This warm winter squash bowl is grounding, nourishing, and wholesome. It combines sweet, roasted winter squash with gently steamed kale and a slightly spicy harissa tahini dressing.
Here we are, perched on the cusp of spring. But as is always the case where I live at this time of year, we’re flirting with a few spring-like days while also having a foot firmly planted in winter.
I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I don’t hate winter one bit. Right now I’m actually savoring the last month of chilly days and the warm, grounding food they encourage.
This warm winter squash bowl is a perfect example of the cozy, nourishing stuff I’ve been enjoying lately. On its own, it can be a simple, yet filling lunch. You can also make it more of a power plate by adding chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, or another vegan protein that you love.
I really like the variety of tastes in this bowl. The squash is sweet and earthy, the kale is a little bitter. The pumpkin seeds are nutty, and the tahini dressing has a bit of heat, thanks to the addition of harissa.
All in all, the ingredients add up to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I love to eat nearly all of the things in this bowl, but I especially love them together.
How to make a warm winter squash bowl
There are a few components to prepare for this recipe, but none of the steps in making it are overly laborious.
You’ll begin by roasting sweet, bright orange winter squash cubes. I do this simply, with avocado oil, salt, and pepper.
Be sure to space the squash cubes in a single, even layer on your baking sheet. If they’re too close, they won’t crisp up nicely along their edges in the oven—and that’s part of the beauty of roasted vegetables.
Toward the end of the squash’s roasting time, you’ll put some pepitas (or another seed) on another, rimmed baking sheet. You’ll pop them into the oven to toast for about 5 minutes, or until they smell nutty and have darkened in color a little.
You can coat the seeds in oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper, if you like. I really like the bitter, nutty flavor of toasted pepitas, and I find that I can taste it more when I leave the seeds unadorned. It’s totally up to you.
In the meantime, while the squash cooks, you’ll steam some kale, which is the other starring ingredient in the squash bowl. You can use curly or Lacinato kale. If there’s another dark, leafy green that you prefer, you can feel free to substitute it in the recipe.
The other step you’ll take while the squash roasts is to whisk together a harissa tahini dressing. I’ve been adding harissa to a few dressings lately, and I love its subtle heat.
Keep in mind that harissa brands do vary in their level of spiciness, so you should adjust the amount depending on what you have and your preference.
After all this is taken care of, you’ll assemble the squash bowls by layering ingredients together. Grab a fork, dig in, and enjoy.
What type of winter squash should I use?
These squash bowls were originally inspired by a menu item at The Hi Hi Room, in Brooklyn. It featured a few different types of roasted winter squash, and I’d invite you to also use a variety here, if you like.
I’ve made the recipe with combinations of butternut squash, acorn squash, kabocha squash, and delicata squash. I’m sure that other winter squash varieties, including red kuri, honeynut, and sweet dumpling, would work, too.
You can choose to use a single type of squash, or you can use a combination of two or more, as I usually do.
There’s something lovely about the simplicity of the squash bowl, all on its own. But as most longtime readers know—and my nutrition clients know all too well!—I’m big on emphasizing plant protein in meals.
So, you have my full encouragement if you’d like to bump up the protein in this recipe by adding your favorite plant-based source. Here are some options:
- Chickpeas (or a cooked bean of choice)
- Baked balsamic tofu
- Balsamic mustard baked tempeh
- Lemon pepper tempeh
- Tofu feta
- Tempeh meatballs
- Chickpea oat balls
- Sweet potato black bean burgers
- Artichoke white bean burgers
Other additions that might be fun here:
- Cashew parmesan
- Cashew cheese
- A cooked whole grain
- Raw veggies of choice, for a little crunch
Meal prep & storage
Pretty much every component of the winter squash bowl can be made ahead of time:
- The winter squash can be roasted a few days prior to bowl assembly.
- You can toast the pepitas and store them in the fridge for up to a week.
- Kale can be steamed 1-2 days before you make the bowls.
- The harissa tahini dressing will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.
I like to store components of the winter squash bowls in separate, airtight containers in the fridge, layering and assembling right before I eat. However, you can also store a prepared and dressed bowl in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
For the bowls
- 2 1/2 lb winter squash of choice (I like to use a mix of acorn, butternut, and delicata), cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes (about heaping 8 cups)
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1/4 cup pepitas, pine nuts, or shelled sunflower seeds
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 bunch curly or Lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
For the harissa tahini dressing
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 1 tablespoon harissa (adjust the amount to suit your preferred level of heat)
- 1 clove garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
- 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2-4 tablespoons water, to thin
- Preheat your oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Spread the squash in an even, single layer on the sheet. Drizzle the avocado oil over the squash and mix it with your hands to coat. Sprinkle the squash generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the squash to the oven. Roast the squash for 30 minutes, stirring the pieces on the sheet halfway through roasting, or until the squash pieces are turning golden at the ends and tender.
- Line another baking sheet with parchment. In the last 5 minutes of the squash's roasting time, place your seeds of choice on to the second baking sheet and transfer the seeds to the oven to toast. They should toast in 5-7 minutes; the aim is for them to be just golden, as they'll continue to cook for a few minutes after you remove them from heat.
- While the squash cooks, fit a pot of boiling water with a steamer attachment. Steam the kale for 3 minutes, or until it's just tender. Remove the kale from heat.
- Whisk the harissa tahini ingredients together, starting with 2 tablespoons of water. Continue adding just enough water as needed to create a thick, yet pourable dressing.
- To serve right away, transfer the roasted squash to a mixing bowl. Add the steamed kale. Pour about 1/4-1/3 cup of the dressing over the ingredients and fold everything together gently. Divide the squash and kale mixture into bowls. Top with the toasted seeds and an extra drizzle of the dressing right before serving. Alternatively, you can store the separate components in airtight containers in the fridge, and assemble them into bowls when ready.
Speaking of winter and spring, cold and warmth, I actually happen to have escaped for a few days to Florida this week. I’m with my best friend and her family, and while I delayed the decision to come here—I was too swamped with work, too down, too tired, I told myself—I’m so happy that I got away.
More on that this weekend, though. For now, I hope you’ll enjoy this tasty, nutrient-rich, flavorful little bowl as much as I do.