Roasted Winter Squash with Rosemary

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I am a wimp when it comes to being cold, being wet, and especially both at the same time. Before my first visit to Guatemala my impression was that, because it was further south than Texas and Florida which are notoriously warm, it would be insanely hot — as the tropics should be, right?. My first summer here I brought all my favorite skirts, shorts, tank tops….but only one pair of jeans and one sweater. That was dumb. I obviously didn’t research, or even ask the simple question “what is the weather like”. So I was pretty chilly in those skirts. I believe they only made an appearance the first week or two, after I finally realized I looked ridiculous covered in goosebumps. Initially I was like a teenage girl, dying to wear her new spring clothes that she bought all the way back in February, and come April there is still snow on the ground, but by-golly its spring time so shes gonna wear her spring clothes, dangit! The weather won out, and I wore those poor jeans thin in the seat. Two months in I bought a cheap pair from the market because I feared one day playing rough with the children they might just split down the back.

Anyway, my point is that Guate isn’t so tropical as it is mild. It does get very hot in March and April, but when the rains begin in May it cools off a bit although there will still be days when it is hot and humid. In the middle of the rainy season there is a canicula, or a few week respite from the summer showers. But the rain can continue through October, even the beginning of November. Once November hits it actually gets cold. I remember the night Héc’s mom called telling us to bundle up, that the cold had arrived. I don’t know if it was the look in the clouds, or the feel of the wind, but she has an intuition like no other. And sure enough the rains blew away and the cold settled in. “What!” I thought. “Cold?!” Now it’s not Chicago winter by any means, but it can get down to 40ºF at night where we live up in the hills. And the homes don’t have central heat or even insulation, and the windows are vented and don’t entirely seal, so there is a draft. Sometimes inside out apartment it is colder than outside, so inside the house I’ll use my hat, scarf, and gloves (with tips cut off so I can write and cook, ect). It was a shock.

But this year I’m feeling strong. It’s almost September, and the rain has barely touched us. We’re in the middle of a drought for sure, and I actually feel myself missing the rain. And when the days gets above 75º I complain that it’s too hot, and the chilly evenings I find refreshing. This is not typical Sarah behavior. I think this winter I’ll be ok. I honestly believe it.

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But even if I’m not strong this year, you know what makes those freezing winter nights bearable? Comfort food. A nice vegetarian chili with cornbread; hot chocolate; warm oatmeal. One of my all time favorite comfort foods is baked squash. My mom made this delicious butternut squash with gorgonzola cheese crumbled on top. It was heavenly. Eating a big warm bowl of it, with the rich flavors of the squash, olive oil, herbs, and cheese, fill you belly and send a surge of warmth throughout your limbs.

I haven’t seen butternut squash here in Guate, but there is güicoy (pictured above). I find it very similar to an acorn squash in flavor, but it really serves the purpose of either. The problem is that they are huge, so when we buy one we will eat it all week long. But it is so versatile. Sweet, savory, soups, casseroles. You can do a lot. But this is one of my all time favorite preparations, especially for the winter months. While it is still quite warm here and this dish isn’t exactly a summer food, I’ve been dreaming of the first chilly day, and we had the squash. So I made it anyway. But! Yesterday we got the first hard rain I can remember since May, and it didn’t reach above 70ºF the entire day. Today its hot and humid again. Anyway, even if its not appropriate for the season I see it as preparation: slowly building my repertoire of warming comfort foods for those day I just might not be able to bear it (although I still think I’m gonna be strong!)

This recipe combines winter squash diced into 1/2″ cubes, fresh chopped rosemary – my favorite herb, sliced red onion, plenty of olive oil for a rich taste, and fresh parmesan cheese. Next time I think I will use gorogonzola or goat cheese. I think the textures combine more pleasantly.

Roasted Winter Squash with Rosemary:

Ingredients:
One medium acorn squash (or small butternut)
1/2 red onion, thickly sliced
5 sprigs rosemary, coarsly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Large pinch of salt
Few turns of fresh cracked pepper
1/3 cup cheese (parmesan, gorgonzola, blue, ect).

Directions:
Cube squash and place in bowl. Add onions, rosemary, salt, pepper, and toss. Coat with oil and toss. Place in glass baking dish, and bake for about 45 minutes – until squash is tender. Add cheese on top, and bake another 15 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Serve warm.

Chilled Winter Squash Salad with Garam Masala, Walnut, and Coconut

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Initially I was going to make baked squash like my mom used to. We would have Acorn squash, halved, baked with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. The closest thing to acorn sqaush in Guate is qüicoy, but the taste is very similar. But from there it took a very different turn. In place of cinnamon I used Garam Masala, and I added apples and carrots to the mix, and because I had to run some errands and then later forgot about the veggies, it turned into a cold salad with yogurt dressing. Somehow toasted coconut and walnuts ended up being tossed in at the very last minute, adding rich flavors and textures that complimented the salad beautifully. I really think they make it so spectacular.

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I imagine some chopped dates or raisins would add a nice texture and natural sweetness as well, and for certain sweet potato is another veggie that fits in with squash carrots and apple.

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Sopita de Zanahoria y Güicoy con Loroco (Carrot and Squash Soup with Loroco)


One Saturday, like many, we were driving from our apartment in Vista Hermosa to the in-laws’ place in Mixco. Depending on the day of week, month, the weather, recent accidents, and a number of other factors, this 7 kilometer journey can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. Saturdays in the mid morning don’t tend to be too bad, but this particular day was miserable. And with the 80º F, 90% humidity, and our air-condition-less car, it was unbearable. In a city like Guatemala — which has somewhat recently faced clumsy and uncoordinated growth, the streets are arranged in a windy and illogical manner and overcrowded with beat-up and smoking vehicles that wouldn’t last a mile in California without being pulled over for a smog violation — you think twice before going out at rush hour and avoid rolling down your windows to get some air flow. But on this more-tropical-than-usual July day, with the traffic gridlocked and moving at tortoise speed, having the windows down was not an optional, it was necessary. But we suffered through the smell, and occationally rushed to roll up the windows when a cloud of black would billow from a red city bus.

Somewhere in Zone 1, about halfway to our destination, we were stopped at a busy intersection. The traffic light changed to red, and vendors — selling items as varying as polarized windows to fruits and veggies — sprang into the alleys between cars, holding their items in the air towards windows and shouting out their prices. A girl of about 14 years old came right up to my open window and stuck a pound bag of loroco in my lap and requested 10Q (about $1.50). Loroco, a flower found mainly in Guatemala and El Salvador, is only in season for about two months during the beginning of the rainy season in Guatemala (July and August). It is a culinary delicacy used in a variety of dished, but my favorite is Pollo en Crema con Loroco; a cream based chicken stew. Without much time to consider the purchas, Héc pulled out a 10Q bill from his wallet, and the exchange was complete. The light turned green and we were on our way.

Later in the evening when we got home, I put the bag in the fridge, where it stayed for a couple days. Every day that week, while scrummaging through the fridge for ideas on what to prepare for dinner, I would come across the bag sitting there lonely and, assuredly, getting more withered each moment. The flower is rather frail, which is the reason you don’t see it outside of Guatemala often unless pickled, which in my opinion completely ruins its delicate and unique essence. But the truth is I was intimidated. Pollo en Crema was the only dish that came to mind when thinking of loroco. And I wasn’t about to attempt to recreate the delicacy that Abuelita Zoila or Betty (la suegra) have been mastering for years. Too many expectations, I thought, and to be honest it is something so sacred and revered in the household that out of respect I didn’t want to go there. It would almost be like making pumpkin pie at any time other than Thanksgiving. It is a meal we eat once or twice a year, and prepared by Betty or Zoila. That is it. Perhaps some day Betty will take me into her kitchen and bestow upon me the rights to attempt the dish.

So what was I supposed to do with this flower? Because it isn’t readily available in the U.S. or Europe, you cannot find many recipes posted online. The recipes are posted in the minds of the Latina women from these two Central American countries. And from my memory, I’ve seen it only in queso fresco, a farmers cheese; in empanadas with from Yolanda’s, located at a populated comedor outside of Zacapa; and in pollo en crema. That is it. But by Wednesday I realized I should use them before they go to waste. So I poured the flowers into a collander where I washed them thoroughly, picked off the woody stems, and tasted a few here and there to get some ideas.

Finally I settled on this. I had been planning to make a carrot soup with star anise, because we bought a huge bag of star anise and had only used about one pod to make garam masala. But decided that I would substitute the loroco for the anise, and also include some leftover güicoy (a winter-type squash) I had sitting in the fridge.

It turned out lovely. I used lots of onion, a bay leaf, and a single garlic clove (which is very uncharacteristic for my cooking, as I have been known to eat entire roasted blubs straight up. I believe deeply in their health benefits). And at the end a splash of milk for added creaminess, which Héc, my lactose intolerant lover, said could be left out. Its a very simple recipe, but that simplicity really let the flavor of the loroco shine, which is exactly what I was going for.

Sopita de Zanahorria y Güicoy con Loroco

Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 garlic clove
2 bay leaves
3 cups shredded carrots (about two large carrots)
2 cups cooked squash (probably about 1 acorn squash- and I supposed you could use uncooked)
2 cups water
2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken, whichever you prefer)
1/2 pound loroco*
milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the bay leaves and let cook until fragrant. Add the carrots and squash, add water, and cook uncovered until softened, about 20 minutes. Add stock, and let cook for another 10 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, and let cool slightly before pureeing. I use a hand blender so I don’t get any more dishes dirty, but if you use a food processor or blender, make sure you let it cool enough. Once pureed so that it is very smooth (or to your desired consistency), put the mixture back in the pot and on heat. Add the loroco and cook on high for 20 minutes or until the flowers have become very tender. Add milk at the very end if you like, but it can easily be left out. Salt and pepper to your liking.

*if you are not in Guatemala or El Salvador, you may want to try this with squash blossoms. I haven’t, but I believe it would be delightful, although a bit

With the left over loroco I made a lovely fritata of red onion, cheery tomatoes, and loroco. The soup went really well with a spicy corn bread chock full of fresh corn.