Named because its shape somewhat resembles a turban, turban squash is a medium-to-large sized winter squash, irregularly shaped, with a hard, bumpy, multicolored skin and sweet, nutty flavor, that can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes, like soups, stews, casseroles and curries.
What Is Turban Squash?
Turban squash is a large winter squash, that can grow from 10 to 15 inches in diameter and around 5 to 6 pounds. Its shell features patches of green, orange, yellow and white, and the flesh is a pale orange-yellowish color. It is a variety of Cucurbita maxima, which also includes banana squash, buttercup squash and Cinderella pumpkins.
Although it most likely originated in the Caribbean islands, the earliest references to turban squash come in French cookbooks, where it is described as watery and bland. However, the French version differs from the American version of turban squash, as the American version was produced in the early 19th century as a hybrid of the French turban squash and the Hubbard and acorn squash, to produce the cultivar we know today. It's still enjoyed in the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, where it's used in a number of dishes.
Because of its bright, mottled coloring, its unusual shape, along with its reputation for having a bland flavor, turban squash is often used as a decorative squash rather than a culinary one. The best way to describe its shape is a smaller squash bursting out from a larger one. Turban squash resembles an acorn, the way the nut is shrouded by the cupule, even more than acorn squash does.
And while turban squash are difficult to peel and cut due to their irregular shape, the flavor is well worth the effort. Common turban squash recipes include steaming, roasting, baking and pureeing, and the shell of the squash can be used as a serving vessel for soup made of the pureed flesh.
How To Cook With Turban Squash
The first thing to consider when starting to prepare a turban squash is that its shell is quite hard, and its shape makes peeling and cutting tricky. Some preparations, like ones that involve using the shell as a soup container, require separating the top part of the turban from the lower section of the squash. The thick shell makes cutting it in this manner difficult, as well as potentially dangerous. But using great care and a sharp knife, it can be done.
Once the top is removed, scoop the pulp and seeds out of both the upper and lower sections, then steam for a few minutes in order to make removing the flesh easier. Then cook and puree the flesh, prepare a soup and finally serve it in the lower, hollowed-out section of the squash. Try stuffing the lower part, replace the cap and roast.
A much simpler way to cook turban squash is to halve it through the stem, scoop out the pulp and seeds, drizzle it with olive oil and Kosher salt, and roast it, cut side down, in a 400 F oven for 45 minutes or until the flesh is tender. Once it is done, scoop the flesh away from the skin and serve as is, mash by hand to serve as a side dish, or puree to make it into soup. The cooked squash also works well as an ingredient in casseroles, salads, rice and pasta dishes, curries, chilis, stews, and as a pizza topping. It can also be used for making pumpkin pie.
What Does It Taste Like?
Turban squash has a sweet, nutty pumpkin flavor, reminiscent of hazelnuts, with a smooth, dry, floury texture.
Turban Squash Recipes
You can substitute turban squash for practically any recipe that calls for winter squash, including acorn, kabocha and butternut squash.
Where To Buy Turban Squash
Turban squash is considered an heirloom squash, which means it is not cultivated and sold on a large-scale basis, and is more likely to be found at farmers' markets during the autumn and winter months rather than in supermarket produce departments. Look for ones that are firm, and free from soft spots, which develop first on the upper cap of the squash.
A whole turban squash will keep for up to 3 months when stored in a cool place away from sunlight. Once it's sliced, it will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge.