Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla

Side DishThanksgivingVegetarianButternut Squash

Here's an easy side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner: Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla! It's an unexpected combo that works beautifully.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Easy Butternut Squash Side Dish

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 Browned Butter Pasta roast the squash

Photo by Alison Conklin

How to Buy and Store Butternut Squash

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.

When buying squash, look for ones that are free of blemishes or deep nicks since these will store for longer without developing rot. Store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to cook with them. (But don’t forget about them! Even hard winter squashes will eventually start to go soft and moldy.)

Keep your eye out for good deals on winter squashes toward the end of the season at your farmer’s market. Sometimes you can really score with a giant bag of discount squash that will last you through the winter.

Butternut Squash Sage Pasta peel the squash

Photo by Alison Conklin

How To Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash

Cutting up a butternut squash can definitely be intimidating. The most important thing to do is make sure your cutting board is stable. If it’s prone to slipping on your countertop, put a damp paper towel or dish cloth underneath to keep it steady.

Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the tough outer skin. If you have a microwave, you can put the whole squash in the microwave for 30 seconds before peeling. That will soften the peel just enough to make it easier to peel.

Then use a sharp chef’s knife to cut it into pieces. Don’t try to make do with a dull knife or a tiny paring knife — you’ll be more likely to injure yourself.

Ready to slice? Follow this step by step guide and you’ll be just fine: How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash. (There’s a video below, as well!)



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Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 30 minutes
  • 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.

Recipe can be easily doubled.


  • 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 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (if roasting the squash)
  • Salt
  • 1 heaping cup of walnuts (can substitute pecans or pine nuts)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Black pepper to taste


1 Roast or boil the cubed squash: 

If roasting: Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat the cubed squash with a little olive 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.

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 Toast the walnuts: 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: 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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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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29 Comments / Reviews

No ImageButternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Susanna Henson

    This is an amazing base recipe for this squash that lends so well to modifications! We’re not huge fans of cumin, so I used curry, nutmeg and cinnamon instead, added canned chick peas during the final cooking stage for additional protein, and included shredded chicken. Makes for a complete soup high in protein, and absolutely divine. You could you so many different spice combos with this, make it sweeter, more savory, higher protein, add leafy vegetables… the options are endless. Wonderful recipe, so glad I found it. This will definitely be my go to base for any squash soup from now on. Thank you!


  2. Justine Taddeo

    Hi! I am making this for thanksgiving and would like to know what steps (if any) can be prepared prior to thanksgiving day of without affecting the taste or texture of this dish. Thank you for always sharing such wonderful recipes!

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Vee

    Can you add thyme to the butter before tossing the squash in? Does the vanilla mixed in without mushing up the squash?

    Show Replies (1)
  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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Butternut Squash with Walnuts and VanillaButternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla