Nava Atlas on How to Tame Winter Squashes and Sugar Pumpkins

by JL Fields on December 3, 2012

I am delighted to share a fantastic guest post with you today! My friend Nava Atlas is here to provide tips on cooking with winter squash – just in time for your next holiday meal!

How to Tame Winter Squashes and Sugar Pumpkins
by Nava Atlas

Recipes that instruct me to peel and dice a raw winter squash or sugar pumpkin make me feel so inadequate. I want to run and get my husband’s chain saw. I’ve often wondered whether the problem was  that my knives had gone dull, or that my hands have become weak. The thought of doing the “peel and dice” battle often put me off winter squashes, though I dearly love them. It was a relief to learn that others have this dilemma and, like me, are somehow too proud to admit it.

With their lilting sweetness and exuberant orange flesh, winter squashes are especially welcome at holiday meals. And when you learn this tip for taming winter squashes to make them super-easy to cut, you’ll want to use these nutritious and delicious beauties with abandon. The trick is simply to partially bake them before doing any serious cutting. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375º F.
  2. Wrap the entire squash in foil and place in a baking dish. I try to do two or three squashes at once or bake something else (like potatoes or sweet potatoes), so that I’m not using the entire oven just to bake one squash.
  3. For smaller squashes like acorn, golden acorn, delicata, and the like, bake for 15 to 30 minutes; for larger squashes and sugar pumpkins, 25 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the squash and what you intend to do with it. If you ultimately need firm slices or chunks, or if you’ll be stuffing and re-baking the vegetable, bake only until you can pierce through the part without the seeds with some resistance. If you’ll be pureeing the flesh, as for a pie or a soup, bake until easily pierced.
  4. When cool enough to handle, cut in half (if you haven’t done so already), and scoop out the pulp and seeds (and if you have patience, clean and roast the seeds for snacking!). If you’ll be doing anything other than stuffing the squashes, cut into thick slices or sections to peel; discard the skin. Then, follow whatever recipe you’re making.

For a visual demonstration of this process, see VegKitchen’s Vegan Minute video on How to Cut Butternut Squash Easily.

Pan-Seared Winter Squash and Fresh Corn
Serves: 8 or more as a side dish

Once you have a winter squash partially baked, most anything you make comes together easily and quickly. This simple side dish is easy enough to serve at everyday meals, and festive enough for the holiday table. Though its past fresh corn season in most areas, markets often bring this classic crop back for the holiday season, and it’s still quite good.


  • 1 small sugar pumpkin or 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 tablespoon safflower or other high-heat oil
  • 1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 large or 3 medium ears fresh corn
  • 1/ 2 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Fresh rosemary leaves from 1 sprig, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Follow the instructions for pre-baking the pumpkin or squash, above. Bake to the point where you can pierce though with a bit of resistance. Once you’ve got the pumpkin or squash seeded and peeled, cut into approximately 1-inch chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in an extra-wide skillet. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened, stirring frequently, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, break each ear of corn in half. Stand each up on its sturdy end and cut the kernels away from the cob with a sharp knife.
  4. Add the squash chunks, corn kernels, and bell pepper to the skillet. Turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring almost continuously until the vegetables have nice charred spots here and there, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Stir in the rosemary leaves, cumin, and agave and continue to cook, stirring for a minute or so longer. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Nava Atlas’s most recent books are Wild About Greens and Vegan Holiday Kitchen. Visit VegKitchen’s Healthy Vegan Kitchen page for lots of vegan holiday fare and great tips for making the most of seasonal produce.

Thank you, Nava, for these great tips and fabulous recipe!

  • Bianca

    Oh yes! This is the ONLY way I’ll deal with a winter squash. I’ve almost lost too many fingers trying to peel one without baking first.

  • This is incredibly useful information. I sometimes put the squash or pumpkin into the microwave for a short period of time to soften it up for cutting; but I feel more comfortable knowing how a pro like Nava does it!

  • I finally figured this out about a year ago and have never looked back! I also love the taste of roasted squash the best, so I’m always happy to use it in just about any recipe. This squash and corn combo looks fabulous!

  • Pingback: Hot Holiday Breakfast Bowl + Vegan News You Can Use (12/9/12)()

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