Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zero-Waste Squash: The Amazing Delicata

By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Some squash, like butternuts, can be enjoyed long into the season. Even in March, they still taste pretty darn good. But there's a whole other group of lesser-known squash that are amazingly delicious, but they just don't keep quite as well. Come December, they're already becoming bland and mealy. So, take advantage of the fresh harvest, and check out one of my favorite winter squashes: The Delicata. These small, long, white-green-yellow-orange striped squash (and the closely related dumpling squash that have similar skin but are more round in shape) are  among my favorites because you can eat *everything* and they are super easy to prepare (and super delicious to eat).

Delicatas and dumplings really call to be roasted, and please don't bother peeling them. Once roasted, the skins are completely edible and surprisingly pleasant. Roasting also brings out the innate buttery sweetness of the squash. Delicata has a nice texture, fantastic flavor, and almost a hint of the taste of farm-fresh corn. (Perhaps I'm not alone in thinking it tastes like something other than winter squash... other common names for delicatas are "sweet potato squash" and "peanut squash.") I almost always cut my delicata into cubes and roast them, but they're also fantastic stuffed, holding their shape much better than, ah hem, some *other* winter squash, and also being more appropriately sized for single servings.

Be sure your delicatas are farm-fresh - like they are at the Co-op right now or straight from the farm stand. When delicatas start to turn, they don't look any worse, they just taste terrible. Beware grocery stores stocked with squash from who knows where who knows how long ago. As pretty as the delicatas look on the shelves in  your kitchen, don't wait too long to cook them, either. It's because of this short shelf life that delicatas aren't more common in stores; they're actually relatively easy to grow in NH. Now is the time to cook it!

Roasted Squash Recipe

This is a super easy side for autumn. You can add other seasonings if you'd like (rosemary, cinnamon, or Cajun seasonings are popular). As mentioned, you can also leave it cut in half and stuff it with goodies. (Pre-bake the squash til it's almost tender, then fill it with mostly-cooked ingredients, then bake them all together a tad longer.)

Preheat the oven to 420F. Chop the squash in half and gently pull the seeds out of the middle. Feel free to leave any remaining pulp. Chop the whole squash into 1-inch chunks. Drizzle with a good heat-safe oil (tea seed, canola...), sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in a single layer on a sheet for approximately 15 minutes. Flip them around, then bake for another 10 minutes or until it's golden and tender. Enjoy!

Toasted Squash Seeds

Don't throw the seeds away! All winter squash and pumpkin seeds can be toasted, but delicatas may well be the best of the squash seeds. Small, plump, tender, and delicious. They're the perfect yummy, healthy snack or appetizer. I often enjoy them alongside dehydrated apple chips.

Rinse off the seeds in a strainer. Pull off any big chunks of pulp, but you don't need to be obsessive about it. Put them in a single layer on a small baking sheet (I like to make mine in the toaster). No Oil! Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and anything else you'd like (rosemary, cayenne, Cajun seasoning...). Bake at approximately 350F, flipping occasionally, until they are golden and begin to pop (15-20 minutes). They seem to be easier/faster to cook in a toaster oven, but you can play around with a regular oven, too. These don't last long in our house, but if you find yourself with a surplus, they last for weeks to months in an air-tight container in the pantry.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yum! Fresh, All-Natural Sushi Now at the Co-op!

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

If you haven't seen the Co-op's new Shizen sushi department, I highly recommend swinging by for an easy, healthy, fast lunch or dinner! Sushi is a classic healthy restaurant choice where even people on special diets can usually eat freely. Of course, the Co-op's sushi isn't just made fresh each day, but it's also totally all-natural. I had no idea until recently that most sushi ISN'T all-natural. I got the first inkling this summer when my husband and I picked up a box of sushi in the prepared section of a grocery store while on a road trip (to his dismay, I picked up the vegetarian California roll, explaining that I wasn't sure I trusted raw fish from a supermarket). In the checkout line, I took a gander at the ingredients list. Wow, a lot of long words and ingredients I know not to be desirable!

As it turns out, flavorful sushi sauces and dressings are usually loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, trans fats, disodium guanylate, MSG, and other sketchy ingredients. The ginger and wasabi served with sushi is often dyed pink and green.

By contrast, everything in the Co-op's sushi is clean and delicious. In Japanese, “shizen” conveys the idea of “natural” or “leave it alone.” The Co-op is one of the only places you can even find all-natural sushi, but I suspect they've started a trend!

The Co-op partnered with the folks from Shizen to provide delicious all-natural sushi made fresh every day of the week, during all Co-op store hours. If you happen to catch the expert sushi master behind the counter, he’s happy to make you custom sushi rolls to order, too.

You'll find many of the traditional raw fish options, but if that doesn't float  your boat, know that only 30 percent of the Shizen menu features raw fish. Check out cooked and vegetarian rolls and inari. These inari pockets (sort of like a mini pita pocket made fried tofu) are marinated in a sesame soy sauce, which gives them a sweet, nutty taste, and then they're topped with spicy avocado salad, spicy shrimp salad, or purple sweet potato tempura. Yum! Party platters are available by special order, and some rolls are made with brown sushi rice rather than white.

The chef starts very early prepping for his sushi by making our exclusive recipe for sushi rice. He will then slice the vegetables, make the sauces, and get things rolling for the day. You can taste the difference, knowing everything is made fresh the same day you buy it. The sushi chef purchases the seafood, along with all the other products used in the sushi, exclusively from an approved sushi supplier, chosen by Shizen's executive sushi chef. Sushi is available during all normal hours that the Co-op is open.

In the past few weeks since it opened, the sushi section has been my go-to for quick lunches and lazy dinners when I don't have time to cook. The prices are very reasonable, ranging from $6.49 to $9.99 depending on the size and type of sushi. My husband is psyched, and I even brought home some raw fish sushi for him to try (knowing I could trust the fresh-made stuff at the Co-op)! I can report back that all the ones I've tried thus far (which is most of them) have been delicious, and I specifically recommend the Spicy Tuna, Spider Roll, Spicy Nama, and the California Roll. Word on the street is that the Vegetable Roll and the Inari are also fantastic.

Now, I just have to convince them to get some authentic, all-natural miso soup on tap... Wouldn't that be perfect for the cold, dark nights looming in the not-so-distant future?