James Wong on the virtues of the carotene-packed winter squash

Roasted butternut squash on a baking tray

Posted by James Wong November 8, 2017 | 3 min read

Who cares about the impending cold snap when you have the sticky, golden deliciousness of a winter squash to feast on? Packed with antioxidant carotenes, vitamin A and a good source of vitamin C, they are as nutritious as they are tasty.

They’re also a) in season and b) pretty fun to carve at this time of year. Not to mention the fact that they are one of the few vegetables that actually improves with age. Yes, you read that right.

The sugar content of squash increases noticeably after a month of storage at 10°C. It’s these sugars that fuel the creation of carotenes, which improve both the squash’s signature orange colour and its potential nutrition. In turn, the carotenes break down to create the aroma compounds that give winter squash their characteristic buttery, caramel aroma. Need I say more?

Of course, how you prepare and cook your squash will greatly affect its nutrition. In some varieties, especially the traditional ‘Jack-o’-lantern’ carving types, there can be 27 times more carotenes in their bright orange skin than the pale coloured flesh − simply eating slices with skin and all can mean a fivefold increase in carotenes per serving!

When it comes to cooking − essential to bring out their caramel flavours − baking or roasting are my preferred methods delivering up to a whopping 50 per cent more vitamins A and C over steaming or boiling, according to a study by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Need further convincing? Smooth, sweet winter squash enriches this comforting Southeast Asian laksa soup with loads more flavour and nutrition. Who knew squash and coconut were a foodie match made in heaven?

As a rule of thumb, store squash bought in the autumn months in a cool place, like a garage, for a few weeks (up to 2 months for butternut varieties) before cooking and enjoy carotene levels that can shoot up as much as 50%.

PREP TIME 20 minutes
COOK TIME 10 minutes

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
4 tbsp laksa paste (red thai curry paste will do at a push)
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce
500g roast winter squash blitzed to a smooth puree
200g raw peeled king prawns

To serve:
250g cooked egg noodle
4 spring onions, sliced
2 red thai chillies, sliced
4 mint springs, leaves torn from stems and finely chopped
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
300g halved and cooked tenderstem broccoli
Lime wedges

Combine all the ingredients, except for the prawns, in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes until they turn pink and are cooked through.

Divide the noodles among 4 bowls, ladle over the soup and sprinkle over the spring onions, chillies, mint, pomegranate seeds and broccoli. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.