Butternut Squash and Beet Stacks with Pesto and Cashew Cream

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Another wonderful set of responses! That was an important topic, and I’m so glad that it struck a chord with you. Actually, this has been a great week of blog commentary in general! I always tell people that the actual writing of a blog is really less than half of the fun: the real fun is to see what readers will respond to via comments, and how they’ll run with a conversation.

As I bid you adieu last night, I said I was off to make a half raw, half cooked dinner. This is what resulted. The inspiration for this all began last weekend, when I saw huge heads of basil at my farmer’s market. It seemed so uncanny and too good to be true: great, bright, vibrant bunches of basil in early November? (This is, I suppose, in keeping with the late heirloom tomatoes we’ve also been having.) Immediately, I bought a bunch: when I see late-growing produce at a farmer’s market, l usually pounce on the chance to enjoy the last of it before winter’s chill.

As soon as I  got home, though, I realized that I didn’t have many ideas about how to use basil in the autumn. I usually use it in summer pestos, sandwiched in between stacks of heirloom tomatoes, or as a topper for summery roast veggies (bell peppers, zucchinis, etc.). I’m really not used to eating it any other way. I’m not a 100% local and seasonal eater – I’ve blogged about this before – but I do try to obey the seasons in a broad way, and there are certain flavors, like basil, that seem so deeply tied to a particular season that I rarely use them in other ones.

Eating seasonally is good, but it’s also a shame to miss out on superb flavors at other times of the year (especially when we have slightly off calendar crops, or if we’re lucky enough to have frozen some pesto over the summer, which I wish I’d done). And if I hadn’t leaped upon those basils bunches, I’d have never have come up with the following dinner, which was a perfect marriage, not only of raw and cooked food, but also of summery and wintery flavors and textures. Who knew that butternut squash is so totally delicious when drizzled with a good, tangy pesto? Or that beets and squash are harmonious bedmates, even if the beet is likely to turn the butternut squash pink?

This dinner was facilitated by the use of M’s pressure cooker, which I am currently holding hostage in NYC. I didn’t get home from the work and the gym until 8:45 last night, and when I did I was hungry. Normally, this would be a night for salad or leftovers—taking the time to cook root veggies would be unheard of. With the pressure cooker, though, I was able to cook a small b-nut squash and two gargantuan beets in ten minutes. I cut the squash into three parts and trimmed the beets, and I put them all in about 1 cup of water in the pressure cooker. After five minutes of pressure cooking, the squash was ready; another five minutes later, the beets emerged tender. What a miraculously efficient appliance! I must have one of my own, and soon.

Regardless of how you cook your veggies for this recipe, it’s easy to assemble: just a matter of having your components (beets, squash, a batch of pesto, and a batch of cashew cream) ready to stack. Here’s how it happens:

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Butternut Squash and Beet Napoleon with Pesto and Cashew Cream (serves 2)

For the pesto (yields one cup):

3 cups basil, packed
Generous 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts (pistachios are also great)
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1) Combine the basil with the pine nuts and pulse a few times in a food processor till roughly mixed. Add the garlic and pulse a bit more.

2) Add the olive oil in a thin stream with the food processor motor running. You’ll want to be careful but fast, since you don’t want the mix to lose all of its texture.Stop to scrape down bowl if necessary. Add lemon, salt, and pepper to taste, and pulse once more to incorporate.

For the cashew cream (yields 1 1/4 cups):

1 ¼ cup cashews, soaked for a few hours
¾ cup water
1 tsp agave
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1) Put the soaked cashews in your Vita-Mix or food processor along with the agave, lemon juice, sea salt, and 1/3 cup water. Blend until it looks thick and creamy.

2) With the motor running (in either the processor or the Vita), drizzle more water in until the sauce is totally smooth (if you’re using a food processor, you’ll have to stop and scrape sides occasionally) and the consistency you want.

For the stacks:

12 thick slices cooked butternut squash
12 thick slices cooked beets

To assemble:

1) Place 3 beet slices on a plate, and drizzle with a teaspoon or so of pesto.

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2) Place 3 butternut squash slices on top, and drizzle with another teaspoon or so of pesto.

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Layer two beets on top of that, repeat the pesto, and place two layers of squash over that.

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3) For your last layer, just place one round (either squash or beet) on top, and then give the whole stack a thick drizzle of cashew cream.

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I served all of this unparalleled deliciousness over a bed of arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I cannot tell you how rich in flavor the dish was: pesto is so vibrant and distinctive, but somehow the cream and the sweetness of the rest of the stack compliment it in really wonderful ways. I was blown away by how tasty this dinner was:

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If you’re looking for a super-fast, semi-raw dinner that doesn’t demand too much fuss, I can’t recommend this strongly enough. Winter pesto is now a brave new world for the taking, and I can’t wait to explore it more!

In honor of recent requests for more straight up nutrition info on CR, I’m adding a new “feature”: Nutritionist’s Note. In it, I’ll point out noteworthy things about the meals I share from a nutritional standpoint—either an assessment of nutrient density, a word about nutritional strengths and weaknesses, or fun trivia about what the provides. (Or all of the above.)

In this case, I’m weighing strengths and weaknesses. This meal is very rich in healthy fats, but it’s a little weak in the protein department. So, if it’s dinner, you’ll want to amp up the beans, hemp, soy, or other vegan protein sources at other meals of the day. As I always remind clients and readers, not every meal has to be the protein all star (or fat all star, or carb all star, or iron all star). But you do need to take a bird’s eye view of your day and compensate for the things you miss at certain meals in others. Capisco?

Hope you all feel inspired to put some basil to use, even now that its nearly gone. Any winter basil recipes you love? Or flavor pairings that knit one season’s flavors with another’s?

Final announcement: This is your last two days to enter to win a free health consultation with me. Check out my counseling giveaway and comment there to qualify!


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Categories: Vegan Basics
Ingredients: Beets, Butternut Squash, Cashew Nuts
Dietary Preferences: Gluten Free

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  1. What a cool blog you have hear. The photos are great, too. You’re so creative with your cooking. I’m a big foodie, but I don’t know anything about raw diets. I’d love to learn, though.

  2. Amazing recipe and beautiful pictures to go with it, thanks! This looks like it would be perfect for a light, romantic dinner.

  3. this looks absolutely divine, decadent, and fancy! I am really inspired by your love for vegetables, I am more of a fruit girl, but I know I need more greens!

  4. This is just GORGEOUS! Should be on a restaurants menu somewhere! I haven’t had cashew cream in ages- I bet it tastes so good with butternut squash- YUM!

  5. This looks so yummy! I’m a big supporter of combining raw and cooked – it makes it easier for non raw foodists to add healthy raw foods into their diets 😀

  6. That sounds delish! I have not used my pc yet, but I can’t wait! You’re meal is speaking my language – part raw part cooked – the theme of my latest book. 🙂

    Hey, saw your stuff in Carr’s new book. Love it!!!!!

    Greg put the tree up last night – we’re offiv=cially in the holiday season 😉


  7. I know I’ve asked before, but I figure I’ll ask again: Would you please write a pressure cooker tutorial post? Thank you! 🙂

    • We will. Though if you go back to the original post, there’s a little instruction. You’ll be following the maker’s instructions, too, for any model, though I’ll definitely try to walk readers through it soon.

  8. seriously, what an incredible dinner! makes me want to try beets again 🙂

  9. Awesome pairing, Gena! I made an amazing butternut squash and basil soup a while ago that I absolutely loved for the unique combo of summery/autumn flavors. Actually, I really could go for a bowl right now!

  10. What a truly gorgeous meal! And also quick and easy?? Hang on to that little hostage, I say! 😉

  11. That looks amazing! I love the flavor combos and the colors.

    I really love chipotle and basil together. I make a delicious lentil soup using that combo… plus, you can never go wrong making a bitch batch of veggie infused marinara and tearing up basil at the end. You can also preserve it by making a basil oil ( and keep it in the fridge ) to drizzle over foods.. yum!

  12. This looks so amazing! And you say it’s easy? Ok, I’ll give it a go! Thanks! 😉

  13. Love this meal for so many reasons… mainly because of hte beet and squash together, than the colors!!! Looks heavenly!!! Love the nutritionist notes 🙂

  14. What a pretty meal! The colors are so vibrant. Thanks for adding the nutrition notes section too.

  15. YUM! I can’t wait to try this recipe, it sounds amazing. I think I might share this with my family over the holidays. Thanks for the inspiration.

  16. Oh WOW does that ever look delicious!

    A pressure cooker, you say? I would never have thought of using one, mostly because I have no idea what they do… but now I might have to look into them a little more closely! 🙂

  17. Wow that looks amazing! My basil plant died 🙁 and all the farmers market’s of over in Montreal now. You are lucky New York still has them!

    This pesto makes me want to get a new food processor. My hand blender/food processor set died. I need to invest in something better. I’m missing smoothies and sauces.

  18. gena! seriously. this may be the single greatest concept for a meal that you have ever posted on this blog. i cannot wait to recreate this!

    i think my favorite thing about your blog is how you can write posts like you did this week that incite so much thought and discussion, and then you follow it up with an incredible recipe that has me racing to the kitchen. basically, i heart choosing raw. 🙂

    • It’s so funny: as soon as I posted this, I thought, “Wow, this is a Leslie meal.”

  19. that looks *almost* too beautiful to eat. . .but i would destroy that plate! love the idea of nutri-note. helpful and informative. i was curious about the protein on that plate myself BUT i also think we as a country over-obsess the idea of protein. some days i’m under 20-30g and other days i’m 50-80g. i think our bodies are pretty smart machines and they figure out a balance.

    • I think you’re dead right, but you’re also very well versed in nutrition and clearly take an active interest in these things. Many readers of mine are less knowledgeable, so the idea is that I don’t want them thinking that, if they ate a meal like this every single day, they’d be getting adequate protein. Sure, it’s fine to have higher and lower days, but I just want folks to be aware that such a balance has got to be there.

  20. Love love love the nutritionist’s note addition. It is great that you are able to provide this information with out listing calories, fat grams, etc. (which can be a trigger for those recovering from an ED like me)

    Also (hope this doesn’t seem too picky, since your writing style is awesome and inspirational), I believe the correct form of the verb capire (to understand) in this case would be capisci (you understand). Capisco is the I form (I understand).

    Great recipe!

    • I think you’re right, Angela. I’m OK with English grammar, but my language study days are distant. Thanks 🙂

  21. Australia has totally messed with my seasonality. Most things are harvested TWICE a year, and many things are three times or ALL year. It’s crazy. Strawberries? In season all year except in the few months of ‘winter’. Apples? In season almost all year, except for a momentary blip in spring. Citrus? All year. Rhubarb? All year. Pumpkin? Also all year. I’ve given up trying to figure out when things are in season. I have to look at calendars put out by various sources and even then they are conflicting.

    Anyway, all that to say that I love the pairing of typically autumn veggies with basil. Though I may have a serious case of season disorientation, I still have northern hemisphere sensibilities, and I know this is genius 😉

  22. Genius! This looks awesome. And I think your nutritionist’s notes at the end are such a good idea. I love reading about the nutritional values of food (not calories though, hate reading about calorie content). I seem to enjoy the food even more when I know how nourishing it is. xxx

  23. Gorgeous meal! I like your new nutrition notes too. Protein definitely doesn’t need to be the star of every meal–there was this thing floating around that your body can only absorb like 30 grams at a time of it, but it was totally debunked. So, even gym rats who are terrified of not getting swole off their protein should chill out. It’s the day that matters, not one meal.

  24. Nummy, this recipe combination needs to be tried! I agree on your birds eye view. It’s tricky to make every meal complete so even snacking on healthy nuts and good omega supplements are helpful.

  25. My basil plant is still producing basil– Yee- haw! 🙂 I haven’t really known what to do with it, since I’m more into wintery foods now that summer is long gone. This totally inspires me, though! I made a really good “cheesy” pesto (nutritional yeast added in) and poured it over spaghetti squash.

  26. Your energy should be testimony enough to convince everyone of the health benefits of vegan/raw vegan nutrition!

  27. That looks absolutely divine! I’ve never had beets before but I will definitely make sure to try them now!

  28. You’ve outdone yourself here! It’s beautiful and I can only imagine the burst of flavor.

    Your protein advice is interesting (and good). I tend to focus on getting my protein for each meal; perhaps I can ease up on that a bit, though I have a pretty hearty appetite and find the protein fills me up. I’m always up for experimenting, though!

  29. Oh my goodness.. that is an incredibly professional looking meal! I bet that flavor combination is absolutely divine!

  30. I couldn’t agree more – basil might not be seasonal right now, but it’s WONDERFUL! Basil pesto is my go-to for using it during this time.

  31. Wow Gena..impressive meal, impressive recipe! Love the photography…not only does the meal probably taste great, the orange, red, and green are such lovely colors to look at!

    Basil..I make all kinds of raw marinaras with it…tomatoes, basil, random seasonings from nooch to oregano, and hit blend on the Vita. In 15 secs, raw marinara, and basil used up!

    The Nutritionist’s Notes…fun idea!

    The meal may be a bit low in protein as you said but it’s never about one meal; it’s about the larger picture. Not one meal in time, but the overall landscape. Plus, beets are I believe the king of the plant kingdom (or queen!) in iron. I believe they are the highest source of plant-based iron…that and blackstrap molasses. Beets ROCK!

    Have a great weekend!


    • Beets DO rock! Alas, a 1 cup serving is only about 8% of one’s daily iron, and that form (like all plant based forms) isn’t easiest for us to assimilate. So while I love them as a good iron source, I wouldn’t say they’re a great one — vegans have to work hard in the iron dept!

      Blackstrap molasses is the bomb.

      And so is your awesome perspective on nutrition — big picture, indeed.