(Note: this post was originally published on December 22, 2019. It has been updated a couple times since then with additional flavor combinations and photos.)
Finger Food, Re-imagined
Who else loves finger food???
In my opinion, there's nothing more fun than a finger food party or date night. I love how casual and intimate finger food is. It's definitely my favorite way to entertain AND our favorite way to do a simple Friday evening at home. But most finger foods aren't very good for the body and many aren't veggie-friendly either... think things like pizza, wings, etc.
Today I want to introduce you to a really simple, delicious, veggie-forward appetizer: these roasted kabocha squash "dippers". They're just as satisfying as dunking chips, but way more nourishing. I haven't eaten meat in almost 25 years, but I guess the most appropriate analogy is that they're sort of like wings (??) in that they're big, hearty, and begging to be slathered with your favorite dip.
Roast up a big pan of these and you'll be set for all your fall and winter gatherings. These are hot, filling, infinitely customizable, and are sure to be a hit.
In terms of flavors, the sky is the limit. Basically, you have three opportunities here to infuse flavor. My suggestion is to capitalize on all three, and to find a flavor profile that makes sense together. You can infuse flavor through (1) spicing the squash while it roasts, (2) garnishing the squash after roasting, and (3) choosing one or a few dips to pair with it.
By spicing, I mean whatever spices (in addition to salt and pepper) you want to roast the squash in. And by garnishing, I mean whatever fresh items you want to add at the end, including herbs, citrus, nuts, or seeds. For the dip(s), go crazy!
Here are a few ideas to get you started, but you can really borrow flavors from any culture, dish, or event you can imagine.
Mexican-inspired: Roast in chili powder and cumin; garnish with fresh cilantro and lime; serve with salsa and/or guacamole (as pictured above).
Middle eastern-inspired: Roast in za'atar and lemon zest; garnish with sumac, sesame seeds, and pistachios; serve with hummus and/or tzatziki (as pictured below).
Holiday-inspired: Roast in rosemary and thyme; garnish with chopped pecans; serve with cranberry sauce.
Thai-inspired: Roast in fresh garlic and ginger; garnish with fresh cilantro and salty peanuts; serve with soy sauce and/or sweet and sour sauce.
Mediterranean-inspired: Roast in garlic and oregano; garnish with feta and/or almonds; serve with pesto and/or marinara sauce.
Fry-inspired: Roast in generous salt and pepper; garnish with caramelized onions and parsley; serve with ketchup and mustard.
Wing-inspired: Roast in cayenne and butter; garnish with hot sauce; serve with ranch and veggie sticks.
Tips and Tricks
I've made these many, many times and have a few tips to pass along. First, you can easily make a LOT of these if you get two or three squashes. It's a great way to feed a crowd. I'd assume that a medium-sized kabocha squash will feed two or three people for a meal, or half a dozen people for appetizers. Multiply as needed. You could even make a couple different platters with different flavor profiles.
This also works in the air fryer, if you have one! The benefit is that it cooks very quickly; I do mine at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. So fast! However you can't fit nearly as many in there, so it's a better option if you're only making these for a couple people.
Thankfully, this dish is pretty friendly for preparing in advance. You can easily cut the squash and prep your dips in advance, then just roast the squash half an hour before your guests are going to arrive. You can also roast the squash ahead of time and reheat in the microwave, but it's really best right out of the oven, so I don't suggest going to microwave route unless necessary. Add your garnishes after you cook (or reheat) the squash.
Let's Talk Ingredients
This is really more of a concept than a specific recipe. See the ideas above for how to flavor your squash and pair it with different dips! But here's the rough outline of what you'll need:
Kabocha squash(es). Or use red kuri squash, which is really similar.
Oil. For roasting; use what you like.
Salt and pepper
Spices. See ideas above; this is a great opportunity for flavoring the squash. You'll add the spices (e.g. chili powder, cumin) for the last 5-10 minutes of roasting to make sure the spices don't burn.
Garnishes. I like to add a pop of freshness with some chopped herbs. Something crunchy is also nice, like some seeds or chopped nuts. The more the merrier!
Dips! Anything you think will be awesome, or maybe a few. Options could include salsa, guac, hummus, etc. Again, see the options above, or create your own combination.
As you can see from all these photos and ideas, this is such a versatile and crowd-pleasing dish. You can make it to fit just about any occasion and any dietary need. Because of that, I've found myself making this again and again throughout the fall and winter. I love that these squash dippers are way more nutritious than many classic appetizers, and I love how delicious and cozy they are. These squash dippers are definitely a hearty appetizer. While many finger foods aren't terribly filling or satisfying, these can easily serve as a meal, especially if you pair them with a protein-rich dip like hummus.
How will YOU enjoy these Kabocha Squash Dippers? Perhaps for a gameday get-together? For a Thanksgiving appetizer? Maybe for a Friday date night on a chilly winter evening? I'm already excited for my next opportunity to make these!
It makes me so happy to hear from you and see your creations! Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about this recipe. If you post a photo on Instagram, hashtag #TheRogueBrusselSprout and tag me (@TheRogueBrusselSprout) in the post text so that I'm sure to see it.
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A delightfully hearty and satisfying finger-food, these squash dippers are infinitely customizable by using different flavors and different dips. Bonus: they're much better for the body than most finger foods! Who needs wings when you have these??
Spices of choice (see ideas above in the post text)
Garnishes of choice (see ideas above in the post text)
Dip(s) of choice (see ideas above in the post text)
Preheat the oven to 425.
Cut the kabocha squash in half through its stem (i.e. perpendicular to its equator) and scoop out the seeds.
Flip each half open side downward and cut even wedges. The most important thing is to keep all the wedges approximately the same thickness so they cook evenly. I like to cut each half into 8-12 pieces in order to make small appetizer-appropriate portions.
Lay the squash wedges on a well-oiled sheet tray, making sure they all have full contact with the tray, which will create delicious browning. Salt and pepper them generously.
Roast the squash wedges for ~25-40 minutes until soft. Keep an eye on them, since their cooking time will depend on how thickly you cut the wedges. You want them delightfully tender, but sturdy enough to be dipped.
While the squash cooks, prepare your garnishes and dips of choice (see all the ideas in the post text above!).
If you want to spice the roasting squash, do so about ten minutes before the end of the baking time; this will ensure that the spices don't burn. Wait until the squash is tender but not completely done and sprinkle liberally with whatever spice blend you choose, then return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes to toast the spices.
When the squash is finished, arrange the wedges on a serving platter with a bowl or a few bowls of your favorite dip(s).
Garnish the squash with something fresh and/or crunchy and serve immediately.