October 20, 2014

Savoring the spirited sweetness of the season

Butternut squash is ripe now and can be used in many different ways.

Butternut squash is ripe now and can be used in many different ways.Butternut squash is ripe now and can be used in many different ways.There is an eerie, irresistible excitement in the air as children of all ages anticipate celebrating Halloween. The air is crisp and cool, dried leaves crackle and swirl about in the breeze and the moon casts a silvery glow.

The origin of Halloween dates back over 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Sanhaim, which was observed on Oct. 31, believed to be the day when ghosts returned to walk among the living. Giant bonfires would be built and the Celts would costume themselves in animal skins and heads and tell each other’s fortunes.

Eventually Samhain merged into “All Hallows Eve,” the night before the Christian holiday of All Saints Day, and finally, Halloween. During those cold, black nights of old, many people were terrified of the dark and equally wary of wandering ghosts. They would wear masks when leaving their homes to avoid being recognized by any demons, thus initiating the modern day custom of wearing a Halloween costume.

To further discourage those roving demons from entering their homes, people would leave bowls of food outside to appease the spirits, a precursor to “trick or treat.”

With Halloween, we often begin a cycle of sugar shocking the system. Introducing naturally sweet, seasonal food choices into our diets will help offset any indulgences. Sweet vegetables are a delicious autumnal ingredient that supply plenty of valuable nutrients with a healthy dose of sweet flavor.

Parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beets and winter squash taste just fantastic when roasted in the oven with a drizzling of olive oil and minced fresh herbs. Roasting brings out the natural sugar content and caramelizes the vegetables to beautifully bronzed lusciousness, but they are equally tasty boiled, baked, steamed, or pureed into soup.

These vegetables are excellent sources of high quality nutrition, supplying protection from cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.  With their rich reserves of beta carotene, zinc, Vitamins B1, A and C, folic acid, fiber, potassium, niacin and pantothenic acid, sweet vegetables give the body a beautiful glow from the inside out.

If you are throwing a Halloween party this year, try this vibrantly colored squash dip for a super healthy, spicy-sweet change of pace. Beware of things that go bump in the night and make sweet vegetables a spirited part of your delicious life.

Roasted Butternut Squash Dip

Makes 4 cups

2 pound whole butternut squash

1 small sweet onion, peeled  and quartered

4 unpeeled garlic cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

2 tablespoons crŹme fraĒche or sour cream

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (or good quality jarred ground nutmeg)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise, discard seeds and membrane. Brush cut sides of squash halves, cut sides of onion quarters and garlic cloves with oil. Arrange squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet, along with the onion and garlic. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly. Remove squash peel. Squeeze out garlic cloves, which will now be pulpy.

Place squash, onion, and garlic pulp in a food processor, process until smooth. Add crŹme fraiche or sour cream and remaining ingredients, process until well combined. 

Serve warm or cool with pita chips.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP is certified in holistic health counseling by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. A passionate food professional, Robin specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes for students of all ages, emphasizing the use of natural, local ingredients and easy to prepare recipes. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net.