Our friend Chris is from Cyprus. There’s a sorrowful story behind why his family left their beautiful Eastern Mediterranean island when he was a child. But they keep fond reminders of their homeland alive in the food they cook, including a unique winter squash they eat prepared with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice.
A few years ago I was honored when Chris shared some of those squash seeds with us.
I started the seeds indoors, set them out when it was warm, and with little attention they grew into vigorous plants, blossoming with zeal.
We ended up with squash in several gardens.
All summer long we picked immature squash and used them in dishes meant for summer squash. They were tender and delicious. They continued to grow past the first few frosts. The leaves were so large that it was hard to see the squash lurking below, looming like Cucurbitaceae whales. This explains why some of them grew to outlandish proportions.
Squash so huge a wheelbarrow is necessary to transport. Thankfully there’s a conductor on board.
Even at such ridiculous sizes, the squash is somehow still tender and flavorful. And it’s amazingly hardy — perfect to store and use throughout the winter. I use every single part of the fruit, scooping out the guts and cutting away peels for livestock to eat. (Goats and cows can eat them raw. Chickens are more likely to eat cooked root vegetables. — Yes, I cook for chickens.)
Every spring since Chris shared the seeds, I’ve started the plants in March and every winter I’ve gratefully used up our storehouse of squash by the next spring. The seeds he shared and the harvest that results reminds me how every generation has kept their families alive, relying on nutrients locked into forms that can be unlocked months later when nothing grows outside. In the tradition of immigrants who arrived on our shores with seeds sewn in their hems, I’ve done my best to pass along a few seeds when I can, letting friends know these Cypriot squash seeds have a story.
When I went through my seeds this week to plant under grow lights, I discovered my precious stock of Cypriot squash seeds, despite my careful preparation, appear to be moldy. I cut open one of the last few squash I have stored to use in cooking, hoping the seeds were still viable. The seeds were no longer plump and full, clearly depleted of life force. Disaster!
That same day, my dear friend Christie said she was starting some of the Cypriot squash seeds I’d given her. Of course when she heard my seeds were no longer good she said she had enough to share. Disaster averted! And another of the many good reason to share seeds —- you may need some back.
I’m deeply relieved that Chris’ family squash seeds will grow here again. And this fall I’ll dry the seeds more carefully in our dehydrator and store them in the refrigerator, hoping to keep that legacy alive, hoping to be worthy of the memory embedded in those seeds.
In the spirit of sharing, here are three of my favorite winter squash recipes. They are perfect for Cypriot as well as other winter squashes like butternut, acorn, kabocha, and delicata.
(I had photos of each recipe, but would you believe I’ve got so many pictures of kids and livestock that my phone memory threw a tantrum? I had to delete an entire file just to appease it.)
Roasted Winter Squash
This is more an open format plan than an actual recipe. Start with a normal, non-monster-sized winter squash. Peel, remove seeds, and cut the flesh into consistent chunks — one or two inch cubes are good. Toss them with a good glug of olive oil. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, flop the squash in a jellyroll pan, then consider your options. (Overall, it should take 30 to 40 minutes to roast. Remember to scoot the pieces around in the pan a few times.)
~You can roast plain squash, it’s quite a friendly dish. Simply sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons salt and add others seasonings as you choose.
~You can make a somewhat sweet version, good for breakfast or a light supper. About ten to fifteen minutes before it’s done, toss in some raw nuts to roast with the squash if you want some crunch. If you want to add seeds, toss them in the last five minutes or so. In the last few minutes of roasting time you can add apple chunks, pears, or other fruit if you like. Eat as is, or serve it with maple syrup, cream, or a side of cool applesauce.
~Roast it with plenty of halved garlic cloves and add other vegetables of your choice. Brussels sprouts work well here, so do rutabagas, cauliflower, onions, pretty much up to you. If you add more vegetables, little more olive oil helps the process along. Watch the garlic to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Curried Squash Soup
This is a lovely creamy soup. Don’t worry about chopping the vegetables perfectly, you’ll be blending everything except whatever ingredients you add as options at the end.
- one winter squash, baked until tender with skin and seeds removed (I bake them on a parchment-covered jellyroll pan at 350 for about 60 to 90 minutes. Stab them in the neck to see if they’re tender. You can add horror movie sound effects if you like.)
- olive oil or coconut oil, a few tablespoons
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeno, chopped (or a dash of crushed red pepper)
- 1 inch fresh ginger, chopped (or a pinch of dry ginger)
- a handful or two of Brazil nuts or other unsalted nuts (walnuts or almonds work well)*
- 2 cups milk, cream, or unsweetened alternate milk like soy or almond
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, may need less
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- salt and pepper, to taste
- optional add-in vegetables– pick only one or two: a handful of peas is classic, for some reason a handful of frozen corn works well, it’s amazing how many others work beautifully such as chopped greens like spinach or arugula, some cauliflower florets, some roasted eggplant, minced sun-dried tomatoes, you might want to raid your fridge and try different bowls of soup with different add-ins
Saute onions and celery until soft, add garlic and jalapeno and continue sauteing until tender. Put these in the blender with ginger, nuts (if you choose to use them), and milk. Blend until smooth. Add squash. You may need to do this in two or more batches. Return to pan. Add curry powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in as much stock as you choose to make a smooth, flavorful soup. Now mix in whatever optional add-in vegetables you’ve chosen. Heat thoroughly, until those veggies are cooked through.
To serve, you can sprinkle with roasted pumpkin seeds or fresh chopped parsley.
*If you don’t have a powerful blender like a Vitamix, a teaspoon or so of unsweetened creamy almond butter is a good substitute for nuts. Or skip the nuts entirely.
Butternut & Beans in Creamy Tahini
This is loosely based on a recipe by Molly Wizenberg, memoir writer and chef who blogs at Orangette. Preparation can be speeded up, depending on how you prefer to roast garlic and caramelize onions. I brought this to a gathering of friends recently along with a friendly little loaf of bread. There are usually leftovers I can offer the host but this time every bit of the dish had been gobbled up!
- 1 butternut or other winter squash, about 3 pounds before cooking
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil, divided use
- one 15 ounce can chickpeas, navy beans, or other firm white beans drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups cooked beans)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- 1/4 of water or stock, more as needed
- pepper (Aleppo pepper is fantastic here)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and seed squash, cut into 1 or 2 inch cubes. For the fast method you simply toss the squash with the oil, garlic, and onions, roasting it all together on a jellyroll pan for 25 to 35 minutes, moving pieces around occasionally and scooping out garlic that’s in danger of burning. The squash and onions should have some nicely brown sides and smell heavenly.
OR, if you’re fussy like me, you can roast the squash on its own. I tuck the garlic into a little foil-lined ramekins with a bit of oil, close up the foil packet, and stick it in the oven along with the squash as it cooks. It’s far creamier and has a smoother taste as well. Then I toss the onions in a pan on the stove with some of the oil and caramelize on low heat for 20 minutes or so, which takes very little attention. You have another pan to wash but I’m partial to the taste of onions prepared this way.
Anyway, back to the recipe. Into your blender container put the cooked garlic, lemon juice, tahini, sea salt, and some stock or water. Blend. If the blender balks, add more stock. Throw in pepper. Taste. It should be marvelous. If not, add more seasoning.
Mix with the roasted squash and caramelized onions. Stir in beans. Warm through. Top with chopped parsley.