Butternut squash is one of winter’s greatest bounties. Its nutrition laden insides hide beneath a drab, tough, creamy-beige skin. But don’t judge a book by its cover. Once peeled back, the less than enticing outer shell reveals a low fat mellow orange flesh brimming with carotenoids, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. Upon cooking, the apricot hue dramatically intensifies and you instantly become a believer in the nutritional benefits. With color like that, this gourd must be good for you! It thrives late summer through the winter and is extremely versatile. Mashing, baking, steaming – you name it, you can do it. However, it works especially well roasted or pureed in soups. Roasting at high temperatures brings the sweetness from this fruit to the forefront. Using as a puree in soups showcases the squash’s inherent velvety smooth texture without the presence of any cream at all.
Today’s post is a simple case of happenstance and using up whatever’s in the fridge. Waste not want not, right? On my last grocery shopping expedition, I realized that I had an expiring coupon for precut butternut squash, so I threw it in my cart, not knowing exactly what I was going to do with it.. [And, no, this is not your grandmother guest posting on my blog. I am a 20-something that clips coupons; something that I think is pretty rare nowadays.] 95% of the time I buy my produce whole in its untainted original state. However, pumpkin and butternut squash are two species I don’t mind cutting corners with. If you decide to purchase the squash whole, look for a nice hourglass-shaped gourd that is firm to the touch and has an unblemished surface. Use a vegetable peeler to pare the skin and then carefully cut lengthwise and remove the ooey-gooey seeds.
Anyhow, the squash was taking up some real estate in the produce drawer and I wanted to cook it while it was still relatively fresh. I also had a bunch of cilantro and a few limes leftover from the Tasting Table’s curry braised short ribs recipe that I made this past weekend (divine) and I decided to marry the three along with some honey and chili powder. I have prepared sweet potato before in this manner and I felt that the flavors would work equally well with butternut squash since they have a similar essence and texture.
After roasting for 40 minutes, the squash was tender, the color had deepened, and the aroma was enticing. I bit into caramelized flesh and basked in the synthesis of unique flavors. The subtle heat of the chili powder, the natural sweetness of the honey and squash, the lemony floral nuance of the cilantro, and the brightness of the lime: a marriage made in heaven and an utterly satisfying side dish. It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy this hearty squash, so head to your local supermarket and roast away…
Cilantro-Honey Roasted Butternut Squash
1 1/4 lb. cleaned and cut butternut squash
1/4 cup honey
Juice of 1 lime (about 1 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash into 2-inch chunks. Whisk honey, lime, and olive oil in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in chili powder, salt, and pepper. Add squash and cilantro leaves and toss until well coated. Pour mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in oven 30 – 40 minutes, tossing occasionally, until squash is caramelized and fork tender.