Sweet and Spicy Acorn Squash
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Sweet and Spicy Roasted Acorn Squash Slices — Tender oven-roasted acorn squash is made extra fabulous with a sweet and spicy orange-infused butter sauce. It’s topped with toasted sage leaves, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate arils, and a touch of orange zest for a festive touch. An EASY fall-flavored side dish that’s ready in 20 minutes! Perfect for weeknight dinners or put it on your Thanksgiving or Christmas menus!
Sweet and Spicy Acorn Squash
If you want to be the family member that impresses everyone this sweet and spicy acorn squash recipe is just the holiday side dish to do the trick!
It’s a deceptively very easy to make side dish that always garners tons of compliments and it’s ready in 20 minutes.
Every element of this side dish is will turn even squash disbelievers into believers. That’s because the acorn squash itself is roasted to tender perfection while being complimented beautifully by the buttery sweet and spicy sauce.
Melted butter is doctored up with brown sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, ginger, smoked paprika, and chili powder to creates a sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy flavor palate that is incredible when drizzled atop the acorn squash.
Best of all is that this impressive side dish comes together in no time at all making it great for big holiday meals like Thanksgiving or Christmas when you don’t want to add any stress to your life because you’re really just melting butter, warming spices, and drizzling it over the acorn squash slices.
To really go above and beyond, you can toast some sage leaves, roast pumpkin seeds, and grab some pomegranate arils, all optional of course.
But the festive garnishes really level up that presentation value!
Bonus that this easy holiday side dish recipe is naturally gluten-free so if you’re serving it to a group with gluten-free eaters, this is a great go-to easy gluten-free side dish recipe.
Ingredients in Sweet and Spicy Acorn Squash
All of the ingredients listed for this impressive vegetable side dish are inexpensive and easy to find at your local supermarket. It’s so awesome to be able to make such a stunning side dish without breaking the bank.
You’ll need the following items to make sweet and spicy acorn squash slices:
- Acorn squash
- Unsalted butter
- Zest and juice from an orange
- Light brown sugar
- Juice and zest from an orange
- Smoked paprika
- Chili powder
- Ground ginger
- Pomegranate arils, optional for serving
- Sage leaves, optional for serving
Pumpkin or Acorn seeds (optional)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Olive oil
- Smoked paprika
- Cayenne powder, optional
Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.
How to Make Roasted Acorn Squash Slices
Step 1: Prep. Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with nonstick foil for easier cleanup and spray it with cooking spray.
Step 2: Cut the acorn squash. Start by cutting the acorn squash into two even halves. Then, remove the seeds – you can either discard them or save them for later. Cut each half of the squash into slices that are about half an inch thick. Lay the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
Step 3: Make the sweet and spicy sauce. Melt the butter in your microwave and stir in most of the brown sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, ginger, smoked paprika, and chili powder until combined. Spoon the sauce evenly over the acorn squash slices. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar over the squash.
Step 4: Roast the squash. Pop the tray full of buttery squash slices into the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the squash has lightly browned and become fork tender.
Tip: If you’re using a squash other than acorn squash, you may need to bake it longer since all squash varies in its hardness and therefore baking times.
Step 5: Toast the pumpkin or acorn squash seeds, optionally. Place the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl, drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and a tiny pinch of cayenne powder if desired, and toss. Spread the seeds out on a baking sheet and bake for just 3 to 5 minutes until the seeds are slightly toasted.
Step 6: Toast the sage leaves. This is a seemingly fancy garnish that always makes me feel a little elite! Simply toss the fresh sage leaves onto a hot pan with a bit of oil to slightly toast them. Be sure to keep a watchful eye on them, though – they tend to burn quickly.
Step 7: Assemble and serve. Place the roasted acorn squash onto your favorite serving dish and top it off with your toasted sage leaves, baked pumpkin seeds, and a sprinkle of pomegranate arils. A little fresh orange zest also does wonders for developing all of those b0ld flavors even more before serving.
What Is Acorn Squash?
Acorn squash is soon to be your newest favorite autumnal veggie if it’s not already.
You know those squashes that are smaller, green on the outside and yellow/orange on the inside? That’s acorn squash and they’re so popular this time of year. So popular, in fact, that you usually see fake ones at stores like HomeGoods used as decoration alongside plastic pumpkins.
Acorn squash has a very delicious naturally sweet flavor that’s also pretty nutty and creamy. The brown sugar in this recipe really helps to develop that slightly sweet flavor!
If you’re an acorn squash fan, this Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash is a fabulous fall dinner recipe.
Can I Eat Acorn Squash Skin?
Technically you can indeed eat the skin of acorn squash after it’s been roasted because it softens dramatically. However, it still is pretty thick and fibrous so depending on your preference for thick and dense skins, you may or may not be fond of it.
I personally like the skin of delicata or kabocha squash better but it’s up to you.
Can I Use Other Types of Squash for Sweet and Spicy Squash?
Instead of making oven roasted acorn squash, you can use other kinds of squash including the following:
- Delicata squash – no need to peel it, slice it into rounds like the acorn squash.
- Kabocha squash – no need to peel it, probably easiest to cube it.
- Butternut squash – peel it and cube it, although probably easiest to purchase a pre-cubed bag of butternut squash in the produce section of your grocery store.
- Pumpkin – there are tons of types of pumpkins, some are not intended for consumption or are intended to bake a pie with, but with proper selection you can make this recipe with pumpkin instead like I did for this Thai Pumpkin Coconut Curry recipe.
What Can I Do With the Acorn Squash Seeds?
Don’t let those little seeds go to waste! If you’d like to swap the pumpkin seeds for squash seeds, go for it.
The reason I used pumpkin seeds is because they are smaller and a bit more delicate and they combine wonderfully with the roasted acorn squash.
However, there really is no need to go out and buy pumpkin seeds if you don’t already have them since after scooping out the acorn squash seeds you can put them to use as a garnish.
To roast acorn squash seeds, do the following:
- Wash the squash seeds well and pat them totally dry.
- Toss them with a bit of olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste.
- Bake them just as you would the pumpkin seeds for 3 to 5 minutes in a 400F oven, or until lightly toasted before using them as a garnish.
You can always just toast them plain and in a dry skillet and them and keep them as a snack for later, too. You’ll want to salt them though before nibbling.
Is This Thanksgiving Side Dish Spicy?
The sweet and spicy roasted acorn squash slices has a little kick to it, but it’s not intense at all.
The heat here is entirely created by the chili powder and cayenne pepper. Therefore, you can determine the level of heat by increasing or decreasing either (or both) of those bold ingredients.
I find that when I make this ingredient exactly as the recipe instructs, it yields squash that is sweet with just a hint of savory, spicy flavor that really helps to balance out the brown sugar and orange juice.
Do I Have to Use Pomegranate?
This simple fall side dish recipe is great with or without the pomegranate arils.
I do recommend tossing them in though for a touch more naturally sweet flavor and nice texture, but you can leave them out entirely of your sweet and spicy roasted acorn squash.
Tip: Most grocery stores sell pomegranate seeds already cleaned and bagged. For ease and time savings, use those! However, you can cut and clean a pomegranate and use those arils instead.
What to Serve with Acorn Squash Slices
If you’re planning on serving the baked acorn squash slices as part of your Thanksgiving or Christmas spreads, make sure you plate it next to all kinds of other holiday favorite sides.
Some of my favorite Thanksgiving (and Christmas) side dishes include The BEST Green Bean Casserole, Classic Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole, and The Best Stuffing. Your roasted acorn squash will plate perfectly next to any or all of those sides!
However, don’t make this easy side dish only for the holidays because it’s so fast and easy on busy weeknights especially when the weather is chilly.
Of course, any and all fall dinners should be concluded with something like Pumpkin Pecan Pie. This time of year, I like all treats and no tricks! Another pumpkin dessert I love showing off with on Thanksgiving is Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake.
How to Store Roasted Acorn Squash
This is a side dish I always prefer fresh. However, if you have leftovers, they’ll keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days. When it comes time to reheat it, just pop it in the microwave and reheat it in 15-second increments until it’s warmed through.
I also will set it out on the counter for a hour or to and toss any extra spicy and sweet acorn squash into salads. I am all about a lots of different textures and flavors in my salads to keep them interesting.
Make sure not to reheat the pomegranate arils. Those will need to be enjoyed fresh or cold from the fridge, but not microwaved.
I don’t recommend freezing this oven roasted acorn squash.
Tips for Roasting Sliced Acorn Squash
Acorn Squash: You can either cut your squash vertically or horizontally. If you cut down the squash vertically, you may want to follow the creases of the squash. I sliced it horizontally because I find the rings or slices are more attractive that way. Either way, you’ll want to make sure your slices are about 1/2-inch thick so they cook in the allotted baking time.
Brown Sugar: All out of brown sugar? No worries! You can always make your own by combining one cup of white granulated sugar with one tablespoon of molasses. Also, if you’d like this side dish to be sweeter, simply add more brown sugar than what’s called for.
Omitting Brown Sugar: There’s always someone who asks if they can omit sugar from recipes. In this case I recommend using the approximate 1/3-cup because it will lightly caramelize which adds great flavor and color. Plus, squash can be a bit on the boring side and the sugar helps jazz it up. However, you can experiment with less sugar and see what you think.
Cayenne and Chili Powder: Make this acorn squash spicier by adding more cayenne and/or chili powder! Just be careful, though, since a little bit of either (especially the cayenne) really goes a long way. If you want to eliminate all spiciness because you’re serving it in a mixed group, then you can eliminate both of those spices, or especially the cayenne.
Orange Juice: Use real freshly squeezed orange juice, not juice from a container. This actually ends up saving you money, since you’ll also need the zest of the orange as well. Why buy an orange AND a bottle of orange juice when you can get everything you need just from one fruit? Make sure to zest first, then squeeze. When zesting, only take off the top most layer of orange and don’t go down into the white pith area because it’s bitter.
Sage Leaves: Don’t burn the sage! When you toast sage, it makes it so aromatic and perfectly compliments the roasted acorn squash. When toasting it, though, you need to keep a very close eye on it and move it around the pan to keep it from burning. It tends to toast in just a couple minutes and burns quickly if you’re not careful. You can do this dry but I like to add a tablespoon of olive oil.
- 2 acorn squash, scrubbed well, seeded, and sliced horizontally into 1/2-inch wide slices
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Zest and juice from 1 whole large orange
- 4 to 6 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed; divided
- 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, or to taste
- Pomegranate arils, optional for serving
- 4 to 6 toasted or fried sage leaves, optional for serving
Pumpkin or Acorn Squash Seeds, optional for serving
- 4 tablespoons cleaned and dried seeds
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- Pinch cayenne pepper, optional and to taste
- Squash - Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with nonstick foil for easier cleanup, and lightly spray the foil with cooking spray; set aside.
- Scrub and slice two acorn squash horizontally (you can do it vertically down the grooves of the squash but for presentation in this recipe I prefer horizontal), scoop out the seeds and either save them to roast if you don't opt for pumpkin seeds or discard them. Tip - Make sure the slices are 1/2-inch wide and not thicker so the squash cooks in the indicated timeframe.
- Place it on the prepared baking sheet, scattered about evenly; set aside.
- Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup.
- Add 4 tablespoons of the brown sugar, then zest the orange (taking care just to use the orange and not the white pith which is bitter) adding the zest to the butter, halve the orange and squeeze in the juice, and then add all remaining ingredients except the pom arils or sage leaves, and stir to combine.
- Slowly and carefully pour this mixture over the squash, sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until fork tender. Make sure to check a couple pieces for doneness. All squash will cook at slightly different rates so bake until yours is done if using another variety or even acorn since it varies.
- Optionally garnish with pom arils and toasted sage leaves. Toast them by simply adding them to a dry skillet (or with 1 tablespoon olive oil if you want to fry them rather than toast them) and cook them over high heat for a couple of minutes, watching them closely since they're prone to burning and keep shaking your skillet or moving them around with a soft spatula.
- Seeds, optional - Make sure either the acorn squash seeds or pumpkin seeds are cleaned and dried.
- Place the seeds in a small bowl, add all the other ingredients, toss to combine, and scatter them on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 3 to 5 minutes, or until just toasted. Watch them carefully since they're prone to burning.
- Evenly sprinkle them over the squash slices before serving. Extra squash will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days and while you can freeze and thaw it, the texture changes to the mushy side and isn't my favorite.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 270Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 399mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 7gSugar: 25gProtein: 2g
More Easy Squash Recipes:
Apple & Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash – Stuffed with a mixture of Italian sausage, celery, apple, kale, and seasoned with sage, rosemary, and thyme. This is the perfect fall dinner or hearty side dish recipe that’s ready in under an hour! Healthy, easy, full of flavor and texture, and a very versatile recipe!
Butternut Squash Soup – Made with roasted butternut and acorn squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, sage, thyme, and more to create a gorgeous, creamy, fall-inspired soup that everyone LOVES! Great as a healthy main dish or a perfect side dish for Thanksgiving or the holidays! Serve it in acorn squash bowls for an even more festive look!
Roasted Butternut Squash Green Bean Casserole – Roasted butternut squash is mixed with green beans and topped off deliciously with crunchy almonds in this creamy casserole.
Roasted Winter Squash, Cranberry, and Almond Salad with Lemon Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette – A salad loaded with roasted squash, chunky veggies, crunchy almonds, and chewy dried cranberries is my perfect meal.
Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash Quinoa Harvest Salad – Easy and packed with big fall flavors!! Maple syrup, squash, and cranberries were made for each other! Love it when healthy tastes so good!
Roasted Cinnamon-Ginger Delicata Squash – Cooked delicata is slightly sweet and combines perfectly with the warming spices used in this recipe complement the soft interior and slightly crisped exterior of the roasted squash.
How to Roast Spaghetti Squash (and 12 Spaghetti Sauce Recipes) – Spaghetti squash is easy to make, super low in calories, and plates perfectly with SO many different side dishes and toppings! Enjoy the best spaghetti squash prepared in 12 different delicious recipes.
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