Eat Shoots and Leaves
I recently learned that there is more to squash than just the squash; the young shoots are not only edible, but a delicious green!
Fellow cucurbitacean Amy Goldman introduced me to them in her book, “The Compleat Squash.” I had heard of eating pea shoots before… but squash?! I had to find out if these are worth the effort.
In my growing zone (6b), it’s been a little early to sow squash seeds yet. And with my limited growing space, I’d be reluctant to start snipping my prized plants for an experimental side dish, anyway.
Then, in early March, inspiration struck from the inside of a Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato winter squash: I found little sprouts inside the squash’s seed cavity. This phenomenon, called vivipary, is frequently caused by declining levels of abscicic acid (ABA) in plant seeds, a plant hormone that prevents germination. I had harvested the squash in September, so it was no big surprise that ABA levels would be low enough to cause seed germination (storage at cold temperatures, like your refrigerator, accelerate ABA loss, by the way… another reason to store squash in cool, not cold, temperatures).
But honestly, until I saw these little seedlings in my squash, I hadn’t considered using the seeds for anything other than roasting. After all, I’ve never taken the necessary steps to prevent cross-pollination between the many squash varieties I grow each year, so I never use them for seed-saving (as they wouldn’t be true to type). Now I’ve found a fabulous new use for them, and a great way to grow greens indoors in winter.
I took the remaining seeds from the squash cavity, placed them in the refrigerator for 2 weeks (just to accelerate additional loss of ABA from the seeds and insure germination), and planted them in a flat filled with organic potting soil. I was already starting tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds under lights anyway, so here was the perfect opportunity to try squash shoots, at no cost to my seed inventory or future squash yields.
About one month later, I harvested the young shoots, which had grown great in the flat despite crowded spacing and a shallow planting depth (I was growing them just for shoots, after all… don’t try this with plants you’d like to set in the garden).
I prepared the shoots as I do broccoli raab or swiss chard; braising first in a small amount of water, then sautéing in olive oil with fresh garlic, black pepper, and sea salt.
The only downside to squash shoots? An entire flat of shoots, which when harvested was enough to fill a 1 gallon bag, made enough for a side dish for one family dinner (with guest). Like kale, a lot of greens goes a little way when cooked.
All the same, I will be making this dish again. My daughters enjoyed planting the seeds and watching them grow (which if you’ve grown squash, you know happens FAST), and it is a beautiful and novel side dish to boot.
- Young, fresh squash shoots (any variety of summer or winter squash)
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Black peppercorns
- Sea Salt
- In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add squash shoots and water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook shoots for 1-2 minutes.
- Remove lid. Allow any remaining water to evaporate from skillet. Add olive oil to preference (I add about 1-2 Tbsp olive oil/gallon bag of greens) and sauté greens with freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt.
- Serve warm.