Ladies and gentlemen, meet the red kuri. It's a winter squash — unlike its summer siblings, it's harvested at full maturity and has a very thick skin. I got this one from my CSA and fell instantly in love with its beautiful orange skin, which is hard to slice without killer knife skills.
Flavor-wise, the red kuri squash has a gentle sweetness to it with a slightly nutty aftertaste. Very autumn-y. My chef friend Julio helped me make risotto with my little red kuri. Some recipes say to cook the squash with the rice, but we actually roasted it separately. This prevents extra juices from the fruit from seeping into the rice, and it also allows for greater appreciation of its beauty and aroma as it bronzes in the oven.
The red kuri and it winter squash relatives are rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant — this means it is not only great for the diet but awesome for skin care. To make an home-brewed anti-aging face mask, mix two parts of cooked red kuri squash (pumpkin works, too) with one part honey and leave that on your face for ten minutes. For a no-frills body scrub, puree the cooked red kuri and mix it with equal parts brown sugar. Easy, wonderful, and cheaper than The Body Shop!
In 2007, a team of American anthropologists discovered that squash was grown by farmers in Peru 10,000 years ago. It was also one of the main crops of early Native Americans, along with corn and beans. Red kuri seeds are delicious, too! Wash and dry, place on a baking sheet, salt and pepper, then stick them in the oven for 10-15 minutes. The cooked skin also makes a fine snack — I fed mine to the dogs for dinner.
Peak red kuri season starts now and goes through November — that's why we're seeing so many winter squash varietals at veggie stands right about now, including pumpkins. It's also part of the reason we carve pumpkins and eat pumpkin pie at Halloween and Thanksgiving. Be careful when taking a knife to the red kuri's thick skin, though — every October, thousands of people suffer from bloody hands and tendon injuries while carving pumpkins. The American Society for Surgery of the Hand has safety tips for the accident-prone.
Every installment of Taste Test will explore recipes, the science, and some history behind a specific food item.