By Dana Zia, Golightly Gourmet

Winter squash is one of the seasonal foods that I love to cook all winter long. They are so substantial and full of nutrition that it is hard not to love them, especially with names like “sweet dumpling,” “butternut” and “fairytale.” With spring right around the corner, it is time to fill up on winter squash before they disappear till autumn.

Winter squash are royalty of the nutrition world. They take the throne in their lively color which is the herald of their strong content of beta carotene. Beta carotene… pause for applause….is one of the most amazing nutrients we can consume for overall health. It is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals in our systems, supports eye health, reduces the aging process and is linked to prevention of cancer and heart disease.

The crowning glory of winter squash is that there are only 83 calories and a mega 7 grams of fiber in a cup of it. They are also a good source of Vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron. And let’s not forget how delicious they are. Wow, how good does it get!   So, one may ask, how do we get more of it on the table in any other form than a pie?

The hands down easiest way is to buy the pre-cut and peeled winter squash in the grocery aisle at the store and start cooking it. The second easiest way (and my personal favorite) is to get the pulp from the squash and use it in many dishes. To do this, cut them in half, clean out the seeds and lay them cut side up in a baking dish. Bake them at 350 degrees till they are easily pierced with a fork. When they are cooled, scoop out the buttery flesh and mash or puree.

This way you don’t have to try and cut or peel this hard vegetable which can feel a little like trying to break into Fort Knox for gold. Once you have the puree you can add it to soups, stews, smoothies and even mashed potatoes to get the rich nutrients and flavor in your diet. Or you can freeze it for another day as it stores well in the freezer.

This recipe is the perfect solution for getting winter squash on your table in a most pleasing way. It is very easy to make, don’t let the ingredient list daunt you, it’s mostly spices. Falafels are normally deep fat fried and these ones are baked and filled with fiber and beta carotene. These little gems are great for snacks on the go and kids love ‘em too!

Baked Winter Squash Falafels with Spicy Tahini Dressing

Buy your spices in bulk as they are much cheaper that way. The Chickpea flour and tahini (which is sesame seed butter) are available at Fred Meyer’s and at our sponsor, Manzanita Fresh Foods. Bob’s Red Mill makes the best around.

The falafels

3 cups of mashed cooked winter squash

3 to 4 teaspoons of ground cumin

2 teaspoons of ground coriander

1 teaspoon of curry powder

1 teaspoon of sweet or smoked paprika

3- 6 cloves of garlic, minced

OR 1 teaspoon of garlic powder

3-4 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, minced

2 TBLS of lemon juice

1 ½ to 2 cups of chickpea flour

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper

Sesame seeds

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the squash mash, all the spices and lemon juice up till well acquainted. Add 1 ½ cups of the chickpea flour, and salt and pepper, and mash together till there aren’t any lumps or chunks hiding. Stick it in the freezer to firm up for about 20- 30 minutes. You can also put it in the fridge for an hour or up to 24 hours. Before you take the falafel mix out of the fridge, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

When it is done chilling, it should be rather sticky and thick enough to hold its form as a ball. If it isn’t, add ¼ cup of chickpea flour till it is. Sorry this isn’t more scientific, but the moisture content of squash can really vary! Scoop the mix out with a small ice cream scoop or a nice fat tablespoon and plop on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Dress them up with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and slip in the oven. Bake for 15 -20 minutes till they are golden brown. Serve them up in a bed of greens or tucked into a whole wheat pita with the Spicy Tahini Dressing.

Spicy Tahini Dressing

This can easily be made vegan by substituting soy yogurt. This dressing is good on just about anything but chocolate.

½ cup of Tahini

½ cup of plain yogurt

(Greek style is best)

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of sweet or smoked paprika

3-4 cloves of minced garlic

OR 1 teaspoon of garlic powder

A dash or two of hot sauce

½ cucumber, peeled

4 TBLS of lemon juice

Black pepper to taste

Water as needed

Put all the ingredients, except the water, into a blender or a food processor and whip it up. Turn off the blender first, then taste it. Adjust your seasonings to make it perfectly spicy for you. If it needs it, add a bit of water here to make it the consistency that will easily pour over your falafels. Happy healthy eating!


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