Easy Mediterranean Oven-roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes
It seems that this winter is going to be one of the coldest ones of this decade for Greece. We get the occasional sun and warmth for a few days and then wave after wave we get cold air from the north with very low temps and snow. The peaks of the mountains around Athens are often covered with snow, which is definitely a sign of how cold this winter is. If you’re following us on Instagram, you may have seen this story with snow outside our place. :)
When we get some warmer temps, even if it is only for a few days, we try to get some exercise and go for long walks in a favorite little grove nearby. It doesn’t help much with all the comfort food we tend to enjoy during the winter, but it’s a way to get some fresh air and feel a little better about ourselves lol :)
A trip to Trikala of Corinth: part 2
If you read our last post, you saw some pictures about our trip to the mountains of Corinth in late November. We wrote about the main tourist attractions on the mountains, with the ski center, the lake Dasiou, the forests around the village of Karya and the wonderful village of Trikala with its 3 districts.
In this post, we wanted to share our experiences from some of the other places in the area that one can also visit (by car). These are beautiful mountains lakes and small villages that are located on the plateau in the south of the mountain of Ziria.
One of the best attractions in the south of mount Ziria is Lake Doksa (also spelled as Doxa in guides and maps). This is a lake that was artificially formed to avoid the flooding of the river Doksa which was causing problems to the farmers of the plateau. It became a magnificent mountain lake, at an altitude of almost 1 km above sea level.
To get there, we had to use a dirt road for a few kilometers, which slowed us down quite a bit, but the beautiful scenery definitely makes up for the lack of comfort. So, don’t be intimidated, go for it, just drive carefully with low speed and enjoy the view.
When we arrived, the morning fog was clearing out, as you can see in the pictures, revealing the emerald colors of the water and the dark green fir trees in the slopes of the surrounding mountains. It was peaceful and calm, and one could only hear the birds chirping. We stepped out of the car and took a deep breath: heaven.
We saw a small church on one edge and followed the road leading to it. After a couple of minutes, we arrived at an opening with ample parking space, where local producers were selling their goods: legumes, pumpkins, honey, rusks, pasta, and many many more delicacies. We bought a jar of exquisite heather honey, which was as natural as it gets. It was thick, dark red and the aroma was amazing. You can taste all the varieties and choose which one you like; the people are more than welcome to provide you with samples and nutritional information.
We also bought certified organic Feneos beans, a locally variety known as “vanilla beans”. These are PDO beans that are very easy to prepare, as they don’t require any soaking before cooking. They are really delicious (and affordable) and we bought them for making traditional fasolada bean soup.
We stayed in the shores of the lake for a few hours, to relax and enjoy the magnificent views to the mountains and the picturesque setting and then we went to visit the small villages in the south.
South of Lake Doksa
In the south, there are three small villages: Archea Feneos, Mesino, and Goura. We liked that at Feneos and Goura there were some traditional houses and the people preserved the local architectural style to some extent, so it was really wonderful to visit.
Mesino was a highlight however, for a whole different reason. Mirella’s dad suggested going for lunch at Trikrina (also spelled as Tríkrēno in maps), a family-run tavern and butchery (shameless plug). The family that owns this place also breeds cattle in the mountains around the area and they sell and serve the meat in their tavern.
Here we had some of the tastiest steaks ever. In Greece the meat is served medium-well unless one instructs the waiter otherwise, so keep this in mind if you prefer your meat medium-rare or medium. So, we had the medium-well steaks, and yet, they weren’t chewy and tough, they were soft and delicious!
The reason for the medium-well steaks is that the meat used primarily for steaks in Greece is pork. Pork must always be cooked well, for safety reasons, so it seems that this became the norm for all things meat:) Ourselves, we don’t have a strong opinion on this; one can have a beef steak the way one prefers. Which is the way we feel about all things food. We don’t like haters and people who try to impose their preferences on others. One should enjoy food the way one likes it.
We also tried the tavern’s fasolada bean soup made with the local vanilla beans. Paired with fresh crusty bread, it was truly an amazing, comforting dish.
Another interesting and historic place that we visited, which was further southeast, was Lake Stymfalia (also written as Stymphalia). This is the lake mentioned in the sixth labour of Hercules. According to mythology, this is where Hercules defeated the Stymphalian birds, which were man-eating metallic birds that terrorized the people in the area (what a strange myth!). Well, today most of the lake is dried up and is farmland and the rest is wetland with frogs and birds. This lake is a protected area of high ecological value.
There’s also a small museum, the Environment Museum of Stymphalia, from which you can see the birds, and also learn a lot about the history of the area.
Before leaving the area for our return to Athens, we stopped by a local producer and bought a few butternut squashes. We brought these home, to cook with, and used them in our Christmas table using the following delicious recipe.
Oven-roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes
The recipe we wanted to share in this post, is the one that we cooked on numerous occasions this fall and winter. It’s a delicious side dish for chicken or turkey, you can serve it in a large plate as a salad, you can put it in your favorite sandwiches, or you can also have it on its own, as a light meal with some sour cream and/or fresh crusty bread.
If you never cooked butternut squash before, and find it a bit intimidating, this is definitely one of the best recipes to get you started. Not only it is very easy, but it also includes step by step instructions, with photos, that show how one can prepare and cut the squash.
We also added the classic orange-flesh sweet potatoes, to pair them with the squash; they are delicious when cooked together! Always prefer the longer and thinner potatoes over the plump, round ones. We find that they taste much better when baked.
For this recipe, also prefer using the white-flesh yellow onions (see the photos below) that are a bit sweet when cooked.
We had tried adding carrots in the same pan with all the above, but we didn’t like the texture, because carrots tend to be a little tougher when roasted at the same time. So, we skipped the carrots for this recipe. However, if you’re a big fan, you can also add a couple of carrots, just dice them in small pieces.
The idea behind this recipe, was making a dish of Mediterranean roast vegetables. In order to add a Mediterranean flavor in the recipe, we used original balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy which is an amazing ingredient. This is concentrated vinegar that is aged in wooden barrels for years, and the longer it is aged, the sweeter and less acidic it becomes. If you can get some in your area, chose the real thing and buy Modena’s balsamic vinegar, which is usually also affordable. The balsamic vinegar complements the vegetables of the recipe and gives them depth and complexity. It’s not an accident that there are countless combinations of roasted vegetables with balsamic vinegar.
And what pairs amazingly with balsamic vinegar? The extra virgin olive oil of course. We used Greek extra virgin olive oil, but since this may be a bit expensive abroad, you can use any good olive oil that you have at your pantry.
Finally, for enhancing the Mediterranean flavors, we added dry marjoram, thyme, and spearmint. These are amazing together, so you can also use this combination, in the same quantity as in this recipe, to also elevate your grilled fish, chicken or other veggies at your BBQ parties.
If you can’t find marjoram in the dry herbs/spices section of your grocery store/super market, then look it up in the herbal teas section. Dry marjoram in teabags can also be use, as long as it doesn’t have other ingredients. Just cut a few bags and empty them in a small mason jar.
This is a tried and true recipe that we have tested again and again and fine-tuned over the years, so be prepared to taste some of the best roasted vegetables ever.
This is also a recipe that’s naturally vegan, as it doesn’t contain anything made from animals. So, if you are a vegan or are planning to host a meal for people that are vegan you can definitely use this recipe.
You can also serve this as a main dish for vegetarians, adding a little sour cream on your plate and serving it with fresh crusty bread, as we mentioned before.
The quantity of the ingredients in the recipe is enough to serve 6-8 people as a side or a salad, or 4 people as a main, with a side of sour cream and bread.
So, let’s see how easy it is to prepare the butternut squash and make this delicious vegetarian dish!
- 1-1.2kg / 2-2.5lbs (1 medium sized) butternut squash
- 800g / 28oz (4-5 small or 2 large) sweet potatoes (classic orange-flesh)
- 300g / 10oz (2 medium-sized) yellow onions
- 60ml (1/4 cup) balsamic vinegar
- 180ml (3/4 cup) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dry marjoram*
- 1 tablespoon dry mint
- 2 teaspoons dry thyme
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt **
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
* if you can’t find it in the dry herbs/spices section, you might find it next to other herbal teas
** you can adjust the salt according to your liking, but we find that this quantity was necessary flavor-wise
Place the butternut squash on its long side on a steady surface, hold it firmly and use a large knife to cut off both ends (pic. 1, pic. 2).
Then turn the squash so that the bottom end sits on the surface. Carefully slice it in half using the same large knife and rocking it back and forth with your hands (pic. 3). If you find this a bit difficult, than you can also first slice the squash in half in the middle of its length and then place each of these halves with its bottom on the surface and slice it in the middle by rocking the knife back and forth in the same manner. Scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon (pic. 4).
Use a sharp peeler and peel off the skin by moving the peeler away from you (downwards, pic. 5). Slice each half in the middle, lengthwise and slice each quarter again in half (pic. 6).
Cut these strips into 2-3cm/0.5-1in pieces (pic. 7, pic. 8). Generally, you don’t want very large pieces for the recipe, so cut into as many as needed, depending on the size of the squash that you are using. We usually cut each strip into 8-10 pieces. Place the squash pieces in a bowl large enough to accommodate all the vegetables of the recipe.
At this point, preheat the oven at 200 C / 390F (convection oven / fan-assisted).
Peel the sweet potatoes and place them on the cutting board. Slice in half lengthwise and then cut those into 2-3cm/0.5-1in pieces (pic. 9, pic. 10, pic. 11). If you’re using plump sweet potatoes, and not the thinner, longer ones that we used in this recipe, then slice them in half lengthwise, and slice again each half lengthwise, so that each potato is cut into 4 strips. Then proceed by cutting these in pieces. Place all the sweet potato pieces in the bowl with the squash.
Cut the onions in half. Then slice them (pic. 12). Add the slices in the bowl with the squash and the sweet potatoes.
Add the olive oil (pic. 13), and the balsamic vinegar (pic. 14).
Add the marjoram, the mint, the thyme, the salt and the pepper (pic. 15). Using your hands, mix everything well to coat the vegetables with the herbs/spices, the oil and the balsamic vinegar (pic. 16). Scoop from the bottom to the top, and fold, it will take about a minute.
When everything is mixed together well, empty the bowl in a large metallic roasting pan-baking dish (pic. 17) and arrange in a single layer (pic. 18). We used the large pan that comes with the oven; you can choose your favorite largest one. Generally, the more you spread the vegetables in a single layer in the pan, the better they will turn out at the end.
Cover the pan with foil (pic. 19) and bake for 1 hour. Then, remove the foil and use a thin flat spatula to flip the vegetables and move them around (pic. 20).
Place the pan back into the oven for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are getting brown in the edges, so that they are crispy on the outside and soft in the inside.
Serve them as a side for roasted turkey or chicken, as a salad, or as a meal on its own with some sour cream of Greek yogurt!
Kali oreksi and please let us know what you think if you try this recipe out!
1. You can keep the seeds that you scooped out, rinse them and remove the strings. If you pat them dry, mix with salt and a touch of olive oil, you can roast them on a baking sheet at 160C/320F for about 20 minutes, until they start to brown. This way you can also have a healthy snack from the squash you used for the recipe.
2. If you can’t find marjoram in the dry herbs/spices section of your grocery store/super market, then look it up in the herbal teas section. Dry marjoram in teabags can also be use, as long as it doesn’t have other ingredients. Just cut a few bags and empty them in a small mason jar.
3. Try to spread the vegetables in the pan in a single layer. They will cook better this way.
4. Always prefer the longer, thinner sweet potatoes. They roast much better than the plump ones and we find that they taste better as well.
5. Use a metallic roasting pan/baking dish and not glass/ceramic for better results.
6. Avoid cutting the squash and the potatoes into larger than 3cm/1in pieces. They are much better when cut smaller, like 2cm / about 0.5 inch.
7. You can also add a couple of carrots in the bowl with the squash, the potatoes and the onion. Just make sure you dice the carrots in small pieces.
8. To clean the roasting pan from burned residue afterwards, which we know that it’s always a pain, here’s our tip: soak it in warm soapy water overnight. The next day pour the water out, sprinkle generously with baking soda and pour some warm water. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Rinse add a little soap and sprinkle again with baking soda and scrub. This seems to make this job easier.
This post is not sponsored by the restaurant mentioned, or any municipality, or governmental/tourism organization, is not a paid advertisement or part of any affiliate marketing program. Meaning: We really enjoyed the places and the restaurant and are writing our own opinion without any compensation.