Buttercup Squash + Creamy Black Bean Tacos

I frequently share with nutrition clients about the connection between mental and physical health, particularly between the gut and brain, but also just a reminder that it’s all connected. We’re all connected. Something that’s been labeled “all in your head” is also in your body, and vice versa.

That’s the paradigm I work out of.

In my own life, I’ve had a long journey with things in the realm of “mental health;” in the last few years mostly related to low grade anxiety that can simply be summarized as high vata dosha in Ayurveda. So I try to balance myself with daily habits that invite in slowing down (physically and as a result mentally), practices that sooth my nervous system, and a practice of breathing and meditation that’s begun to infuse into my days.

For the last few weeks, I’ve felt like I really hit a flow with presence and slowing down my brain’s looping and too-quick thoughts.

I’d cracked the code! (haha, right).

Then over the weekend, I set out on the longest run of my current marathon training cycle. As I settled into the last hour of running, when my body was tired and my pace/effort was meant to get higher, my brain kicked in.

My brain kicked in in all the ways I’ve been working to slow my thoughts down or just observe them rather than let them dictate my actions.

The run wasn’t a failure. Today, a few days beyond it, I mostly feel really good about how it went physically. But I’m disappointed with how I coped and let my mind decide to take it easier than planned in that last hour when I’d prepared for and practiced something else.

I guess that’s why we call it a practice. A running practice. A meditation practice. A breathing practice.

In fact, my last conversation with my long-time naturopath who sadly moved away was on this very topic. She told me that if I wanted to keep running marathons, I was going to have to balance the running out with yoga. And she didn’t mean the physical asasa of yoga poses–although that can be helpful too! She meant that if I was going to continue the going fast of running, I needed to balance it out with the slowing down of practicing breathing, presence, and eating slowly and mindfully, to digest food well.

It’s safe to say I’ve made progress from where I was then. But I have not cracked the code of always getting it right. Nor will I.

We’re all works in progress but as reminder to you, and to myself, we rarely make linear progress.

This recipe for creamy black bean tacos with lightly baked and seasoned winter squash, a simple sliced cabbage and creamy sauce to drizzle over the top, is one of those many-years-in-progress, mind and body are all connected recipes. It’s truly delicious for your fall and winter taco nights.

But I also wouldn’t have been eating it a couple months ago, when my gut health had temporarily returned to a compromised phase – I had to do a bit more healing and re-balancing first to return to eating a “more complicated meal.” That’s all to say, if you’re still in an iffy-digestion state, save this one for a little later. And let’s see about getting your system working optimally first.

And if you’re like me and tend toward too-fast, scattered thoughts, I encourage you to keep up the practice of breathing and returning to presence. I’ll be right there with you.

A true fall and winter favorite, these tacos have all the elements of a balanced meal with the six tastes, and are prepared in a way that makes them easier on digestion. The black beans are next level flavorful when cooked from scratch into a creamy, easier to digest consistency.
Any type of full-flavored winter squash works for this recipe. That includes basically all varieties of winter squash commonly used for eating except spaghetti squash and delicata. See what you have available from your local farmers and try a couple new varieties! I used a super tasty variety called Burgess Buttercup.
Nearly all components of this can be prepped ahead and gently reheated if you want to turn this into a weeknight meal. Additionally, I’ve shortened the preparation time with the way I slice and bake the squash.

Prep:  overnight   | Cook: 3-4 hours (for beans); 45  minutes to finish  | Serves: about 4

1 medium buttercup squash, or similar variety (butternut or any hubbard variety of squash)
Pinch of mineral salt
½ tsp. smoked paprika and/or taco seasoning (without preservatives/fillers added)

3-4 cups of red and/or green cabbage, thinly sliced
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
1-2 Tbs. lime juice

Cooked black beans, see below
Cashew crema, see below
12 small corn tortillas (6”)
Cilantro, minced

Black Beans
½ pound /  1 cup black beans, soaked overnight
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Water to cover by 3-4 inches

Cashew Crema
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for 4-8 hours or overnight
¼ tsp. garlic salt
1-2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
a pinch of ground turmeric and dash pepper
a pinch of ground cayenne, optional
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast, optional
½ cup water or more

  1. For the Black Beans: A few hours before or in the morning, cook soaked black beans in a medium pot in the spices and water until very soft and flavorful and creamy, almost to a refried bean consistency.
    This is best done for at least 3-4 hours, adding water as needed.
  2. For the Baked Squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
    Slice your squash in half, and remove the seeds and pith. Then rub the salt and smoked paprika and/or taco seasoning onto the flesh of the squash.
    Then place the two squash halves in a large, rimmed baking pan (like 13×9-inch), with cut side down/skin facing up. Add water to about ⅓ of the way up the side of the squash and bake until completely soft when pierced with a fork. This will take about 30-4o minutes.
    Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing. The water should all be absorbed and the spices infused into the flesh.
  3. For the Cashew Crema: Drain and rinse the cashews.Put all the crema ingredients, except the water, in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend, adding water a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. While the squash is baking, prepare the sliced cabbage. If your digestion is strong, you can thinly slice and dice the cabbage, stir in the salt and lime juice, and allow to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to soften.
    If digestion is compromised, gently steam the cabbage instead, just until lightly soft. Then remove to a bowl or dish, add the salt, and lime juice.
  5. Heat the tortillas over high heat, in a clean cast iron skillet.Do this by working in batches, two tortillas at a time and heat for 30-60 seconds per side of each tortilla.
  6. To serve, spoon the black beans into each taco, followed by sliced squash pieces, cabbage, a pinch of minced cilantro, and then a drizzle of crema. Enjoy!

Much of my nutrition practice is focused on individuals and athletes with digestive health issues such as leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances, chronic GI distress, malabsorption of foods and nutrients, and inflammation. If you’re tired, stressed, and not really sure what to eat to help or hurt anymore, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Butternut Buckwheat Porridge from Living Ayurveda

About a year ago near the solstice, I wrote the words grounded/focused on a bookmark. The back was painted with a small cross-section of watercolor tulips from a local artist; her cast-offs she’d cut into cards for an intention setting gathering. Grounded and focused were my intentions for how I wanted to feel by the end of this year. Little did we know then what 2020 would entail, but what I did know was that I struggle with being mentally cluttered and scattered, sometimes switching topics mid-sentence in conversation, and often letting my thoughts and ideas run away from me and having nothing to show for it minutes (and sometimes hours) later. I also knew that the internal atmosphere of being grounded and focused wasn’t so much an end goal for months away, but a daily, and sometimes minute by minute practice.

It’s safe to say I have succeeded and failed in my intention, multiple times a day.

But I’ve also been able to add a lot of tools and practices for how to gain a less scattered mind and actions over the years. One of which is continually learning from Ayurveda.

Ayurveda is the indigenous health system of India, and arguably the oldest health system (or one of the oldest) in the world. While I didn’t learn Ayurveda outright in nutrition graduate school, mine was a program that married traditional systems of health with the latest nutritional and medical sciences, and thus incorporating components of Ayurveda in my nutrition classes and clinic was widely accepted – and especially in my herbal classes. In the meantime, as if I didn’t need to study more, I was studying it on the side and incorporating increasingly more aspects of Ayurveda in my own life, helping to get closer to healing many of my GI and autoimmune struggles.

The cluttered and scattered mind is a common feature of imbalanced vata in the body, and like many people in our modern lifestyles, I struggle with this imbalance, a lot. As well as many other high-vata tendencies. Vata is one of the three energies or forces which can be observed in all things, and which are ideally in balance. Pitta and Kapha are the other two energies. Eating foods that support high vata or perhaps foods that support one of the other two doshas that make up our body and mind, is a primary way we can return our ailments to balance, but it’s certainly not the only practice.

So many years ago that I don’t remember, but around the time I first learned of Ayurveda, I discovered Claire’s blog with simple delicious Ayurvedic recipes. Claire has recently released her gorgeous book, Living Ayurveda, which is full of the kind of guidance that helps us achieve a little more balance in our lives. It encourages us to make the connection between time of year and patterns that afflict us (but don’t have to), incorporating building and lightening ingredients in the right ratios in our meals, and recipes that can be adapted depending on the season and our individual doshas or imbalances. Likewise, there are yoga sequences for each season too.

Some of the recipes that I’ve already tried and truly will make again and again include:
Pumpkin Empanadas with Cashew Crema
Shakti Chai
Simple Stewed Apples
and this Butternut Buckwheat Porridge

So many more are on my list – actually all of them really:
Warm Cinnamon Date Shake
Creamy Miso Tahini Dal
Delicata, Wild Rice & Pomegranate Salad
Kitchari Burgers
Fall Harvest Muffins
and most definitely the Yogi Bowl, a variation on something I could eat daily.

Butternut Buckwheat Porridge from Living Ayurveda, serves 2-4
To be completely transparent in portion sizes, I make this recipe as a half batch for one meal. That is a perfect amount for me, as a very active person, to go several hours between breakfast and the midday meal with excellent energy and ‘fuel’. Claire’s suggestions include adding an extra spoonful of ghee for vata support on very dry and cold days, reducing the cinnamon slightly for high pitta (cinnamon in large amounts is quite heating so good for some with high vata and kapha, but less so for others), and taking out the oats and doubling the buckwheat for high kapha. For a completely vegan and/or dairy-free version, I suggest using untoasted sesame oil, especially for vata/kapha, or coconut oil instead.

3 cups water
1/2 cup (untoasted) buckwheat groats or short-grain brown rice
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp. ghee
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
milk of choice and maple syrup, for serving (optional)

  • In a medium pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil on high heat. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes, until butternut squash is tender and the grains are fully cooked. You might need to stir once or twice during that time. Toward the end, add a splash of water if needed.
  • If using a pressure cooker, reduce the water to 2 1/2 cups and follow instructions for pressure-cooking porridge. Once done, remove from heat and serve hot with a splash of milk of choice and a drizzle of maple syrup on top. I found the milk and syrup is a preference, and I enjoy this without either.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta

When choosing new seed varieties late last winter for the  upcoming growing season, I somehow convinced William I needed another type of winter squash to grow. He hates winter squash. But somehow, I won him over and then our late season garden became a sea of squash. I chose the Robin’s Koginut variety from Row7 Seeds. It’s a variety that has gotten a lot of press in the last few years, for chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, who also wrote one of my favorite books, helped develop the variety in partnership with his local farmers and seed breeders. The result is a combination of a butternut and a kabocha squash variety, and I quite like it. But I also like nearly all winter squash.

Relatedly, over the course of the last few days, I’ve been taking a cooking class on using cooking techniques from Ayurveda. This means an emphasis on getting all six flavors in every dish, balancing the meal so that no flavor stands out over the rest, and that the end result is balancing to the body. One of the other tenets of Ayurveda is eating seasonally, i.e. what is in season, where you live.

One of the other person’s in the class asked about fruit, since I have virtually all types of fruit available to me where I live, she said. Our instructor reminded her that what’s at the store does not always represent what’s in season locally, as most well-stocked groceries carry fruit and other produce from all across the globe at all times. Unless a banana grows outside your door right now, it’s probably not in your best health interest to eat a banana, our instructor said, and advised the person to visit her farmers market instead.

I agree with my instructor wholeheartedly on a personal level. As many of you long-time readers know, I’m a big advocate of eating locally in season, getting to know your local farmers, supporting your community and economy, voting with your fork for sustainability and climate resilience, and of course, because what’s in season is often better for our health.

But for anyone that works with me with nutrition, I take a much more individualized approach. Not all of us come ready and able to make dietary changes that are so vastly different than what we’re currently doing. Not all of us live in a bounty of locally available all the time. Some of us need gentle guidance without judgement to get started where we are.

I have a book on healing with whole foods on my shelf that is nearly falling apart. When I first began really getting into holistic/integrative health, I read it from front to back, a little at a time, night after night. The pages are textbook size and there are nearly 800 of them. When I got done, I started reading again. Over years, yes years, I very slowly incorporated practices encouraged in the book. I tried meditation. I incorporated chlorella and spirulina (years before these would become more mainstream). I learned about types of oils and when and how to use different sweeteners. I learned about the effect of different foods on the body. It was an incredibly slow process and along the way, I slowly shed the way of eating that leaned heavier on the cheese, yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, convenience fast-food, and then all the “skinny” diet crap products, and more into trying new and then seasonal foods. Part of what really pushed me further was the second of three health crises, but I eventually figured out a way of eating that is intuitive and right for me. In the process it also helped heal the first, second, and third health crisis, the last of which I now believe to be both a reaction to a multi-year stint in a moldy apartment and emotionally related, leftover from the first.

This is all to say, for personal sustainability-sake, I don’t believe everyone needs to completely ditch their mainstream big-box grocery immediately and only shop at the farmers market from here on out. Or never again eat a banana. But I do think it can be life changing if you research a couple ways to seek local food where you live, and try a couple new in-season foods to start

If you come across the Koginut Squash, I encourage you to try it. Or if not, seek out a Butternut or Kabocha Squash instead. For learning about local farms and markets near you, try “Local Food Near Me” as a google search, or check out Local Farm Markets as a start. Or if you’re ready or in need of some extra food and nutrition guidance, please reach out to me for more personalized support.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta, serves about 4
1 medium koginut (or butternut) squash
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water or vegetable broth (low/no sodium)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. dried sage leaves, plus a few more to serve
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz. gluten-free pasta, preferably a bean/legume based pasta unless you’ll be adding chickpeas or other beans
3-4 medium handfuls dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, optional

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Halve the squash and take out the seeds. Then put the two halves, cut side down on a baking pan, along with a couple splashes of water. Cook for 40-45 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
  • While the squash is cooking, heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the oil and the onions. Cook until soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In an upright blender, combine the squash, onions, and garlic, water or broth, nutritional yeast, vinegar, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend on high speed until the ingredients become silky smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Drain it, and then combine it with the sauce. If you’d like some extra greens, tossing in a couple handfuls of spinach or another soft leafy green (such as kale or swiss chard), is ideal at this time.
  • After you’ve dished up each serving, sprinkle with a couple pinches of minced sage over the top.