Squash - from mystery to triumph

(From left) Yariel Fernandez, Lixjohanne Alicea, Mark Ramirez, and Kareema Brown add ingredients to pan.
(From left) Yariel Fernandez, Lixjohanne Alicea, Mark Ramirez, and Kareema Brown add ingredients to pan.
Posted: November 08, 2013

"What is that?" Bianca Perez exclaimed as I pulled a cream-colored, bottlenecked gourd from the grocery bag.

"Butternut squash," I said.

"Does it taste like peanut butter?" asked Mark Ramirez.

"Not really, but it does look like a peanut," I said.

Moroccan stew with butternut squash, carrots, and quinoa was the project for our fourth cooking class at Bayard Taylor school in North Philadelphia. None of my five aspiring fifth-grade cooks had ever tasted butternut squash or quinoa.

I had brought the squash to show the kids what it looked like, but because it can be a challenge to peel and cut, I also bought a package of some already peeled and chopped. I added a few sweet potatoes for their peeling and cutting pleasure. Yariel Fernandez and Mark got right to work on the sweet potato, chopping it to match the size of the squash cubes.

Bianca discovered the cilantro and held it to her nose: "Oooo. I know this! It's cilantro. My grandmother uses this when she makes the sauce for rice and beans!" she said.

Mark wanted to smell it too: "It smells good, kind of lemony," he said.

I explained the concept of mise en place: prepping ingredients and putting them in bowls, so everything is ready when it is time to start cooking.

Kareema, onion goggles in place, made swift work of the onion. After the potatoes, the boys, already making great strides with their peeling and chopping skills, moved on to the carrots.

"Should I slice them into coins?" Mark asked after peeling one.

Just then, Nicole Molino, a third-grade teacher, happened to be passing through the kitchen.

"Wow, Mark! Coins? You know how to cut into coins? I'm so impressed!" Mark just smiled, but he seemed to straighten his shoulders and stand a little taller; his knife sliced the carrots even more surely.

Lixjohanne Alicea started measuring the already cubed butternut squash, lifting the measuring cup a little higher each time, before she dumped them with a Liberace-like flourish into the larger bowl.

With the onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and squash in prep bowls, I wanted to oversee the sauteing of the onions and measuring of the spices, and to cut back a bit on the cayenne and paprika, as this group does not like a lot of spice.

But the next thing I knew Kareema was halfway through slicing that squash. "Be careful, Kareema!"

She hadn't peeled it but was making careful, beautiful slices all the way through. So we decided to put a little olive oil and salt on those slices and bake them while the stew cooked.

After a quick saute of the garlic, all the other vegetables and spices were added to the pan. As it simmered, we got the quinoa cooking, too.

As the lovely scent of ginger, garlic, and cumin filled the air, the tablecloth was unfurled and the table set. Soon we were ready to dine, and the kids were quite impressed with what they had created as they watched the steam rising from the beautiful orange-hued stew.

Just as we were about to dig in, Mark cried out: "Uh-oh! We forgot the peanut butter squash!" We quickly pulled the slices from the oven and served them on the side, so the kids could taste what squash is like without spices.

The reviews came in strong. "The Moroccan stew was amazing," Mark wrote. "If I could make it every day, I would."

"It was like I went to heaven, it was so good," wrote Bianca. "I would like to make this at my house for my family."

Best of all, when I asked who would like to take some home, every hand went up.

Kitchen Notebook

Wissahickon Charter

We had only three students this week, and as usual we started with the map, and located Morocco. Peeling and chopping were the most popular tasks once again. Some of the spices were unfamiliar but interesting to the students. We got the main course together, and while it cooked we baked apples for Halloween.

The quinoa was a real winner! The Moroccan stew flavors and the sauce were warmly received but some carrots and squash were left on the plates. When Alaina's mom arrived early with sibs in tow, they eagerly tasted the leftovers and went back for more. I showed Alaina's mom the bag of quinoa and she was delighted to hear she would be able to buy it at ShopRite.

- Diane Fanelli and Barbara Krumbhaar

Community Partnership

Week 2 and we finally had our space in CPS's fully equipped kitchen. Before we started cooking we passed around the cumin, paprika, coriander, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and ginger - "Like gingerbread cookies!" Their curiosity was piqued as they smelled (and insisted on tasting) the spices as we explained a little bit about each one. All the kids wanted to put their fingers in the quinoa, which is seeds (not grains as Adrian pointed out).

After the stew was cooked and served, some thought it was a bit too spicy and some thought the chunks of vegetables were too big. We will be going over cutting even pieces next week. Annette was surprised that she liked the carrots even though she doesn't like carrots. They all liked the parsnips we added.

- Katherine Rapin and Adrian Seltzer

St. Martin De Porres

We loved loved loved the Moroccan stew, but the girls, not so much.

We shared the taste of the quinoa prior to incorporating it into the dish and two of the five girls liked the taste. The completed dish was wonderful to our adult palates, but none of the five carnivores cared for it.

- Christine Chmielewski and Julie Smith

Young Scholars Douglass

We decided to cancel class today since it was Halloween, so the students were able to go trick or treating without missing cooking class.  

- Sue Baelen and Lyn Stein


Moroccan Stew With Squash, Carrots, and Quinoa

Makes 4-6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 to 1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 cup water

1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 cups 1-inch cubes peeled butternut squash

4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds

1 cup quinoa

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Mix in paprika and next 6 ingredients.

2. Add water, tomatoes, and lemon juice. Bring to boil. Add squash and carrots. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile, make the quinoa according to package directions. Add butter to the boiling water. (It's similar to rice, although it cooks a little quicker, taking about 15 minutes to cook after the water boils. It should be fluffed after all the water is absorbed.)

4. When both quinoa and stew are done, mix together and top with cilantro.

- Adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe from Bruce Aidells and Nancy Oakes.

Per serving (based on 6): 253 calories, 9 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 8 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 442 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.

My Daughter's Kitchen

The mission. To teach schoolchildren to prepare healthy, easy meals on a budget.

The reach. Volunteers are in five Philadelphia schools, with intent to expand the program.

The partner. The Vetri Foundation, which shares the goal of encouraging healthy eating for children.

To support. Send donations to Vetri Foundation for Children, 1113 Admiral Peary Way, Quarters N, Philadelphia 19112; note "My Daughter's Kitchen" in the memo. Or go to vetrifoundation.org.

To participate. Submit recipes to be considered for classes. Must be simple, nutritious, protein-rich, prepared in less than an hour, and cost less than $20 for six servings. Send recipes to Food@philly.com.




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