Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Ullama Jungle

It has taken me a while to exactly figure out what was the strange winter squash that is growing in my squash patch. One day Curt gave a lift to a local woman and she gave him some squash seed as a payment/gift. I assumed that they were pumpkin seed. I had planted a row of various squashes, delicata, butternut, spaghetti, acorn and this other seed. Well, this seed grew into a jungle and overtook most of my other squashes as well as climbing the passion fruit vines and the coffee trees! Have you seen that movie Jumanji, where the jungle.

takes over the whole house? It is a lot like that.

I watched the fruits grow and get big, but I was waiting for them to turn yellow or orange, I was thinking that they were the spaghetti squashes. Then my worker asked me for one. I assumed they were ready. He told me the name, how to tell when they were ready for harvest and that they were sort of a specialty crop for the locals. He told me that they were much better and more prized than the usual typical winter squashes that you find in the mercado like calabaza (the sage-green colored pumpkins) or zapallo (which are similar to calabaza in color but are turban shaped) in that the Ullama is not watery, but rich and delicious in flavor and have a creamier texture. So I brought one in and baked it. Wow. I was impressed. I found it to be a sort of cross between a small eating pumpkin and an acorn squash.

A quick mention of the health benefits here. They are orange, so that means lots of those wonderful carotenes, which fight cancer, vitamins C and B1 and folic acid, which is great for skin and hair. I am always pushing the leafy dark greens. So now lets add some orange, next is reds when the beets get big. I do not always understand all of the small details on healthful eating, such as all of the names of this that and the other thing that I should be chasing to add into my diet, but I do know one thing is true, lots of natural, bright colorful foods in your diet is just a good idea....and fun.

Ullama uncut, as with any winter type squash, will last for months if it is stored in a coolish place out of direct sun. Cut, it will last a week, maybe a bit more in the fridge, as long as it is wrapped up well. You can freeze the already baked pieces, but the best way to freeze Ullama is already cooked as a stew , casserole or soup. Here is my favorite Winter Squash Soup recipe. This one works really well with the Ullama since it has an inherent creaminess to it and is perfect for putting up into the freezer in ready to go portions.

Baked Ullama

You can do this with pretty much any winter type squash. Easy and delicious.


1 whole Ullama
4 Tablespoons of Butter or Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons of Brown Sugar
Salt & Pepper to taste
Paprika or Cayenne to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350F (or about 180C). Take a big, sturdy knife and halve the squash lengthwise. Remove seeds and inner strings (guts). You can save the seeds to bake as snacks (recipe below). Place 2 tablespoons of butter or oil and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in each half, along with the sprinkling of the salt, pepper and cayenne if you want. Rub it all into the insides. Place the 2 halves cut side down on a cookie sheet. I line it with wax paper or foil first to make clean up easier.

Bake for about an hour or more, till tender when pierced with a fork. Sometimes this takes longer or shorter depending on the size of the squash.

Serve desired sized slices, drizzle butter sauce over slices.

Another cooking option is to steam the Ullama. Just peel off the skin with a sturdy vegetable peeler, cut the already halved and seeded meat into 1-2 inch chunks and steam for about 1/2 an hour.

Baked Ullama Squash Soup

2 Tablespoons of butter or olive oil
2-4 Carrots, peeled and rough chopped
1 large Onion, peeled and diced

1 whole pre-baked (see above recipe) Ullama Squash 6-8 pounds. Taken off of peel and quick diced.
10 cups of good quality Vegetable or Chicken Stock *see note below

3/4 teaspoon of freshly minced Ginger or same amount of dried and ground
1/4 teaspoon or more to taste of fresh or dried hot chili pepper (cayenne powder)
- optional - 1/4 teaspoon of Ground Nutmeg or 1 heaping teaspoon of Curry Powder, either or, not both.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the butter or oil over medium high heat in a large pot (dutch oven type).
Add carrots and onion and saute until tender and slightly browned 7 to 10 minutes.
Add in Diced Baked Ullama Squash and broth and stir.
Add spices and seasonings.
Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to bring soup to a simmer for about 10 more minutes.
Place soup in batches into a blender, or use a hand blender, to puree.... or not **see note below
Serve up in bowls and garnish with seasoned yogurt,chopped chives,and a sprinkle of chopped up Ullama Seed Snacks! (recipe below).

Note on broths: I of course recommend homemade stocks, but we all don't have the time or energy for doing it all. I now see Pacific Natural Foods - Organic Vegetable and Chicken Broths available in Romeros. I am pretty sure that they are at Organica as well. They are wonderful and healthy time savers.

Note on pureeing: I often do not puree soups even when that is the point of the recipe. I like it chunky. If you do puree the soup, remember to be very careful when blending up hot things. Place the blender lid on top, but just hover the lid "cap" over the lid. Begin blending on a low speed, allowing steam to rise through the lid "cap". If you cap the blender down tight, and blast the speed all at once, the hot soup could will explode.

Winter Squash Seed Snacks

After removing the guts from the squash, place in a colander and rinse, taking off the flesh and strings. Pull out the seeds making sure that they are nice and clean. Set them on a clean dry kitchen towel to dry out a little. Sprinkle them onto a baking sheet that has been sprayed with Pam or lined with parchment. I spray my seeds again with Pam (some I know brush theirs with egg white) then you can season them any way you want. Here are some ideas:

plain salt and pepper
S&P with brown Sugar and Cayenne powder
Dry Italian Dressing or Ranch mix
Dry Mustard and Oregano with S&P
Then bake in a pre-heated 350 oven for about a half hour, turning with a spatula every once in a while, until they are brittle and not chewy any more.




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