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Oh My Gourd! Nutrient-Packed Winter Squash Are Perfect for a Gluten-Free Diet

Our expert has all kinds of delicious reasons for you to be sweet on winter squash.

Photo © Laurence Mouton/PhotoAlto/CORBIS

With sweater weather in full swing, now is the time to gravitate away from imported asparagus and embrace seasonal winter squash. From spaghetti to sweet dumpling, the allergy-friendly members of the Curcubitaceae family offer perks that you don’t want to miss.

First, they’re easy on your food budget, especially when purchased in season from local growers. Second, it’s hard to ignore the storage prowess of winter squash, which can stay fresh for several weeks if kept in a cool, dark location. Third, winter squash are ultra-versatile in the kitchen. They can play a starring roll in a range of impressive dishes, as these recipes demonstrate. And finally, not to be forgotten is their nutritional might.

Low in calories and high in fiber, most winter squash bring a slew of nutrients to the table, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and beta-carotene. In our bodies, beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, used to bolster immune, eye and bone health.

Winter squash comes in a wide range of shapes, sizes and tastes. Try incorporating one or more of these exciting varieties into your winter menu.

Acorn: This squash gleans its name from the tree nut it resembles. Acorn squash has a mostly dark green skin with yellow-orange flesh that has subtle taste notes of hazelnuts and black pepper.

Eat it: Roasted acorn halves are perfect for stuffing with various gluten-free grain salads. Or adorn wedges of roasted acorn squash with sweet syrup reduction sauces.

Buttercup:This squash has a turban-like shape and green skin with creamy orange flesh. It’s one of the sweetest-tasting varieties.

Eat it: Buttercup’s natural sweetness is a welcome addition to soups and other pureed uses, such as baked goods or dips.

Butternut: Shaped like an hourglass, this squash has a silky texture and buttery-tasting flesh.

Eat it: Roasted or steamed cubes make a nutritious and flavorful addition to grain salads, stir-fry dishes and tacos. Or mash and add it to oatmeal or pizza sauce.

Delicata: Oblong delicata has pale yellow skin with green stripes. The pulp is creamy and tastes reminiscent of corn and sweet potatoes. Unlike other winter squash, delicata’s thin skin is edible when cooked.

Eat it: Slice it in half lengthwise and use as a squash boat for all sorts of stuffing. Roasted slices are wonderful when bathed in a butter-maple syrup sauce or syrup reduction.

Hubbard: This giant of the squash world is available in blue-gray, green and orange-red varieties with warty skin and a grainy, mildly sweet flesh.

Eat it: Cut it into cubes and string it onto kebab skewers. Or toss it with other seasonal items, like parsnips, potatoes and rutabaga, for a roasted vegetable medley.

Kabocha: This squat, round squash is colored forest-green with light striations. When cooked, the orange flesh tastes somewhat like pumpkin and sweet potato.

Eat it: Combine baked kabocha cubes with cooked lentils and diced vegetables for a hearty salad. Or use it instead of pumpkin when making holiday pie.

Spaghetti: This watermelon-shaped squash has a golden-yellow rind. Once cooked, the flesh pulls apart into slightly nutty, spaghetti-like strands.

Eat it: Toss strands with pesto or top it with meat sauce for a low-cal pasta night.

Sweet Dumpling: This smallish, pumpkin-shaped squash has green streaks and a flavor ranging from nutty to mildly sweet.

Eat it: Try it in chili, soup or curry recipes. Or bake it whole and stuff it with a rice pilaf.

Chai Squash Soup with Maple Cream


This warming soup features buttery-sweet butternut squash and alluring chai flavors. A garnish of maple-infused cream elevates each spoonful.

5 chai tea bags
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or oil of choice
1 yellow onion, diced
½ fennel bulb, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, chopped
1 pound peeled, diced butternut squash, about 5 cups
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt

Maple Cream

½ cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Bring 4 cups water to boil. Place chai tea bags in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiled water over tea bags and let steep 15 minutes. Discard tea bags and reserve liquid.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 minutes. Add fennel, celery, garlic and ginger and cook 2 minutes. Place squash, chai liquid, apple cider, thyme and salt in the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Puree mixture, in batches if necessary, in a blender or food processor until smooth.

4. To make Maple Cream, place sunflower seeds in a bowl. Cover seeds with water and soak about 2 hours. Drain seeds and place them in a blender container, along with ⅓ cup water, maple syrup and nutmeg. Process until very smooth.

5. Serve soup hot, garnished with Maple Cream.

Each serving contains 166 calories, 7g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 108mg sodium, 25g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 10g sugars, 3g protein, 9Est GL.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce


You’ll be surprised how simple this take on spaghetti with meat sauce is to make, considering how delightful it tastes.

2 medium spaghetti squash
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil or oil of choice, divided
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups chopped crimini mushrooms
1 pound lean ground chicken or turkey
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese or dairy-free alternative, optional
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Slice spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place squash halves on a baking sheet and brush flesh with 1 teaspoon oil. Place in preheated oven and roast until tender, about 40 minutes. Using a fork, scrape out the flesh of the squash into strands.

3. To make the sauce, heat remaining oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, red bell pepper and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms soften, about 2 minutes. Remove vegetables and place chicken or turkey in skillet. Cook chicken or turkey until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet, along with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes and pepper. Simmer sauce for 10 minutes.

4. Serve squash topped with sauce and garnished with Parmesan cheese or dairy-free alternative, if desired, and parsley.

Each serving contains 398 calories, 15g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 96mg cholesterol, 394mg sodium, 46g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 7g sugars, 27g protein, 16Est GL.

Shaved Squash Salami Salad


When peeled ever-so thin, butternut squash is a surprising addition to winter salads. Briefly placing the shavings in hot water makes them more tender.

1 small butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeded
1 large carrot, peeled
6 cups roughly chopped winter greens, such as kale or Swiss chard
⅓ cup raw squash seeds or pumpkin seeds
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large apple, thinly sliced 6 ounces gluten-free salami or summer sausage, chopped
1½ cups cooked or canned navy beans (rinsed and drained if canned)
3 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled, optional
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or pumpkin seed oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1½ teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Using a flat vegetable peeler or mandoline, thinly shave squash and carrot.

2. Bring a kettle full of water to boil. Place shaved squash and greens in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiled water and let soak 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.

3. Meanwhile, toast seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Let cool.

4. In a large bowl, toss together squash, carrot, greens, bell pepper and apple. Divide among serving plates and top with an equal amount of seeds, salami, navy beans and goat cheese, if using.

5. To make dressing, whisk together olive oil, white wine vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle over salad.

Each serving contains 465 calories, 21g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 24mg cholesterol, 929mg sodium, 59g carbohydrate, 11g fiber, 11g sugars, 18g protein, 20Est GL.

Mediterranean Millet Salad Stuffed Squash


This elegant-looking dish is a great way to infuse dinnertime with some Mediterranean flare. Herbs de Provence, a mixture of marjoram, thyme, rosemary and other dried herbs, is a sure-fire way to punch up whole grains. You can also use whichever dried herbs you have on hand or the Middle Eastern spice mixture za’atar. Pomegranate seeds are a wonderful substitute for dried currants and crunchy walnuts, if tolerated, can replace the sunflower seeds.

2 acorn squash, halved, seeds removed
-Oil of choice, for brushing
2/3 cup millet
2 teaspoons Herbs de Provence
⅓ cup finely chopped kalamata olives
⅓ cup finely chopped oil-packed sun- dried tomatoes
¼ cup shelled sunflower seeds
¼ cup dried currants
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
-Juice of ½ lemon
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Rub squash flesh with oil and place cut side down on prepared baking sheet. Place in preheated oven and bake 30 minutes or until flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, place millet, Herbs de Provence and 1½ cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered until millet is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat, drain any excess water and let stand 5 minutes.

4. Fluff millet with a fork. Toss with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, currants, parsley and green onion.

5. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and black pepper. Add dressing to millet mixture, tossing to combine.

6. To serve, scoop millet salad into roasted acorn bowls.

Each serving contains 356 calories, 13g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 330mg sodium, 59g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 6g sugars, 7g protein, 26Est GL.

Squash with Balsamic Pomegranate Syrup


Here’s a contender for your favorite new winter side. Acorn squash, sweet dumpling, delicata or kabocha squash are ideal for this recipe.

2 medium winter squash, sliced into 1-inch wedges, seeds removed
-Oil of choice, for brushing
-Salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup pomegranate juice
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Arrange squash wedges on a baking sheet or in a baking pan. Lightly brush wedges with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in preheated oven and bake 25 minutes or until flesh is tender.

3. To make Balsamic Pomegranate Syrup, place pomegranate juice, balsamic vinegar and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered, until mixture is reduced and syrupy, about 7 minutes. (Don’t let mixture become too thick.)

4. To serve, place wedges on serving plates and drizzle with Balsamic Pomegranate Syrup.

Each serving contains 91 calories, 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 11mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 8g sugars, 2g protein, 7Est GL.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Curry Lentil Squash Dip


The tempered sweetness of winter squash delivers seasonal flare to this hearty dip. Serve it alongside gluten-free crackers or sliced vegetables like crispy jicama and kohlrabi. It also makes a knockout sandwich spread.

½ cup dry red lentils
1 cup winter squash puree
¼ cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
-Juice of ½ lemon
1½ teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

1. Place red lentils and 1½ cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and let cool.

2. Add cooled lentils, squash puree, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, curry powder, cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper to a food processor container and blend until smooth. Serve garnished with parsley.

Each serving contains 102 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 83mg sodium, 14g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 2g sugars, 5g protein, 5Est GL.

Matthew Kadey, RD (muffintinmania.com) is a dietitian and food writer. He is author of two cookbooks, The Muffin Tin Chef and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.