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Lick the Produce Section – Squashing the squash and turning up a turnip

I have continued my exploration of the produce section in the past weeks, inappropriately fondling vegetables that I do not know the names of as if they were strippers. There’s no dancing pole in the vegetable aisle, which would make shopping more fun. But I didn’t have to tip the stock boy a twenty in his apron string either, so I guess it balances out.

Spaghetti squash

Oodles of noodles

I had never heard of spaghetti squash before, but I’ve evidently been walking past it on my way to the cheese section for years. I cooked it in the oven for about 45 minutes after splitting it in half and placing it face down in a pan of water. Then I pulled it out to scrape out the insides. Those last two sentences sound like excerpts from The Happy Torturer’s Guidebook, but I swear that’s what All Recipes told me to do. The squash comes apart like strands of noodles, hence the name “spaghetti squash.” I ate it with some tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese and it was pretty good. I’d definitely have it again, though I’d never confuse it with actual pasta.

Turnip

Turnip

The turnip sounds like it should be the butt of a joke. There’s something ridiculous about the explosive “p” sound made when pronouncing its name. At least I had heard of a turnip before, but that was mainly because I played Super Mario Brothers 2 a lot and had to pull turnips out of the ground to power-up. I didn’t get fancy with this turnip. I just chopped it up and cooked it in the microwave. It wasn’t bad, but I won’t be going on a turnip-pulling rampage like Mario or Luigi anytime soon, not unless King Krupa is on the loose.

Zucchini & Yellow Squash

Zucchini & Yellow Squash

These are obviously two different vegetables, but I used them together in a southwest-style chicken stir-fry and they’re both squash, so I’ll review them together. It’s like how my teachers in grade school would always compare me to my brother, even though we were completely different people. We always got associated with each other by the fault of our shared DNA. Sorry, my squash sisters!

I think my brother put it best when he ate the leftovers of my stir-fry and said “I am amazed that I don’t dislike these little yellow things.” Aye, me too bro. The yellow squash and zucchini did well to bulk up the meal, leaving me fuller. They had a subtle taste to them, but also absorbed a lot of the flavor from the salsa and lemon juice in the stir-fry. Very tasty, definitely a winner, and they were easy to slice too. My brother even wanted the recipe.

I originally bought some cilantro for this recipe too, but after hanging around in my fridge for a week, it got all gooey and gross and I’m about 99% certain it wasn’t supposed to resemble a slime monster, so I tossed it. Which was just as well because I wasn’t sure how to chop it up properly. Chopping vegetables is a high-anxiety task for me. I’m always scared I’m going to cut off my thumbs and will no longer be able to press the space bar so allmytypingwilllooklikethis. I also always wonder if I’m cutting the food in the right way. I know there technically isn’t a “wrong” way to cut up a vegetable, but there are surely methods that are more efficient or safer than others. Or at least methods that don’t involve turnips spent spinning across the counter. Though a turnip does sort of look like a top, so maybe it secretly dreamt of spinning and I helped fulfill its ambitions. I make dreams happen! Or it was just scared of my BIG KNIFE.

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31 Comments

Allison • May 1, 2007 at 10:29 am

Watch the Food Network! (I promise I’m not a shill for them. :3) I swear, I never really cooked anything in my life before I left for college. Once I was out, and confronted by the fact that I would either have to a) eat out every meal for the rest of my life or b) learn to cook, I started watching cooking shows for tips. You really absorb a lot just watching them cook, even if they’re not saying things like: “this is how you cut a tomato”.

Now I’ve moved on to julienning my peppers!

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Debbi • May 1, 2007 at 10:40 am

I love spaghetti squash, but don’t buy it much because I’m the only one who loves it.

Also, cilantro? Grow it in a pot, and snip it frequently to promote more growth. Doesn’t spoil if it has roots. I usually snip the leaves with kitchen scissors and don’t chop further.

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PastaQueen • May 1, 2007 at 10:44 am

Allison – I don’t have cable! I’m a cheapskate. I do regret not watching the Food Network more when I lived with my mom. But often times I’d stumble upon a special hosted by Mark Summers where they showed us how they make jelly beans or chocolate, which made me really hungry for the wrong kinds of foods, so it’s just as well.

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mrs darling • May 1, 2007 at 10:50 am

Spaghetti squash is good with just plain ole’ spaghetti sauce on it too.

Yellow squash is excellent chopped into chunks and boiled for a short time. It doesnt take long. Then just pull it out, strain it, and toss with butter and salt; if your diet allows butter.

You can take zucchini and slice in rounds, drizzle with olive oil and grill it on the grill. Its amazing!

I read your blog every day but dont comment much. Because of you I am beginning a new way of eating today!

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Anne • May 1, 2007 at 11:02 am

I love your produce reviews! My goal is to one day get my husband to eat spag squash ;)

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barbara • May 1, 2007 at 11:08 am

PQ, do you have a George Foreman grill? I highly recommend one for many reasons, especially because you can grill all kinds of vegetables on it. It’s really easy. You just spray some of that spray-oil stuff on the grill, heat it up, and put slabs of cut vegetables on it. It makes bland veggies like those squashes you wrote about taste very good. I like to do squash, eggplant, peppers, and portobello mushrooms. I also recommend the grill that has the plates that detach for cleaning; it’s much easier to deal with.

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PastaQueen • May 1, 2007 at 11:22 am

barbara – I do indeed have a George Foreman grill! I got it right when I moved. After using my Discover Card cashback bonuses I only had to pay $0.87 for it. I’ve got an eggplant in the fridge right now, so I’ll try grilling it sometime this week.

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JB • May 1, 2007 at 11:23 am

I love grilled squash brushed with olive oil; second that one. And one of my favorite summer meals is sliced squash and/or zucchini, onion, garlic, and diced fresh tomato (add the tomato at the very end so it doesn’t get squishy, just warms through.) Sometimes I add shrimp. Either I eat it plain or over pasta. Oh man, now I want some.

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jaime • May 1, 2007 at 12:10 pm

I almost always eat zucchini and yellow squash together. They’re both good raw (with a little bit of veggie dip), and they’re both great roasted in the oven with olive oil and whole garlic cloves. I also make a frittata with zucchini and goat cheese that is really good.

I keep wanting to try spaghetti squash again (I’m pretty sure I’ve had it before) but I’m certain my husband won’t eat it.

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Heather • May 1, 2007 at 12:26 pm

I eat zucchini and squash together…. Heat some minced garlic in a very small amount of oil in a pan– add cut up a couple cut up yellow squash, and zucchini. Add a can of “tomatoes with green peppers” (or with jalepenos if you like spicy)– just enough to cover up squash when all mixed together.

Heat for ~10 min until tendercrisp.

Delicious, and easy.

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Stephanie • May 1, 2007 at 12:48 pm

To help with cutting slices I find that having a mandolin is really helpful. http://www.best-price.com/procSystem,showProductSearchByUserSearch,,0,Kitchen+Mandolin.html

If the link doesn’t come thru, just google cooking mandolin.

I’ve had mine for years and it has several different types of blades so that you can slice, julienne, make waffle pattern fries – although I’ve done it with other veggies too. I use it all the time to finely chop onions and celery for soups.

I’m loving your site and hope to eventually get the motivation to lose my own weight.

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Lora • May 1, 2007 at 1:10 pm

Do you have any cooking schools near you? Or check your community education center…look for a knife skills class, if you really want to know how to “properly” chop your veggies. It will be a one night class and will cover just about everything you could possibly want to know. If you dont’ want to go, just remember to slightly curl your fingers under on the hand that is holding the produce so the the knife blade would be flat against your knuckles, not your fingertips. And for chopping herbs, try a mezzaluna. You can get one at Bed, Bath and Beyond for as little as $7…this tool makes it easy for anyone to chop things finely.

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Jen • May 1, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Again, not to sound like an excerpt from the Happy Torturer’s Guidebook, Knife Skills can be a bit difficult to obtain – it’s practice, practice, practice.

I gained my knife skills as a Freshman in college working as a prep cook in my dorm’s cafeteria. Cut up 250 pounds of veggies a day, and you’ll get them down.

Here’s a link to a nice video on knife skill techniques from the Food Network:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/ck_dm_knife_skills

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Chris • May 1, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Here’s a spaghetti squash tip for you from someone who WILL NOT wait 45 minutes for a veggie to cook! Cut your spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then fill that scooped out area with water. Pop in the microwave and nuke it for 8-10 minutes for one half (or a couple minutes more depending on the size of the squash and the strength of your microwave). Same results as baking and SOOO much faster. The other half of the squash can be covered with plastic wrap and left in the fridge for a few days (I’ve kept the covered cut half for up to a week before cooking). I eat mine with a meaty spaghetti sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, or just a spray of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, salt and pepper and some parmesan cheese. Very yummy!

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Kerry • May 1, 2007 at 2:54 pm

I use thin slices of zucchini and yellow squash in place of noodles in lasagna, or to make a sort of cannelloni. Good stuff. Eggplant also works well.

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K • May 1, 2007 at 3:42 pm

I have never eaten or even seen yellow squash or spaghetti squash… apart from zucchini/courgettes/marrows and pumpkins, squash is a relatively new thing over here.

Turnips, however, are a winter staple for J and me – to accompany haggis. Don’t laugh! Mine is vegetarian haggis… I’m not sure we cook them the most healthy way, but it’s definitely the best: mash them like a potato and add a little margarine. Scottish turnips are really swede/rutabaga, though. They’re sweeter and not so watery as the kind you have in the picture.

The best thing to do with fresh coriander if you’re not using it immediately is to freeze it in a dry airtight container. It comes out looking frosty, but it’s easier to chop and indistinguishable from fresh once cooked. (It’s not that hard to grow but I’ve killed two, and we don’t eat it that often. One packet of frozen lasted us about six meals.)

I am growing my own courgettes, tomatoes, butternut squash, pumpkins and peppers this year, and have started a garden blog… will I never learn?

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bazu • May 1, 2007 at 4:13 pm

Yay, produce! As an unabashed lover of all things fruit and veg, I love reading your adventures with the suckers.

Here’s a tip for keeping fresh herbs from going bad quickly. (especially useful to me, since I live in the frozen north where herbs are neither abundant nor cheap): as soon as you get them home, take the tie or rubber band off, and pick off any bad bits. Next, rinse them in cold water and store them wrapped in slightly damp paper towels or kitchen towels. Then, stick the whole thing in a perforated ziploc bag, or just straight into the crisper. They should keep longer this way. Another thing I do, say if I have a huge bunch of parsley or cilantro, I take about half and blend it in the blender (or Magic Bullet in my case!) with a small amount of water. I then freeze the goo in a small bag, and whenever I don’t have fresh herbs, I can break off little pieces- it really wakes up the flavor of most dishes.

Oh my god, how much can I blabber about frakking produce??

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Adrienne • May 1, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Another thing about turnips-as-potatoes: you can chop them up and use them as potato substitutes in soups. A South Beach cookbook I own uses them as potatoes in a salmon chowder recipe that is very tasty. I’m sure you could do that for other soups too.

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Lose Weight With Me • May 1, 2007 at 5:38 pm

I love your vegetable reviews, PQ. I always feel ready to try a little vegetable experimentation after reading them.

:-)

Brian

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Judith in NYC • May 1, 2007 at 8:22 pm

As a Latina I can tell you that cilantro is one of our basic food groups. I keep it fresh by putting the root or stems in a jar of water (no leaves, they will go slimy, covering the leaves with a plastic bag and putting the whole thing in the refrigerator. When you use it you can chop the stems and leaves together, but in my family we only use the leaves.

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Allison • May 1, 2007 at 9:19 pm

PQ-As someone mentioned above their website can actually be pretty helpful. I think that knife skills series explains how to cube, dice, mince, julienne, etc.

Also baby zuchinni and baby squash are awesome with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and then grilled to carmelize them and bring out their natural sugars. :)

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Kathy • May 1, 2007 at 11:22 pm

I like almost all veggies, but white turnip is not a favorite. What is a favorite is another type of turnip called rutabaga. It’s yellow inside and much sweeter and milder than a white turnip.

Spaghetti squash halved, seeded and placed down in a half inch of water and covered cooks in 10 minutes or so in the microwave. My preferred way is to melt 1 teaspoon of butter until it’s almost golden and drizzle it over the squash serving. Good eating! Not bad with olive oil and italian herbs either…

Love your style of writing.

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Bathsheba Freud • May 2, 2007 at 3:56 am

As Lori said – a mezzaluna is good for chopping fresh herbs (a la Nigella Lawson). Or you can just tear them with your hands.

I did a macrobiotic cooking course once and they offered a rule of thumb for chopping veggies which was to cut along the natural grain of the vegetable. Onions are a great example because the grain is so obvious. With other veggies I guess it means follow the natural length of them before chopping across if you want smaller pieces. Resist 80′s aesthetics vis-a-vis the carrot wheel. Instead, go the carrot rose!

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Pam • May 2, 2007 at 7:41 am

I’m with Judith on the cilantro – just put the bunch in water like a bouquet of flowers. Works for a big bunch of basil too, which I then keep outside in the summer. The basil will even start growing roots and I’ve had it last 3 weeks.

Also, grilled vegetables with hummus in a whole wheat wrap or pita – yum.

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Amy • May 2, 2007 at 8:50 am

i’d love to know how you escaped the onslaught of zucchini so long. where i live everyone grows it and wow, does it ever grow. zucchini bread, zucchini lasagne, baked stuffed zucchini, steamed, broiled, grilled. i love the stuff but by mid-summer you’d kill for a brussel sprout, truly.

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Mark • May 2, 2007 at 9:05 am

Turnips are my fave!

Small ones do whole, or you can halve or quarter them as they get larger. Try to buy them with all the greens attached, and if you cut them, cut them longitudinally so each piece has some greens stuck to it.

Two ways to cook:

(1) Roast with chicken, less heavy than potatoes. Slather the chicken and the turnips (and any other vegetable, like carrots, portabello mushrooms, asparagus, whatever) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps rosemary.

(2) Braise with curry. In olive oil with a tablespoon of curry powder, and some salt, and pepper, saute for a bit, holding them each of them in turn greens first into the pan so they become bendable, and then putting the whole turnip in. After they brown a bit, add a half cup of water or so and put the lid on to finish up. Mix a couple of times with the curry slurry. Test with a toothpick.

The two flavors, greens and turnips, are great together. It’s so hard to decide which to eat first.

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jenni • May 2, 2007 at 9:15 am

PQ- I also enjoy your new ventures with veggies. I was anti-turnip until this past winter when I gathered up a few root vegetables and cubed them — sweet potatoes, yukon gold, beets, carrot, parsnip and turnip. I roasted them on a sheet in the oven – drizzled with a little OO, kosher salt, pepper and rosemary. Made for an easy and cheap veggie side. I also like the pairing of the turnip and a sweet potato – it gives the SP an little nutty flavor – you can mash them or cube them small and cook in an omlet pan like hash browns.

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mymsie • May 2, 2007 at 9:32 am

I loathe chopping veggies too and am jealous of neat, orderly, precise choppers.

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Annie • May 2, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I love to eat turnips raw…just bite into them like an apple. Another like I like is to fix the yellow squash in my steamer and season it with a little bit of cajun spices. I think it is so cool that you are trying all these different veggies. I think I need to try doing mine different ways. I have never had a turnip cooked so I need to check that out.

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Amy • May 3, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Yay… someone else who has a slight phobia of cutting vegetables “wrong”! I am not a knowledgable cook and I’m always a little scared of veggies in the kitchen. You should check out the Moosewood cookbook – she tells you how to do all the things everyone else seems to know instictively, without making you feel like a moron in the process. It’s made me a little braver in the kitchen!

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kalmia • May 3, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Here’s a delicious spaghetti squash recipe I found online somewhere:

o 1 spaghetti squash (~2 cups baked)

o 1 chopped onion

o 1 clove minced garlic

o 2 Tbsp olive oil

o 1.5 cups halved cherry tomatoes

o 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil

o 1 cup partly-skimmed crumbled feta cheese

o 30 sliced green olives stuffed with pimiento

My personal notes:

1. Cook squash however you like as long as you absolutely *do not* overcook it.

2. Sauté onion and garlic in the olive oil (or cook in a lower-calorie way if you want). Add tomatoes and cook only until tomatoes are warm.

3. Using a fork, gently rake out strands of squash. Toss with sautéed onion/garlic/tomato, feta, olives, and basil. Serve immediately.

I also add some fresh chopped cilantro because I love it. Fresh basil is great, but dried will also do. Just don’t overcook the spaghetti squash, otherwise it goes mushy, which is disgusting. It should be firm and “al dente”. Freshly ground black pepper überall is also nice.

If you’re a super-taster who loves salty/vinegary/acidic flavors, you’ll just love the olive, tomato, and feta with the clean sweet taste of (firm!) spaghetti squash.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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