Cooks Exchange

Cooks Exchange: Get to the root of seasonal dishes

Root and gourd vegetables make for decorative fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving centerpieces, but these veggies also grace tables as flavorful side dishes, soups and main dishes.

These vegetables can be transformed into a fright night stew or a side dish for a fall or Thanksgiving dinner. It's not too early to start planning those holiday dinners, which tend to sneak up on all of us.

Squash, as readers know, is a favorite of mine, all varieties: summer, white, zucchini, chayote or mirliton, spaghetti, butternut. Pumpkins and cushaws also make the cut. My grandmother peeled cushaws, scraped out the flesh, chopped in large chunks, boiled to a puree and added sugar and spice and everything nice.

Pureed cushaws can be used in nearly every recipe that pumpkin can. They do have more liquid, so cut back a bit on that.

If you haven't tried any of these squash or gourds, be adventurous. They are good for you and taste good, too. Yes, these veggies take some work, but, again, the results are worth it. Don't forget: Sweet potatoes do more than fill pies and marshmallow casseroles.

A friend serves marinara sauce over cooked spaghetti squash instead of pasta, a good way to cut the carbohydrates. Another friend makes a mean sweet potato and black bean chili. See, these vegetables are anything but boring.

I have been playing in my cookbooks again and found some recipes perfect for fall family meals or festivities.

Here's my grandmother's spice-filled cushaw puree. She served it as a side dish with turkey or chicken. Of course, she didn't have a microwave.

She cooked hers on the stovetop.

To microwave, simply peel the cushaw, scrape out the seeds and strings and cut the flesh into small cubes. Place in a large microwavable bowl with water. Cook on high for about 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the microwave wattage. Test doneness by piercing with a fork, sort of like testing a baked potato.

MAMMY'S PUREED CUSHAW

1 cushaw, peeled, cleaned and cubed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

Enough water to keep cushaw from sticking, about 1 cup

Puree cushaw in blender or food processor.

Place puree in saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Let cook until flavors are blended. Serve with turkey or chicken.

This puree can be frozen for a couple of months.

This recipe, which is lower in fat, came from the folks at Splenda, makers of the sucralose-based sweetener. The recipe originally was on sweetswaps.com. It, too, would be great with that holiday bird.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUFFLE

1 3-pound butternut squash

1/3 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs and 1 egg white

1- 1/2 tablespoons butter

1 cup sucralose, granulated

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut squash in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membrane. Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet; bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes or until tender.

Let cool. Peel squash and mash pulp.

Combine squash, milk, salt, eggs, egg white, butter, sucralose, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a food processor; process until smooth.

Pour into a 1-quart soufflé dish coated with cooking spray. Place soufflé dish in a 9-inch square baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until puffy and set. Serve immediately.

-- Recipe by Keri Gans, registered dietitian, at sweetswaps.com

This pumpkin, black bean and turkey chili is great for Saturday's Halloween parties. Just add some appetizers and a few sweet treats and the party's on. This recipe uses canned pumpkin, but fresh, cooked, pureed pumpkin can be used.

BLACK BEAN 'N' PUMPKIN CHILI

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium sweet yellow pepper, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin

1 can (14- 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

3 cups chicken broth

2- 1/2 cups cubed cooked turkey

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

2 teaspoons chili powder

1- 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1- 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cubed avocado and thinly sliced green onions

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper, cook and stir until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Transfer to a 5-quart slow cooker; stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook, covered, on low 4 to 5 hours. If desired, top with avocado and green onions. Yield: 10 servings or 2- 1/2 quarts.

Nutritional data: 1 cup equals 192 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 28 milligrams cholesterol, 658 milligrams sodium, 21 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 16 grams protein. Diabetic exchanges: 2 lean meat, 1- 1/2 starch, 1/2 fat.

-- Recipe from Taste of Home magazine

ACORN SQUASH

2 large acorn squash

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Wash and halve lengthwise the acorn squash. Discard seeds and stringy fibers. Brush cavities with melted butter and season to taste. Bake, cut side down, on a pie tin at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender.

STUFFING:

6 slices bacon

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

2 cups rice, cooked

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon thyme

While squash are baking, make the filling. Fry bacon until crisp; drain and crumble. Cook rice and onions in the bacon drippings until drippings are absorbed. Season, add crumbled bacon and mix well.

SAUCE:

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1- 1/2 cup boiling milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup sharp cheese, grated

Melt butter in a saucepan and add flour. Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. After removing from heat, pour in the boiling milk and stir with whisk until blended. Bring to the simmer stage and simmer 1 minutes, stirring. Add seasonings and cheese and stir until cheese is blended. When squash are tender, turn cut sides up and spoon filling into cavities. Top with white sauce and continue baking for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Serves 4.

-- From an Episcopal church cookbook in Beaumont, Texas

More slow-cooker candy

Dee Turner shared her slow-cooker candy recipe. She said it's "killer."

CHOCOLATE COVERED NUTS

2 blocks chocolate almond bark

1 (12-ounce) bag milk chocolate morsels

1 small bar German chocolate

2 (1-pound) jars salted dry roasted peanuts

Melt all chocolates in slow cooker on low.

This will take approximately 40 minutes to an hour; be sure all is well melted.

After chocolate is melted, stir in 2 jars of peanuts and mix together.

Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper.

-- Submitted by Dee Turner

Andrea Yeager, can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net and takes requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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