As runners, we need to be extra mindful that we're packing our meals with a mighty supply of vitamins and minerals. This month's food focus is butternut squash, and the recipes I've chosen are a delicious soup and warming tagine - perfect to make in advance and reheat, with different sides.
Why butternut squash?
Butternut squash may be pesky to cut, but it's a great choice for those interested in weight reduction – as it’s high in dietary fibre, just 45 kcals per 100g, zero saturated fat and cholesterol; it fills you up without filling you out. Rich in poly-phenolic antioxidants and vitamins, a cup of squash contains one-third of your daily vitamin C requirements, and a whopping 214% RDA vitamin A 'our Vision Vitamin' but also a key player in immune function.
As with many orange veggies, butternut squash is a great source of beta-carotene, but interestingly one of the richest sources of the lesser-known carotenoids: beta-cryptoxanthin and alpha carotene. Recent research has shown alpha carotenoids may have significantly better anti-carcinogenesis activity (preventing the spread of cancer cells) than beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin has demonstrated impressive results in preventing the development of both arthritis and lung cancer.
You may not be aware that squash is a good source of runner-friendly anti-inflammatory omega-3s, not quite to the levels of nuts but with a fraction of the calorie and fat content. Hence squash is a great choice for increasing your omega-3s without impacting your total fat intake.
Squash is delicious steamed and takes just seven minutes. You can also roast it or mash it, and it's fantastic in stews. The seeds can be oven-roasted and eaten as a fibre-rich snack which is high in tryptophan, an amino acid associated with improving sleep, mood and controlling appetite. Also a great alternative to spuds (especially if you're partial to smearing them in butter...)
Sweet potato and butternut squash soup (serves 4)
I adore this soup, and as a person with a big appetite (aka: greedy) I love how filling this soup is without being cream and calorie-laden. You really don't need bread, but thick sliced fresh granary is a great dunking choice. Make up a big batch, cover and reheat when desired. Easy to take to work and make your colleagues jealous.
(prep time 20 mins, cooking time 30 mins)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp honey
375g/12 oz sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
375g/12 oz butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 pints vegetable stock
250g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add onion and garlic. Cover and cook gently for 10 minutes without colouring.
Add the spices, ginger, chilli, lime rind and honey and stir for 30 seconds, then add the sweet potato, squash, half the lime juice and the stock.
Cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are almost tender. Stir in the chickpeas. Check the seasoning and add pepper to taste. Simmer for a further 10 minutes, then add the remaining lime juice to taste.
Allow to cool slightly then process in a blender/food processor until smooth, adding more stock if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Reheat gently and stir in the fresh coriander just before serving.
Nutritional information: 260 kcals, 6g fat (<1g saturated)
Spiced butternut squash and vegetable tagine (serves 6-8)
You get six of your five a day within this dish, and at only 150 kcals, it’s an all-round winner. Make up the entire portion and eat on two consecutive days with either couscous, rice, winter greens or wholemeal pitta. You can even take it in for lunch. Mix and match with the vegetables and how much you add if you want to make a smaller pot. Remember there are so few kcals in veggies, you can fill your boots!
2tbsp sunflower oil
½-1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thin wedges
2-3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small swede, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 level tbsp ground coriander
1 level tbsp ground cumin
1 level tbsp ground turmeric
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
410g chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Couscous, steamed, to serve
Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and cook it for about 5 mins, until it begins to soften. Add the other vegetables and cook for a further 4-5 mins, stirring occasionally.
Add the ground coriander, cumin and turmeric and cook for a further 1-2 mins. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and 300ml (½ pint) water, crumble in the stock cube and bring to the boil. Stir in the chickpeas and seasoning.
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a slow-cook pot and cook on a high heat for 3-4 hrs, or a low heat for 5-8 hrs, until the vegetables are tender.
Sprinkle coriander over and serve with steamed couscous.
Nutritional information: 150 kcals (tagine only), 4.5 fat (1g saturates)