Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla

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

Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla
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. Elise Bauer

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. Elise Bauer

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 dishcloth 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. (With a video, as well!)

More Butternut Squash Recipes

Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Vanilla

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Servings 4 servings

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 quash, about 2 pounds, peeled, seeds removed, flesh cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 3 bay leaves (if boiling the squash)

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (if roasting the squash)

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 heaping cup 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

  • Freshly ground 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.

    Cubed Butternut Squash On Baking Sheet
    Elise Bauer

    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 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.

    Cooking Butternut Squash
    Elise Bauer
    Caramelizing Butternut Squash in pan
    Elise Bauer
  4. Add the grated ginger, vanilla extract, black pepper, a little salt, and dried thyme:

    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.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
317 Calories
29g Fat
12g Carbs
5g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 317
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 29g 38%
Saturated Fat 8g 38%
Cholesterol 23mg 8%
Sodium 151mg 7%
Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 4g 15%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 5g
Vitamin C 14mg 68%
Calcium 67mg 5%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 363mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.