carrot cake why not a sweet potato cake?
  •  Create an exciting scalloped potato side dish or gratin by combining sliced sweet potato with Yukon Golds; enhance the flavour with shallots, fresh thyme, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (wellness tip: use home-made or low-sodium chicken broth, or little preservative-free coconut milk instead of the usual cream).
  • For a special treat, construct mini galettes of thinly sliced sweet potatoes layered with shallots, fresh thyme (rosemary and sage are also excellent), salt & freshly ground pepper, a little olive oil, and scant sprinkling of one of your favourite cheeses (I love Parmigiano Reggiano, Gruyere, and Feta for this dish).
  • Compose a wonderful salad or first course with butternut squash as your star: Peel and cut butternut squash in medium dice and bake until golden brown and caramelized; top with peppery baby arugula, dress with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle of raw honey.
  •  Infuse some sweet flavour by incorporating finely diced butternut squash to your risotto, your next pot of vegetable soup or stew (use larger chunks).
  • Treat yourself to a crispy and flavourful medley of roasted winter vegetables by combining (medium to small diced) butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnip, celery root carrot, a dozen cloves of garlic (peeled) and 12-16 pearl onions.  Marry the flavour with a few springs of fresh rosemary or thyme, 2 or 3 bay leaves, and of course, olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Place in a very hot oven (400 F) and roast until vegetables are very tender and gorgeously browned.
  • Liven up your quinoa salad by adding small chunks of roasted pumpkin or butternut squash.
  • Wake up to a delightful hash for breakfast by simply adding boiled sweet potato or left-over roasted butternut squash chunks to your eggs.

By now, you’ve probably already started to think about many more ways to include pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato in your cooking.

Start with one vegetable at a time and experiment with your favourite dishes, have fun with it and see what transpires.  Like me, you too might be surprised at how well one of these orange-fleshed vegetables enhances the flavour of your dish.  Perhaps, it’s because it adds a richness or creaminess not usually possible without loads of butter, cream or cream fraiche.

I challenge you to incorporate more pumpkin, butternut squash and sweet potato – aim for once a week.  Drop me a line on how you brought one of these orange-fleshed vegetables to life. 

Eleni Tzotzis is a Toronto-based writer and regular contributor to Travel to Wellness.