Winter Squash

Health Wellness

Seeing a variety of winter squash at the markets is a clear indication that Autumn is here. The array of shapes and sizes bring back comforting, childhood memories of changing leaves that would blanket the neighborhoods and rolling hills. However, while the vibrant red, orange and yellow Autumn leaves don’t last long, the presence of the winter squash last through winter. They have absorbed the sun’s energy through the summer season and continue to provide warmth and comfort through colder winter season. In the practice of Ayurveda, the stored energy is considered to be a warm ojas, which is essential energy that is responsible for vitality, strength, health and wellness.

Winter squash are sweet in flavor and range from a moderate to medium-heavy flavor essence. Similar to Ayurveda, Chinese medicine considers squash to be a warm sweet vegetable (although technically they are fruit.) They are high in complex carbohydrates, which makes their sweetness safe for diabetics.

Winter squash are hearty yet also help drain excess fluids due to being a mild diuretic. They also have a good amount of fiber, which promotes regularity and maintenance of a healthy digestive tract by supporting healthy gut bacteria. Winter squash is loaded with vitamin A (deep orange color = high in carotenes) which is important for healthy eyesight. The carotenes combined with the sweetness make them a good blood and liver tonic. Winter squash also contains a good amount of potassium (decreases blood pressure) and vitamin C (boosts immune function) as well as other key nutrients that promote healthy bones, skin and hair and reduce inflammation.

They can be used in sweet or savory dishes, but I prefer the latter. My personal favorites are kabocha and butternut.

Shared recipes:
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash with Poblano Pepper

 

 

Balkan Polenta with Rapini

Balkan Polenta with Rapini

Mains & Sides Recipe

To me, this is comfort food. The warm, sweet flavor of the polenta combined with bitter rapini and salty, tangy feta and makes my mouth water. Balkan polenta is made with coarse cornmeal, which gives it a more defined texture. And while I love Greek feta, I like a softer and stronger Bulgarian feta for this and other baked dishes. I also only buy feta swimming in brine. The brine keeps the cheese moist and gives it has a longer shelf life. When first made the polenta will have a softer consistency like porridge. As it sits it will firm and cut nicely into squares. It’s also great as leftovers. One next-day idea shown in the photo below: cut it into squares; brush the squares with olive oil; and bake at 350 deg F until golden.

Polenta
• 1 ½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal
• 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
• ½ cup olive oil
• 1 ¾ cups feta, freshly crumbled
• 1 cup yogurt
• ½ lb rapini, washed and coarsely chopped
• Salt and Pepper to taste

Topping
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 4 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 tsp Allepo or Urfa Biber pepper (alternatively one pinch of crushed pepper flakes)
• ½ cup white wine or scant ½ cup vegetable or chicken stock
• 1 Tsp fresh thyme, chopped
• Juice of lemon to taste (optional)
• Salt (optional)

Mix the cornmeal with 1 ½ cups cold water in a bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes.

In meantime, bring stock to boil. Add rapini and cornmeal, stirring frequently for 10 to 12 minutes. Add olive oil and cook for additional 5 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Remove mixture from heat and fold in the feta and yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the topping, heat the olive oil in a small skillet. Sauté the garlic for 30 seconds or until fragrant, and then add the pepper. Add the wine or stock and when sauce starts to bubble, simmer on low for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat, taste and add salt and lemon juice to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the polenta. (If sensitive to salt or lemon, I suggest adding after sauce is added to polenta.)

Baked Balkan Polenta Squares Option
Dried Orange Peel

Dried Orange Peel

Mise en place Wellness

Dried Orange Peel: Before you peel or cut your organic oranges, remove the thin strips with a peeler. Place the strips separately on a towel/paper towel in an open dish. Leave them out to dry for 3-4 days. Once they are completely dry, put them airtight jar.  Dried orange peels have a deep flavor which are a great ingredient for savory or sweet recipes. You can zest or grind the peels or add them whole into sauces or stews.

For my autumn-winter smoothies, which during the cooler temperatures I consume close to room temperature, I toss in half an orange strip, a generous amount of cinnamon and at least a 1/2-inch slice of ginger. Orange peel helps improve digestion and sluggishness in the gut, and ginger and cinnamon are both warming spices that make the smoothie more digestible during the season.

Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Mains & Sides Recipe

There are many variations of this dish of Turkish origin. This stuffed eggplant, or Imam Bayildi, is a variation of a recipe from Aglaia Kremezi. What I love about it is the hearty flavor of adding walnuts and pecorino to the stuffing. And, making your own favorite tomato sauce (I make mine with olive oil, onions, garlic and desired spices) will make this even better. Typically the eggplant stems are left on, but the eggplants I had on were too big and round to fit in my baking dish.

  • ­­­­2 eggplants
  • Salt
  • 1/8 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 small onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, halved, seeded and cut into ¼-inch strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ½ cup raw walnuts, chopped or coarsely ground
  • ½ cup freshly grated pecorino
  • 1 large tomato, ripe heirloom if available or beefsteak, cut into 6 to 8 slices
  • ¾ cup homemade tomato sauce
  • parsley for garnish

Slice eggplants in half lengthwise, preferably keeping part of the stem. Diagonally score flesh in both directions with a knife. Salt eggplants generously and let drain in a colander for 1 hour. Rinse eggplants under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and place eggplants on the sheet with cut side up. Brush eggplants with olive oil on both sides. Bake eggplants for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are golden. Put eggplants aside to cool, but keep the oven warm.

In a deep skillet, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and 1 tsp salt and sauté until soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers and sauté until soft. Next, add garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, then remove skillet from heat. Add the cumin, Aleppo pepper, walnuts and cheese. Mix the filling and adjust seasoning as needed.

Line a deep baking dish with parchment paper and brush the paper with olive oil. Line the paper with the sliced tomato and place the eggplants on the tomatoes. The eggplants should fit snugly in the dish. Using a spoon, press into the softened eggplant flesh to create indentations for the stuffing. Fill each eggplant with the stuffing and top each with 3 Tbs of tomato sauce. Pour the remaining sauce around the eggplants. Drizzle the eggplants with 1 to 2 Tbs olive oil. Bake eggplants for 40 to 45 minutes, until bubbling and slightly browned on top. Let cool for about 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.

This is a hearty meal and if using larger eggplants, one eggplant half may be more than enough. It works great for leftovers and tastes even better the next day.