By Alejandra Sanchez
It had been cut open, its blazing amber colored flesh exposed, highlighted amongst the muted green. Its color was the very essence of fall and fit perfectly in the basket with the persimmons and pumpkins. Banana Squash. I had never cooked with it before and was intrigued. It was Sunday afternoon, and the rain had been pouring for hours. The idea had been to go to the grocery store and spontaneously collect ingredients to make a toasty soup.
In the kitchen I unwrapped the squash and set it on the counter. The color alone invoked a sense of warmness. So, I began by drizzling some oil into a pot, and adding garlic and small white button mushrooms. Next I added fire-roasted tomatoes and coconut milk. I chopped up the squash and sprinkled it into the pot. To season the stew I added cinnamon, curry powder, and red chili flakes. I gave the pot a stir, set the flame to simmer, and placed the cover on top. Within minutes the entire apartment was enveloped with the delicious scent of coconut and cinnamon. I felt as though I was stepping into a scene from Arabian Nights.
Becoming a student at Berkeley was a frightening thing in itself, the other bit that was terrifying was how it was going to affect my relationship with food. A hectic schedule, sleepless nights, a limited income, and a whole slew of other factors seemed to be working against me.
The key was to plan ahead. The first month of class went by without a hitch, I brought my lunch to school every day and made sure to include snacks. I did not want to be tempted by the sugary concoctions sold in all the cafes. Suddenly the madness of Cal kicked in and it seemed like time was the last thing I had, the late night study sessions right before midterms were perhaps the worst. In the end I realized that I simply had to put more effort into making healthy food more of a priority, and I started to plan an entire week worth’s of food in advance.
At first it was overwhelming and consisted of this horrible mosaic of excel spreadsheets and multiple grocery lists. Cooking, which was one of my greatest passions became unbearable; it seemed that I had taken the magic out of it. But as the weeks went by planning became more natural, organic even. Now it has become second nature to grab a piece of fruit or another snack on my way out the door, or to stop by the grocery store after class for last minute dinner ingredients. Learning to plan my meals was a huge achievement, but the biggest reward was internalizing the planning so that it was no longer a tedious task, and I returned to embracing the alchemy of the kitchen.
Recipe: Banana Squash Soup
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 pound white button mushrooms
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
- Half a can of coconut milk
- ½ cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tbs tomato paste
- 1 tbs cinnamon
- ½ tbs curry powder
- Dash of chili flakes
- One slice of banana squash (peeled and diced)
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
Set the heat to medium high and in a large pot pour in the olive oil. Chop the garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms and add them to the pot. Let the vegetables cook for about a minute or until slightly tender. Pour in the fire roasted tomatoes, the coconut milk, and the pumpkin puree. Stir. Next, sprinkle in all the spices and mix in the tomato paste. Bring the stew to a boil while you dice the squash. The skin on the banana squash is very thick so it is easier to peel once it has been reduced to smaller slices. Once the squash is diced slide it into the pot and add the water or vegetable stock. Once again bring the stew to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook on low for one hour and stir intermittently. Serve and enjoy!
- Banana squash belongs to the species Cucurbita maxima which originated in South America over 4,000 years ago. They grow in long cylindrical shapes and can weigh anywhere from 10-70 pounds, which is why they are normally sold as cut pieces. It is a winter squash and is noted for its thick protective shell.
Alejandra Sanchez is a third year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, majoring in Rhetoric with a minor in Nutrition.