-The coming of fall is symbolized for each of us by different events and moments: the first turning of leaves, a bracing snap of cool air, rediscovering a favorite sweater, children returning to school, the palpable shortening of September and October days.
For me, one of the harbingers of autumn is the huge array of beautiful vegetables, such as winter squashes at my local farmer’s market. Squash, technically a fruit, comes in a dazzling array of sizes, shapes and flavors. Butternut is one of the most popular, flavorful and nutritious.
Winter squashes, particularly butternut, are far richer than the summer squashes and zucchini in terms of taste and nutrition because of their deeper color and higher carbohydrate and nutrient content. The most potent squashes are the more deeply colored varieties, especially pumpkin and butternut. Their color is provided by one of the most powerful nutrients: beta-carotene.
Characterized by a chubby bowling pin shape, a buff, beige color on the outside, and a deep orange on the inside, the butternut is an exceptional source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant which converts to vitamin A in your body. Beta-carotene is critical for your immune system, skin, vision, bones, reproductive systems and more. Studies show that people who eat foods high in beta-carotene and people with high blood levels of beta-carotene have a lower incidence of certain cancers. But you will not get the same results with a beta-carotene supplement. Study after study has shown disappointing
results with the supplements. So only the food will do! But that’s a good thing for us squash lovers.
Each squash is a bustling little factory of nutrients and phytochemicals the plant compounds
into potent, potentially healing properties. When acting synergistically in a food, these nutrients pack a more powerful health punch than the individual nutrients alone. Some of the most important nutrients in squash are antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and vitamin C, which are substances believed to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and help prevent heart disease and certain cancers.
But there are other good reasons to eat butternut squash and other similar winter squashes. They are a great source of fiber (good for your gastrointestinal system), potassium (important for your heart and lowers blood pressure), magnesium (important for improving muscle function, the heart and bones, while preventing blood clots and diabetes), manganese (important for metabolism and bone formation), and calcium (important for your heart and bones). Another big plus — they are low in calories, with only 82 calories per cup of baked squash cubes.
Speaking of low in calories: broccoli is especially delicious this time of year and can be found in abundance at farmers markets. Broccoli belongs to the family of food called “brassica,” which has extremely high nutritional values and contains high levels of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin C, selenium, calcium, potassium, folic acid, and choline, as well as soluble fiber, which reduces cholesterol and helps level blood sugar. Brassica, a huge category of foods including cabbages, mustard seeds and greens, also contains potent anti-cancer compounds which help detoxify carcinogens in the liver before they continue to circulate in your bloodstream. These compounds also aid your immune response with antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Broccoli Soup with Carrots, Potatoes and Thyme
Makes 6 – 8 servings
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 Cup Chopped Sweet Onion (about 1 medium)
1 Clove Garlic, crushed
½ tsp dried Thyme or 1-1/2 tsp fresh Thyme (or more)
5 Cups Chicken Broth (or Vegetable Broth)
6 Cups Fresh Broccoli, Chopped (about 1 medium head)
2 Cups Wax Potatoes, Sliced (about 2 medium)
1 Cup Carrots, Sliced (about 2 medium)
Salt (1/8 to ¼ tsp) and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
Top each bowl with a 1 Tbsp dollop of fat free, plain yogurt, salt, and pepper
Heat oil in large iron skillet or dutch oven (soup pot) on fairly high heat. Add onion, garlic, and thyme. Saute until golden. Add 4 cups broth and the rest of the vegetables. Cover, lower the temperature, and let simmer about thirty minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Let the mixture cool down a bit, add the rest of the broth (2 cups) – or milk – then puree in a blender or food processor.
NOTE: Instead of using the 2 cups of broth for the puree, you could use 1% milk or buttermilk for a “creamier” soup (this only adds 200 calories to the whole pot of soup, but adds protein and nine essential nutrients!).
The entire pot of soup makes about 8 cups and is about 650 calories (850 with the milk).
Butternut Squash Soup with Curry and Ginger
About 6 servings
1 Butternut Squash
4 Cups Water
2 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 Cup Chopped Sweet Onion (about 1 medium)
1 Clove Garlic, crushed (2 cloves, if you like it spicy)
1 tsp Curry Powder (2 tsp, if you like it spicy)
1 Tbsp fresh Ginger, about 2 inches, grated (2 Tbsp, if you like it spicy)
1 Cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
Cut Butternut Squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Place squash face down in baking pan with 4 cups water. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until soft when pierced by a fork.
While the squash is baking, prepare the aromatic vegetables and spices: Place the oil in a large iron skillet or soup pot on medium-high. Add onions and garlic, and fry until golden. Stir in curry powder, ginger, and a pinch of salt, and simmer on low for a few minutes.
When the squash has cooled to the touch, pour the water in which the squash was cooked into the skillet and stir to scrape up the bits of aromatic vegetables and spices. When squash has cooled, scoop out the butternut squash meat, leaving the skin, and stir into the mixture in the skillet. When room temperature or cool, puree the vegetable and spice mixture in a blender or food processor with the broth.
NOTE: Adjust seasonings by adding more salt, pepper, or spices if desired. Adjust consistency by adding more water or broth. Also, any similar winter squash will work well if Butternut is not available.
The entire pot of soup makes about 6 cups and is about 500 calorie.
Nutritionist, Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D. Author, “Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations” www.KatherineTallmadge.com