Remember your roots and winter squash, too

February 08, 2000

They may be a little worse for the weather, a bit blistered, knurled or soiled, but don't be misled. Winter squash and root vegetables are a storehouse of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. These vegetables are widely available at low cost in the produce aisles of your favorite grocery store.

cont. from lifestyle

Among root vegetables, carrots and sweet potatoes are most famous for their vitamin A or beta-carotene content. One medium carrot provides more than twice the amount of vitamin A recommended daily. So does a medium-sized baked sweet potato. Long known for its importance in promoting healthy sight, beta-carotene also serves as an antioxidant to help prevent cancer by neutralizing DNA-damaging free radicals.

Almost all members of the winter squash family are rich in beta-carotene. Those with a light, fleshy interior, like spaghetti squash, are the exception. A deep orange flesh is a clear sign that a particular squash is loaded with beta-carotene.


Rich in potassium

Besides beta-carotene, most root vegetables and winter squashes are rich in potassium, providing around 500 to 700 milligrams per cooked cup. Some, like acorn and butternut squash, are decent sources of calcium and vitamin C.

Because they're grown in or close to the ground, it's important to scrub all root vegetables and squash well before cooking them. A variety of cooking methods can be used, including baking, microwaving, steaming and stir-frying.

Deciding whether or not to peel squash and root vegetables when preparing them usually is a question of personal preference. While the area just under the skin is an important source of nutrients, beta-carotene is found throughout deep yellow vegetables like carrots and butternut squash.

Rutabagas often are sold with a layer of wax coating to prevent moisture loss. This vegetable definitely needs to be peeled with a sharp knife before cooking. Beets, on the other hand, have a tendency to "bleed" when cooked. They are best cooked with their stems and skin on. Take care not to bruise the skin before cooking beets. They peel quite easily after cooking.

If you're cooking turnips, avoid using an aluminum or iron pan. The anthoxanthin pigments in these vegetables may interact with these metals, causing the vegetables to darken.

When buying whole squashes, select ones that feel hard, have no soft spots or cracks and seem heavy for their size. To cook a squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp and bake the rest in the rind until the meat is tender. A microwave oven can reduce cooking time from nearly an hour to just minutes. Simply sprinkle the halves with your favorite spice, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice or mace, and microwave squash with its cut side down or wrapped in plastic. Cook squash until it is tender, about 6 to 7 minutes per pound.


Pureed Winter Vegetables

  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed red potato
  • 1 cup sliced parsnips
  • 1/2 cup peeled turnips
  • 1/2 cup peeled, chopped Granny Smith apple
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Combine first four ingredients in a large saucepan; add water to cover.

Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until tender. Drain.

In bowl of food processor, combine vegetable mixture and margarine.

Process 1 minute or just until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in sour cream and remaining ingredients.

Makes five 1/2-cup servings.

Fruited Butternut Squash Cups

  • 2-pound butternut squash
  • 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 small)
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted

Wash squash. Cut in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds.

Arrange squash halves, cut-side down, in a shallow microwavable dish. Cover and cook until tender, rotating the dish halfway through cooking time. Let stand for 5 minutes after cooking time.

Cooking time for squash halves: 7 to 10 minutes.

Scoop out pulp and place in a medium bowl; discard shells. Mash pulp.

Combine squash pulp, banana and next four ingredients; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon mixture into four (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Place cups on a baking sheet.

Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Serves 4.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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