Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla

Butternut squash with butter, ginger, walnuts, thyme, and vanilla.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Even though it’s 90 degrees here in Sacramento in mid October (are we having weird weather this year or what?) the pumpkins and butternut squash are out in numbers at the market.

One of the things I love about winter squash is that you can buy one and then take your time to figure out what to do with it. They last for months as long as you keep them cool and dry.

Here’s an easy side dish, perfect for Thanksgiving or any cool weather meal, using butternut squash. The vanilla makes you think you are about to eat something sweet, and in a way you are, as the squash has a natural sweetness, but this really is a savory dish.

The combination of walnuts, thyme, ginger, vanilla, and squash may seem weird, but oddly it works.

You can either boil the cubed butternut squash with some bay leaves, or roast them until you get a little browning – in which case omit the bay leaves.

Roasting will caramelize the squash a bit, giving a little more flavor, and the squash cubes will hold their shape better.

Boiling the squash will yield softer squash and a little flavor from the bay leaves.

Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

We're using butternut squash for this dish, but you could easily use kabocha squash instead, or any firm, easy-to-peel, winter squash.

You can either boil or roast the squash, directions are given for both methods.


  • 1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds, peeled, seeds removed, flesh cut into 1-inch cubes (see how to cut and peel a butternut squash)
  • 3 bay leaves (if boiling the squash)
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (if roasting the squash)
  • Salt
  • 1 heaping cup of walnuts (can substitute pecans or pine nuts)
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Black pepper to taste


1a If roasting Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat the cubed squash with a little vegetable oil and spread out onto a baking tray. Sprinkle with salt and roast until the cubes begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

1b If boiling Put 4 cups of water into a medium-sized pot and add the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer. Add the squash to the pot. Boil, covered for 10 minutes. Drain.

2 Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and toast the walnuts. Stir frequently or they will burn. Once they they start to brown, and you can smell the aroma of toasted walnuts, remove from heat.

3 Melt the butter in the pan with the walnuts over medium-high heat. Toss the walnuts to coat with butter, then add the squash. Toss them to coat with butter.

4 Add the grated ginger, vanilla extract, black pepper, a little salt and dried thyme and toss once more. Turn off the heat and squeeze some lemon juice over everything. Taste for salt and lemon and add more to taste. If you want this to be a bit more luxurious, mix in another tablespoon of butter or two before serving.

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Showing 4 of 24 Comments

  • Sharon White

    I made this with a pre-cubed package of squash from Costco. I kind of changed it up a tiny bit by adding in some chopped dates and a small handful of raisins while toasting the walnuts. Then after adding the squash I had no lemon so I squeezed a clementine in and I also added a few pinches of cinnamon and chili powder. At serving time I put a dollop of sour cream and a tiny bit of cinnamon sugar on that. My daughter said it was like a creamy pumpkin pie!

  • RH

    I made this last night and it was okay. I used pumpkin seeds in place of most of the walnuts because it seemed like the thing to do, and I definitely recommend decreasing the quantity. I used 1/3 C and that was plenty.

    I did think this was missing something, but I’m not sure what. Next time I’ll try using orange zest, and orange juice in place of the lemon juice.

  • Alison

    Yes, Jess – but also best to pierce it once or twice before microwaving. It does indeed make it easier to peel. I just bought 2 organic butternuts so may try eating the skin too!

    A great Mexican place in Seattle serves a dish that uses butternut with manchego cheese. It’s delicious. I often use feta instead as the saltiness works splendidly with the sweetness of the squash.

  • Jess

    Making this for the second time tonight—this is a fast favorite around these parts. Wanted to note an interesting thing I heard recently (and will be trying tonight)—if you have a tough-to-peel squash, you can apparently stick it in the microwave for a couple of minutes to soften the skin and make it easier to peel, cut, etc. It shouldn’t stay in there long enough to really cook it–just enough to make it give a little.

  • Leisureguy

    Oh, one other difference: I never bother peeling butternut squash (or eggplant or carrots or most other vegetables): it’s a great flaming pain and, so far as I can see, totally unnecessary. The peel softens greatly in cooking and simply adds fiber.

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Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla