Everyone loves a creamy butternut squash soup, but how else can we cook with gourds? Now that fall is here, let’s explore our culinary options.
Nowadays, the fall season is completely overshadowed by all things pumpkin. From pumpkin pie and pumpkin seeds to pumpkin bread and our beloved pumpkin spice lattes, there’s nothing better representative of the season. Still, there are so many other amazing autumnal ingredients and flavor profiles just waiting to be discovered (and devoured). In fact, one particular produce is similar to the pumpkin, but tends to fly under the radar of most home chefs—and that’s the gourd.
Folks who frequent the farmer’s market know this seasonal sensation well. Beyond the typical pumpkin fruit, canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice, the gourd is far outside most people’s comfort zones. Using it as an ingredient can be intimidating, especially when you consider the fact that gourds come in so many different sizes, shapes, colors, patterns, and textures. Much more than a decorative centerpiece, these hard- and soft-shelled marvels are instantly recognizable, yet not so simple to cook with.
Let’s take a look at the wonderfully diverse flavor profiles of today’s most popular gourds. With a little horticultural history, a few fabulous recipes, and a Made In cookware set at your side, even beginner chefs can master the art of the gourd.
Squashing the rumors
Despite what you may assume, the answer is yes—gourds can be eaten. Although they’re not as trendy as traditional pumpkins, gourds have plenty of edible varieties and technically fall into the same botanical category as their more popular counterpart. As part of the Cucurbitaceae family, gourds are a species of flowering plant akin to cucumbers, melons and other similar seed-bearing produce.
As we all know, gourds are remarkably similar to squash and pumpkins. Better yet, aren’t they all the same? The short answer is, no. The difference lies in their genetic makeup, how we use them in cooking, decorating, and other everyday applications. Most chefs tend to group them all together, so once you get past the etymology and cultural significance, it’s easier to break out of your comfort zone and embrace ‘gourd’-met cooking.
Photo: Wes Hicks
Gourd 101: Beyond the Vine
If you want to get a handle on the greater gourd category, first ask yourself these questions:
- How big is the gourd? Although the answer doesn’t exactly tell you the gourd’s taste factor, this distinction may help you figure out the type of gourd you’re working with. For instance, if the gourd is large in size with a very tough exterior, it’s maybe lagenaria siceraria, which literally translates to ‘drinking vessel.’ These varieties, including the notorious ‘bottle gourd,’ have been used to make bowls, cups, and utensils for centuries. Once they pass the point of maturity, they are no longer edible. But if you pick them up at the right time, their flesh makes a wonderful base for soups, stews, gravies and other cold-weather treats.
- Do I display it with my Halloween décor? – Gourds that are used as ornaments are known as cucurbita pepo, or ‘large gourd.’ The name sounds strange since many of those cute little decorations are actually relatively tiny. They’re also ridiculously bitter after the 2-3 week mark, so indulge quickly if ever. This category also encompasses many other large (and indeed edible) varieties, including acorn pumpkins, delicata pumpkins, zucchini, and most winter and summer squashes.
- Is the exterior soft or hard? – Once again, the answer isn’t the end all, be all. Some rock-hard gourds can be enjoyed if prepared properly. However, most gourds with a soft-textured rind tend to taste milder and complement recipes better than the hard-shelled varieties, making them much more practical for home chefs. Not to mention, they’re easier to slice into in order to extract all that delectably soft, fleshy fruit.
Top 5 Gourds for Cooking
Having explored some of the various factors contributing to this confusing fruit, you’re now ready to hit the kitchen. Set aside your many assumptions and expectations, and embrace the following five gourds that are used by cooks the world over.
Photo: Gemma Evans, Unsplash
- Butternut Squash – Rich, buttery, and refreshingly versatile, this fall and winter staple is perfect for both liquid and solid recipes. Since soup is the typical go-to, take a stab at another fabulous recipe showcasing this fruit’s awesomely firm, colorful flesh. Cinnamon roasted butternut squash with rosemary makes a delicious side dish for any fall meal.
- Acorn Squash – When cut in half, this oft-overlooked gourd looks just like a cantaloupe (and acorn!). But bite into its coarse interior, behold its sweet, nutty finish, and you’ll never pick a pumpkin again! Acorn squash is best baked in the oven in a roasting pan, but you can also use it to make a marvelous alternative to calorie-packed chips. Slice the flesh into bite-sized pieces and pop in a 400°F oven to make this simple parmesan-roasted acorn squash snack.
- Cinderella Pumpkin – Like the fairytale, this gorgeous heirloom is as large as a carriage. Its ample flesh is often described as ‘custard-like,’ with a slightly sweet taste. And best of all, it’s perfect for feeding a crowd. Make a huge statement at your next Halloween party with a Cinderella pumpkin bowl, which features succulent sausage, veggies, pumpkin flesh, and other yummy ingredients mixed up and served in its original orange vessel.
- Lakota Squash – With a namesake derived from a Sioux Indian tribe, the Lakota squash is commonly cooked during the winter months. Its mild flavor and beautiful yellow flesh are a departure from the overly sweet, rich overtones of other popular gourds. Try swapping out Alton Brown’s butternut squash to make an irresistible Lakota squash soup.
- Delicata Squash – Craving something smooth and creamy? This fall favorite is similar to sweet potato, so it’s perfect for whipping up just about anything around Halloween or Thanksgiving. Impress friends and family with a low-carb treat served alongside chicken or turkey with a plate of sweet, savory roasted delicata squash with turmeric.
Feeling the gourd inspiration? Grab all your essential kitchen gear at https://madeincookware.com/.