A buttercup squash has been sitting on my kitchen counter since before Christmas. Lately, with extra cooking time on my hands due to the pandemic, I’ve been going a bit crazy testing out different ways to cook veggies. I began doing the same thing in my head with the buttercup squash.
I finally split it open. It looks too good to cover up with spices. Sure, it's a popular vegetable for tempura and curries. Today, I think I'll go back to basics with this tasty squash.
Buttercup squash has plenty of taste by itself
When I remember its Japanese name, kabocha (pumpkin), I remember a simple, tasty way of cooking and eating buttercup squash, Japanese style. My friends in Tokyo had a saying:
“The more Japanese cuisine you eat, the more delicate your taste becomes.”
I suppose a lot of foreigners in Japan (like my friends at the time) consider this a way to defend bland flavors. Yet I found it to be true. Flavors like seaweed and soy were alien to my younger, parochial taste buds. My knowledge of winter squash varieties was pretty limited, only remembering the longer butternut and acorn squashes from my childhood days. These squashes also have thick skins, so they are not typically good to eat.
My first taste of kabocha, buttercup squash, was simply divine. The outer skin is thin and is fine to eat. In the picture below some of the skin is removed, but you don’t have to. This squash is thicker and sweeter than the winter squashes I grew up with, almost a cross between a yam and a pumpkin. Buttercup is rich in vitamins A and C, and plenty of fiber, too.
Buttercup squash cooked traditionally in Japan
I found it tough to get used to some of the odd cooking smells in Tokyo in my first few months of living there. I couldn’t imagine the buttercup squash being any good, as it was simply boiled with a big hunk of kelp.
Kelp is a thick seaweed that is often used in Asian cooking for flavorings and soups. I could find nothing appetizing of the look or smell of kelp. Yet somehow, the flavor it added to the squash was enjoyable – and delicate. I was hooked.
Kelp was fine as a flavoring, like a bay leaf, I thought. At first, I would set it aside if it found its way to my dish. But over the years, I’ve come to realize and value the nutritious impact of sea veggies, and look for them, including kelp, as staples in my kitchen.
Leftover buttercup has many uses
Since I live alone, I usually look for the smallest squash I can find. Buttercup squashes can be quite large, and a lot of food for one person. If you use this recipe, you can keep the cut-up cooked squash in a large container for almost a week and serve it in various ways. I like it cold or hot, and sprinkle roasted sesame seeds over it for an added boost of vitamins.
I like to use the cold cut up pieces in salads. Leftover squash can also be thrown in at the end of a stir fry with other vegetables and/or rice. Blend it up with broth and sauteed onions for a quick buttercup soup. Add it to a curry. The bold, sweet flavor of buttercup lends itself well as a complement to many dishes.
Buttercup squash has a bold, sweet flavor that complements many meals from spicy curries to this simple, boiled or steamed version.
Keyword: side dish, winter squash recipe
Author: Michaela Kennedy
pot for boiling or steaming
cutting board and knife
1small buttercup squashseeds removed, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp.soy sauce
Put all ingredients into a large pot. If steaming, put steamer tray in the bottom of the pot.
Fill the pot with enough water to cover the squash. If steaming, fill up as far as the tray. Remember to check frequently so you don't run out of steaming water.
Boil for about 15 minutes, longer if steaming, or until tender when pierced with a fork.
Serve as a side dish with or without a little of the stock.
I also adore buttercup squash roasted or as tempura. But I try to stay away from fried foods or cooking too much with oil. This simple recipe gives me just as much satisfaction as recipes that call for oil.
Have you ever cooked buttercup squash? What's your favorite way to prepare it?
A meat-free diet sounds restrictive to someone brought up on – and loving – meat. In fact, the discouraging health conditions in the United States and in other parts of the world are direct results of our diet choices. We’ve done a lot of damage to ourselves. I know, as I’ve experienced some of the damage myself before going completely plant-based. Studies suggest we can reverse much of this damage simply by making our food choices meat-free. The findings in recent studies show true benefits from a meat-free diet.
The following article speaks to those who are still considering plant-based choices, and for our vegan fans who may be looking for more health reasons to stay on track.
In the States and globally, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women [Covid data not considered here]. Preventable heart attacks account for most of these deaths. Over 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Around one-third of American children are overweight or obese, and obesity is being diagnosed more often at younger ages.
How many of us stuff ourselves and snack often? Then we pay the price – not just individually but as a society – as health care costs skyrocket into the billions, and all this is due to preventable issues.
A meat-free diet offers plant-based options
About 16 million Americans currently follow a vegetarian diet, and many of these are vegans. Vegans follow a strictly meat-free diet, consuming no animal products or byproducts, including dairy or eggs. Many do not eat honey, either.
Celebrities, world leaders, nutritionists, doctors, and people of all ages live healthy and energetic lives, thanks to a plant-based diet. Many have recovered heart health, lowered body weight, and lowered insulin resistance through meat-free choices.
Former President of the United States Bill Clinton is a good example. Clinton had been suffering from heart disease. In 2011 he announced that he had miraculously reversed his heart disease with a strict meat-free diet. Recent research supports Clinton’s claim.
The University of Oxford conducted a large study and the results of the study revealed that following a strict vegetarian diet does, indeed, reduce the risk of hospitalization due to complications from heart disease, and the risk of death from heart disease, both by nearly one third.
Meat-free study shows promising results
Roughly 45,000 participants took part in a study that was conducted by the health and diet experts at the University of Oxford. About 34 percent of the study participants followed strict vegetarian diets. (In this particular study, a vegetarian was defined as an individual who refrained from consuming both meat and fish, but still may eat dairy and eggs).
Those who participated in the study were tracked for more than 10 years. Researchers conducting the meat-free study gathered information about their dietary choices, exercise habits, alcohol consumption, and other variables that could potentially have an impact on heart disease risk.
The researchers who conducted the study discovered that even after controlling for other factors, study participants who followed strict vegetarian diets were considerably less likely to suffer from heart disease.
Francesca Crowe, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, lead author of the study, said, “Most of the difference in risk is most likely caused by effects on both cholesterol as well as blood pressure.” In her statement, she went on to add, “This shows the important role of diet in preventing heart disease.”
The Oxford research study also revealed that the study participants who followed a strict vegetarian diet tended to have a lower body mass index than those who were not vegetarians, and they were less likely to suffer from diabetes as well.
This most recent study was one of the largest studies ever conducted to examine the cardiovascular benefits of following a vegetarian diet. It follows a growing revelation that a meat-free diet is associated with a multitude of health benefits. Read more at Oxford Research.
More benefits of following a meat-free plan
A number of studies over recent years show that, compared to meat-eaters, individuals who follow a vegetarian diet have:
reduced risk of food-borne illness
less severe symptoms of menopause
longer overall life spans
better insulin sensitivity
fewer weight issues
Even if you are not yet quite ready to give up your favorite burger, you can still receive health benefits if you incorporate a bit more heart-healthy, meat-free meals into your general diet. Choose plant foods more often. Fill your plate with healthy vegetables and whole grains. Eat raw whole food.
Some high nutrition, tasty foods to consider are:
Red, yellow, purple and green vegetables
Soymilk and soybeans
Choose your favorites
Special notes if you are beginning to try meat-free meal options, or trying to transition to a vegan diet:
Consider making one or two meals a week meat-free and remove meat from your plate whenever you can.
Substitute the meat you have removed with black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, soy products and other beans.
Choose fruit for dessert instead of baked goods, and raw vegetables for snacks.
Choose a fruit and protein smoothie for three lunches a week instead of a burger or chicken lunch. Plan and make ahead meat-free lunches ready to eat when you are.
Celebrate small wins. Incremental changes can go a long way, and at some point, you may find yourself completely meat-free and vegan one of these days.
The first time I had an orange protein smoothie, I was hooked. I discovered protein powders for the first time back in the 1990s when i was living in japan. I had just finished a health column on tofu and knew it had some amazing health benefits. I was wary of overly processed foods to begin with; moreover, I was living on a shoestring budget in Tokyo, and was not about to start buying pricey processed powders.
I didn't have to look far for a substitute. There it was in my refrigerator: tofu as the protein source to throw into my orange protein smoothie, vegan of course.
The original orange protein smoothie
While tofu has been a staple product in Japan for centuries, few consumers were experimenting outside of traditional Asian dishes with tofu in the early 1990s (at least where I could see). My Japanese friends were shocked and amazed that I would make a drink out of tofu. Yet each time they tasted my concoction, they all loved it.
I’m sure others, probably a lot of them Westerners, had come up with the very same idea. But in those days, we had no Internet to find each other. Since then, I've gone on to find all sorts of ways to use tofu. Check out my recipe for orange cranberry bread. The added tofu makes it rich like a pound cake.
My original vegan orange protein smoothie was:
1 cup (8 oz.) orange juice
One serving of tofu (⅕ of a block) – silken, or any texture is fine
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
Blend with 2-3 ice cubes. Drink slowly (to avoid a sugar rush).
Tofu smoothies and other test shakes
After discovering my new breakfast love, I decided to try various flavors of tofu smoothies. But to be quite honest, I never found one I loved as much. The flavors have to taste right on your tongue. I tried chocolate milk powder. My taste buds revolted. I don’t know, the tangy sweetness of the orange and banana work so well that you’d never guess there was tofu in the mix.
When I was younger, this orange tofu smoothie was my robust breakfast that kept me running up and down subway station staircases all morning. But as I get older I’m more in tune with my body’s reaction to sweet things. Orange juice, while good in small doses, can still trigger a sugar spike, if blood sugar is something you are watching.
A word about tofu
When I discovered how versatile tofu is, I started doing all sorts of test recipes with it. But when I returned to the United States, I came across a plethora of fear-mongering hypes on whether tofu might be dangerous. For a long time I stopped eating tofu on a regular basis.
Years and many medical studies later, tofu, despite being a processed food, has proven to offer many health benefits. Dr. Axe explains in his article on tofu the various health benefits, including debunking its bad reputation around cancer:
May Protect Against Cancer
Despite tofu’s reputation as a cancer-causing ingredient, promising research is proving just the opposite. In fact, studies show that soy consumption could be tied to a lower risk of several types of cancer, including breast cancer, prostate cancer and stomach cancer.
While more research is needed to understand the cancer-fighting properties of tofu, some research indicates that it could be due to the presence of powerful soy isoflavones.
Even more impressive, one study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies noted that these isoflavones could even improve the efficacy of cancer treatments while relieving several side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation. (Read original article)
These days I make my orange smoothie with altered ingredients, making it a bit healthier yet still a tasty breakfast or midafternoon treat. Instead of OJ I will put a whole medium orange (peeled) in the blender with a cup of water. Throw in three dates instead of maple syrup for more nutrients and less sugar spike. Soak the dates in the water for 20 minutes before blending, for a smoother shake.
Of course, you can take your own tofu smoothie to the next level by adding your favorite greens or seeds. I can really go overboard with my green smoothies. But this recipe is a nostalgic treat for me, so I don’t mess with it too much.
Here is the healthier version of my orange tofu smoothie recipe:
Why a vegan orange cranberry bread was stuck in my head, I’m not sure. I never baked one. In fact, my family grew up on canned cranberry jelly, and oranges never made it into cakes in our house. Orange cranberry bread, vegan or otherwise, never crossed my mother’s radar. So, I took what lessons I’ve learned from my 2020 vegan baking test kitchen and came up with an instant favorite in my growing quick bread repertoire – vegan orange cranberry bread with fresh cranberries.
Vegan orange cranberry bread recipe tips
This pandemic year I’ve tried a number of different approaches to vegan quick breads. For this vegan orange cranberry bread I am giving you the 3 secrets I’ve discovered for a truly mouth-watering experience:
Fresh juice and zest
Vegan orange cranberry bread best ingredients
1. Choosing fresh, frozen or dried cranberries
This year I bought two lbs. of cranberries at a great in season price. I’ve never felt savvy with cranberries, and the dried ones have too much added sugar for my liking. I had no idea what I was going to do with the cranberries once I got them home, but I couldn’t pass up on a grocery bargain.
Use fresh cranberries for a vegan orange cranberry bread bursting with flavor.
You can’t just eat cranberries. Well, you can technically. They are too tart for the average palate to eat alone, which is why the dried versions have so much sugar added to them. Many people like baking with the dried, because then you don’t have to add extra sugar to compensate for the tartness. It’s also convenient to keep ingredients like dried cranberries in the baking closet.
Since going vegan three years ago, I feel so much healthier with my plant-based choices and less junk in my diet. Trust me, I know from experience that just because you eat vegan does not mean you eat healthy. So I pay ever closer attention to plant-based choices.
I also want my plant-based baking to be as healthy as possible. And there's not a whole lot out there that can beat the power that cranberries pack. Fresh cranberries are bursting with antioxidants, and their remarkable tangy flavor makes a New Englander proud. I like taking the extra step with fresh fruit. Frozen cranberries work well, too, as long as they have nothing added to them. Don't thaw them before baking.
2. Oranges instead of orange juice
The orange cranberry bread recipe calls for ¾ cup of orange juice, and I had just finished drinking the last bit in the OJ carton. But the two oranges in the fridge gave me exactly ¾ cup of juice, and the needed amount of orange zest. Logically you’d think, hey, if these fresh cranberries are so tart, why add orange zest, too? Don’t think, just add it. We’re talking about the balancing of some bold flavors here. As for the orange juice, I squeezed as much of the pulp out as well. Texture and zest, oh yes.
Whenever you bake, you want to add something acidic. In other recipes I may use a couple of tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice, and that’s plenty. We can use a lot more orange juice here because it has natural sugars.
3. Tofu and cornstarch for light texture
Adding tofu to quick breads has been a huge revelation for me. I’ve tried a variety of egg replacements, with flaxseed and water as my go-to substitute or apple sauce, They both work, but the result is not always as fluffy as I hope. So, finding this combination of tofu and cornstarch creates a pound cake-like texture in your quick breads. Yum!
Previous to this recipe, I had been testing a variety of egg substitutes. You can buy blends at the store that are labeled egg replacements, but I prefer to know a few basics so as not to become reliable on yet another premade product.
I’ve noticed some bakers insist that only silken tofu is acceptable for baking. I say that’s hogwash. The basic difference between the firm qualities of tofu is the water content. If you are concerned with limiting your water content in a recipe, use the firmest tofu you can find. It makes little difference since once it goes in the blender, as it will become smooth.
Tofu is processed, of course. Even so, the health benefits of tofu make this a magical ingredient to add to the quick bread. The reports from tofu medical studies have been better than most Westerners expected or even hoped. Below is an excerpt from a WebMD report that lists some of the more surprising health benefits:
Coronary heart disease. Plant estrogens may help make it less likely that you'll get heart trouble. That's because they improve how well your endothelium works. That's the tissue that lines your blood vessels and the inside of your heart.
Cholesterol levels. Research shows that if you eat 10 ounces of tofu a day, it can lower your levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol by 5%.
Osteoporosis. When estrogen levels go down after menopause, women can lose bone mass. Plant estrogens in tofu can make up for that drop-off. Tofu is also rich in calcium and vitamin D, which is good for bone health, too.
Prostate cancer. If you have this disease, eating tofu may keep your prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels low. This means the cancer grows more slowly or not at all
Below please enjoy my newest addition to my quick bread recipe card box, vegan orange cranberry bread. I almost stopped after blending the liquid ingredients and tofu, since it reminded me of one of my original favorite smoothies – check out my vegan orange protein smoothie for a fund tofu drink, too!
Here is my new favorite festive treat. Sprinkle sugar on top, or make an icing out of powdered sugar, vegan butter and soy milk for an extra decadent treat.
1 medium loaf pan
1 large bowl
measuring spoons and cups
¾cup/180 ml orange juiceabout 2 oranges
1Tbsp.orange zestabout 2 oranges
4oz./ 120 g tofuany firmness
2tsp.pure vanilla extract
2cups/ 25 g flour of your choiceall-purpose or gluten-free (don’t use whole wheat)
2 ½Tbsp/ 25 g cornstarch
1 ½tspbaking powder
1 ¼cupssugaryour choice, or any substitute: coconut sugar, date syrup, maple syrup, xylitol, etc.
1/2 cupcoconut oilor your choice of vegan block butter, 1 stick, melted
2Tbsp.oilI use olive or coconut
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a 4.5 x 8.5 in. loaf pan with a strip of baking parchment, or grease so baked loaf does not stick.
In a small bowl, mix fresh cranberries with 2 tsp. flour until they are well coated. Set aside.
Spin tofu, orange juice and vanilla extract in a blender or processor until smooth.
Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, salt and sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. *NOTE: if you use liquid sweetener, blend it with the liquid ingredients first.
Add melted butter, oil and orange zest to the flour mixture and stir until everything is coated.
Gradually cut the wet ingredients into the dry to form a batter. Fold in the cranberries.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 75 minutes until a thin knife inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. I like to tent, loosely cover, the top of the cake with tin foil in the last 20-30 minutes of baking so it doesn’t get too dark on top.
Leave the cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. You can then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack and let it cool completely before slicing.
Pumpkin bread was not a known recipe in my family growing up. The only quick bread that ever made it to the oven was banana bread, with no additions, no variations. My introduction to pumpkin bread – and its simplicity to bake – came in junior high school home economics class (yep, I’m that old). We not only learned how to bake a quick pumpkin bread, but we also baked it inside the pumpkin puree can that we had brought to school for the lesson.
Pumpkin bread in a can
That was pretty cool, to bring home a pumpkin bread that looked like a can, made all by myself. We had been instructed to bring extra empty cans if possible, as one batch would fit in two or three cans. My mom was amazed, and I had a new love for experimental baking. And pumpkin bread.
There are plenty of places around the web that will show you how to bake in a can, even decorate the cans as gifts. If you want to turn quick breads into DIY Christmas gifts, here’s a good example of how to do it. (WARNING: not a vegan recipe in the link, just an example of DIY baking with cans!)
Balancing healthy and tasty in your pumpkin bread
I’m about the taste, and I’m here to give you my favorite recipe that I’ve developed over time. It calls for oil, which, yes I know, is not the healthiest choice. Yet as one of my favorite chefs Derek Sarno of Wicked Healthy Foodfame says, “If you don’t think it’s healthy, don’t eat it and go make something else. But if you want to taste something that reminds me of my childhood, then this is the way to do it.”
With that, I've gone back to adding oil to my quick breads, and most often it will be coconut oil. You can use applesauce as a replacement if you want to be strict. But I love the lighter texture that you can get with the oil. If you want to go oil-free, just make sure you mix the batter as little as possible.
Baking pumpkin bread is a sweet smelling treat
The aroma of pumpkin bread baking makes the whole house feel toasty. When I was younger I preferred no added options in my quick breads. As I've grown older, I know how nutrient-packed huts and raisins are, so I like to include them – and they are a nice combination with the pumpkin and spices. This time I broke away from my traditional chopped walnuts and added chopped pecans. The pecans have a rich flavor similar to brown sugar – without the added processed sugar.
3Tbsp.orange juice, nut milk or wateradd sparingly if wet ingredients are too thick
1cupoat flourmake with rolled oats in blender/processor
1/2cupalmond meal or flournuts in the blender works
1 1/2 tsp.baking powder
1/4 cupchopped pecans or walnuts(optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan, or line with parchment paper. Blend all the wet ingredients together until smooth, in a blender or food processor. The consistency should be thick, almost like pudding. If it’s too thick, add the orange juice slowly and sparingly to make it manageable, but not runny.Put all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. I run mine through a sifter so I won’t come across chunks of flour or baking soda in the final baked pumpkin bread. Alternatively, you can use a whisking tool to mix the dry ingredients and break up any small clumps.Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry, a portion at a time until everything is moist. Do not over mix, as it will make the baked bread come out gummy.. Mix in the nuts and/or raisins. Bake for about 65 mins, or until a knife is inserted and comes out clean. Cool on a rack or heat-safe surface.*A gluten-free flour blend is a nice option here. Regular white or unbleached flour is fine - personally, I’d stay away from whole wheat flour, as it is hard for many to digest.**Or make your own blend: 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger powder, ¼ tsp ground cloves, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp allspice. ***Add pecan or walnut halves and pieces to the top before baking. Tent the pan with tin foil for the first 40 minutes so the evans do not burn.
For treats or holiday gifts, pumpkin bread that everyone will love
I can never wait, and always dig in about 5 minutes after it’s out of the oven. Of course, it crumbles all over the place. I suggest letting it cool for an hour or so, letting the pumpkin bread set before cutting. The best is to cut it the next day, when the bread has had a chance to settle.
One thing to note about offering vegan baked goods to non-vegans: they do not always appreciate the effort. Yet this pumpkin bread is so filled with flavor that no one is going to miss the eggs. In addition, you can use nut milk for the water and liquid, but somehow I feel the orange juice is the secret here.
When my mom taught me how to make a big fruit salad for the first course at Thanksgiving, she pulled a carton of orange juice out of the refrigerator. With one finger tapping the side of the carton, she said, “Here, a few splashes of this is the key to a sweet fruit salad.”
I remembered her words as I started to bake. As it turns out, a few splashes of orange juice works great in pumpkin bread, too.