Want to Taste a Real Israeli Food? Sink Your Teeth Into a Chestnut Squash

The chestnut squash is a local innovation that gladdens the palate.

Limor Laniado Tiroche
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Limor Laniado Tiroche

This is the third spring in a row that chestnut squash has made it to the markets - and there is much rejoicing. Chestnut squash is an original Israeli product that grew out of cooperation between Dr. Harry Paris, a geneticist from the Volcani Center (the Ministry of Agriculture's research arm ) who is an expert on squashes, and a company named Origene Seeds, which develops and markets seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family in Israel and around the world.

Chestnut squash is the result of genetic hybridization between cucurbits, also known as the gourd family, but in fact it is not a gourd and does not contain chestnut genes. Botanically speaking this is actually a squash in the shape of a segmented ball, with a hard green peel and sweet orange pulp that give it the character of a pumpkin. The development of the chestnut squash began from a tasteless and watery squash called acorn squash. After years of attempts to improve it, the scientists at the Volcani Center wound up with a completely new vegetable, one with a wonderful flavor, color, and consistency. The chestnut squash tastes sweeter than any other squash and has a thick character and consistency like that of roasted chestnuts. If you purchased this type of squash and discovered it to be a pale yellow inside, it may be an unsuccessful imitation. The knock-off squash is not sweet like the original and lacks a distinct chestnut flavor. The real thing is grown in Kadesh-Barnea, Givat Hashlosha, Ein Ha'besor, the Beit She'an Valley, and Hatzeva.

Spelt grain and chestnut squash salad.Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

Chestnut squash is easy to digest, low in calories, contains iron, vitamin B, beta-carotene, and calcium. Its season lasts from the beginning of spring to the end of summer. It has a long shelf life: its flavor and solid consistency keep for seven weeks from the day it is picked - without refrigeration. At home, store it in a shady place at room temperature.

Chestnut squash improves salads, warm side dishes such as rice and couscous, antipasti, and meat dishes. It does not have to be peeled; you just have to slice it into segments, scoop out the innards, and roast in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Add some good goat's cheeses and nuts and it will give any meal a boost.

If you do peel it, use a sharp knife. Removing the peel will be easier if you cook the chestnut squash for five minutes in the microwave or boiling water.

Roasted chestnut squash with Parmesan and purslane leaves

Ingredients (6 servings ):

2 chestnut squashes

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of coarse salt

3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

4 sage leaves

Parmesan bits

1/2 cup purslane leaves ("regelet hagina" in Hebrew )

1 teaspoon reduced balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil


Heat an oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Slice the squashes into eighths and arrange in an oven pan with the sage leaves and garlic cloves. Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle coarse salt, and roast for 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle Parmesan and purslane leaves on top. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over it and serve.

Spelt grain and chestnut squash salad

Ingredients (6 servings ):

1 cup whole spelt grain

2 chestnut squashes, peeled and cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

A little coarse salt

2 leeks, sliced into rings

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 scallion stems, sliced into thin rings

1 teaspoon grated ginger

1 olive clove, minced

2 baskets shimeji mushrooms or 2 baskets small button mushrooms, sliced in half

4 tablespoons soy sauce

Handful of sunflower sprouts

Hot red pepper sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons lemon juice

A little salt and black pepper


Soak the spelt grain for an hour in a bowl with water. Drain and cook in a pot with water until softened, 20-30 minutes. Drain. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Brush the chestnut squash cubes with olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt, and roast for approximately 15 minutes. In a skillet with olive oil, fry the leek rings over a low fire until softened. Add scallion, garlic, and ginger and fry for another minute. Turn up the fire, add mushrooms and saute for 1 minute. Add soy sauce, cook for 1 minute and turn off the fire. Combine with the remaining ingredients, adjust the seasonings and serve.




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